"I'm going for a walk!" I shout at my husband, who pops up out of his ballgame-watching chair, startled but cooperative. "He's in the bath! His orders are to wash and get out! She's in her room! Her orders are to get her pajamas on!" I put it that way on purpose. Since giving orders is hardly a parenting goal of ours, he'll know how steamed I am. Probably overkill, in retrospect. I storm out the door, remembering shoes and coat, but not worrying about hat and gloves. I have my rage to keep me warm.
I push up the hill, knowing the faster I walk, the quicker the rage will burn away. It takes longer than usual, and it's not until I'm on the leg of our block that swings onto a busier street that I loosen enough to start crying. Ugly crying, so I immediately assign myself a second go-round of the block. I cry steadily the whole time, harder or softer depending on which scene I'm replaying for myself, which words of self-loathing I'm focusing on. It occurs to me that I can no longer judge bad guys. A guy I knew for years, a dear friend's teddy bear of a husband, is in jail for molesting her daughter. His step-daughter, raised by him from age three. Did he feel this same sickening shame? Did it start out with stuff he knew was wrong, but not illegal? Did he vow to stop, only to find himself doing the same thing a few days later?
I'm not molesting my kids. My sexuality is not mixed up in this, thank God. It's my rage that terrifies me. I'm not beating them, starving them, burning them, calling them names, swearing at them, neglecting them. But I feel it inside me, the poisonous meanness. My son, whom you can tell in pictures is a rapscallion of the first degree, doesn't elicit it. Sure, I get pissed off sometimes, but I keep it in check, and the things that make me mad are things that are supposed to make me mad. Someone asks you, "What would you do if I threw yogurt at the window?" and then does so, a certain testiness is, if not desireable, at least normal.
But my sweet, winning, sparkling little girl can find a crazy witch where her Mama used to be. We have a name for it, "Scary Mean Mama." As in "I know you felt like you had to lie, because I was being Scary Mean Mama, and no matter what you said, I was going to be mad, so you were trying to pick the safest possible thing to say instead of the truest thing." This is what SMM does. No, I don't want to refer to myself in 3rd person, because I'm disassociating to avoid taking the blame. What I do, is I push her buttons, very intentionally and methodically, until I provoke rebellion, which I then squash with Scary Meanness. I'm rough, I'm unfair, I ignore tears. I push, I prod, I shame, I twist the blame back at her. "Mama wouldn't have to brush these snarls out of your hair if you brushed your hair yourself," I snap as I drag the hairbrush through her hair, clamping her between my legs because she keep trying to wiggle away. I'm perfectly capable of brushing hair gently, which is a truth far more important than the ones I tell myself in the moment: that brushing hair briskly doesn't hurt nearly as bad as all this whining would imply, and, yes, that I wouldn't be brushing her hair at all if she did it herself.
Why? I've been thinking about this a lot, most recently on that tearful walk. What I've really been thinking about is How do I stop? but I figure the answer might hide in the Why. I have theories, but no answers.
a) Unresolved SMM issues of my own. My mom was not physically threatening, but she didn't need to be--I lived in fear of her words. 90% of the time, she was a great and loving mother. 10% of the time she was Scary Mean. When I grew up, the 10% faded away, and we were each other's biggest fans. When she died, I was berift. But just as when I became a wife, I realized I had unconsciously learned some really underhanded methods for bullying a husband, maybe I picked up how to be unpredictably emotionally dangerous as a mom.
b) Subconscious fears about my connection to Linden. In all the adoption literature I've read, they say that kids may push you away just when you're starting to feel close, because they are so afraid of you leaving them that they'd rather control when it happens. Couldn't this be flipped? This child that fell into my life, so sweet, so lovely, so smart, so desperate to be close to me--do I push her away in case it's all not real? Am I afraid that her sweetness is mere manipulative orphanage survival skills, and if I let her crack my heart wide open, I'll regret it? Or do I subconsciously feel that I don't deserve to be a parent, so I'm setting out to prove it by being the shittiest parent I can be?
c) I'm a sicko, and never knew it because I never had anyone vulnerable to me before. I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this one. "I'm just evil" is not only deeply disturbing, it's also kind of a cop-out, since it implies I can't get better.
d) I can't quite articulate this, but something to do with becoming the mama of a six year old. I don't know how to respond to her when's she naughty. Is she a little girl testing limits, or is this some horrible sign of horrible damage due to her horrible past? I don't know how to repsond to her when she's sweet and loving. Is she just naturally adorable and already smitten with me, or is she working hard to keep her position as cutest kid in the orphanage? Unlike her brother, the toddler in her is still so visible, all rounded cheeks and bottom, clumsy little fingers, and infectious belly laughs. She pushes against me, murmurs, "I wish I came from your tummy. I wish I drank your milk." Then she tells me, matter-of-factly "If I love you a hundred hugs, I love my other mommy a million hugs." I tell her "I know, honey, I know" to both of these things, and they both break my heart. I feel like I would not ever find the scary meanness in myself if I'd raised her from babyhood, whether or not she was biologically mine. If I'd gazed into her newborn eyes, I wouldn't be all messed up, like a cat who purrs for you to cuddle up, and then draws blood with quick claws when you try to pet him. Or would I? I can't know.
I need help, this much is clear. I have vowed, both in my own heart and out loud to Linden, that I will stop doing this. And then I do it again. My shame is so deep that I gloss over details with my husband. Since going back to work, I haven't been able to see our therapist. I've decided to take a few half-days off and make that happen, to see if I can make this better.
Wish me luck.