Personal Interlude #1

Wherein I get mad at myself

I have a lot of plans for this column, plans to talk about weighty issues that affect many lives. And I'm eager to start on those entries…but before I can do that, I need to get some stuff of my chest. And yes, I anticipate this will happen again, hence the title being numeric.

I didn't know until relatively recently that patience could be a problem for me in dealing with children. I've been great with kids since I was a kid. But my daily life includes dealing with a young special needs child who, among other things, has behavioral issues. And I find myself reflexively getting angry every day.

I've had anger problems all my life. I can recall exactly one time where I directed my anger at anyone or anything other than (a) my own body, or (b) my own personal possessions. That time, I was 10 years old, I was failing at a video game (I'm not good at them at all), and I grabbed my controller by its cord, spun it around in the air, and slammed it down…directly onto an empty plate I had forgotten was next to me on the floor. The plate shattered, and I was filled with remorse. Even now, almost 30 years later, I regret not being more observant of my surroundings, and breaking something that didn't belong to me.

(I also did frequently lament the things I had broken of my own, but I could console myself with the knowledge that I had only broken my own things.)

This child is different than I was. Their anger is directed outwards - or rather, not directed at all, just landing wherever it happens to land. My own anger had always been inextricably linked to my own self-hatred, to my furious (former) conviction that a great wrong had been perpetrated by my birth, and that I shouldn't have existed at all.

I don't know if these differences, or others, are at the heart of my loss of patience, my reflexive anger. Or perhaps the anger emanates from the similarities we share, I really don't know. I could recklessly speculate all day and not move an inch closer to a solution to the problem.

Let me clarify the nature of the problem, in case I have muddied the waters so far. The child is blameless. This child is not to blame for what they have suffered, physically and emotionally. I am omitting a lot of relevant information about the child, deliberately; but if you are skeptical of my “it's not their fault" stance, I can assure you that you would share it if you knew the whole story, regardless of your opinions about parenting methods.

The problem, instead, lies entirely with me. I am 100% to blame. I know this, and I hate myself for it…so why can't I stop feeling like this? Why is anger my emotional reflex?

I haven't - and I will never - insult, demean, or hit the child. If I did, I think my ethical system would compel me to commit suicide immediately afterward. The child is in no danger from me, and in fact I spend a considerable portion of my energy keeping the child out of danger.

This problem exists entirely in my own mind, but that immateriality makes it no less torturous. I try to practice kindness intentionally (and fail every day in at least one externally observable way), precisely so that I can become a better person than I currently am. My whole philosophy on this is “Fake it ‘til you make it,” and in the years I've been doing this, I have found myself becoming kinder and gentler over time.

Perhaps I should give myself a break. No person is complete, the work is never finished, et cetera. But fundamentally, I'm not capable of taking it easy on myself for this. I'm feeling *angry* at a *blameless* child? Even writing that makes me want to punch bricks until my hand bleeds. I can grant myself grace on my many academic and professional and romantic failures, but I cannot - I will not - let this slide.

I don't know if God exists. I'm an agnostic Episcopalian, and I've frequently said that the creed of my church represents my hopes more than my beliefs. But if God does exist, I hope he or she grants me some help here.

Thanks, friends.