I’m not sure how I got to the side of the freeway, pacing the gravel shoulder, hands clenched in fists and enough tension in my jaws to crack a tooth. I mean I know I hit the brakes hard, pulled over and slammed my door. But how did I get to this place of such anger and anxiety with my seven year old when only two hours before we were baking chocolate chip cookies together in the kitchen?
He wore the cute handmade cowboy apron I bought for him at farmer’s market when it still reached below his knees. He was exuberant about adding the flour mixture to the butter and sugar in the electric mixer and I patiently explained why we should do that more slowly—so we didn’t have white powder covering everything on the counter.
I was trying to get cookies made to take them into the city with us to my older daughter’s fashion show that evening. I’d already taken B to the grocery store, dog park and car wash, scrubbed the bathrooms and done two loads of laundry. There are never enough hours in the weekend to get everything done and we’d be gone until 10 tonight and tomorrow was the start of another work/school week. But once the cookies were in the oven and I frantically cleaned the kitchen, then tried to do something with my hair, B was ensconced with a tub of Legos, building something new and quite content to stay put for awhile. He didn’t want to put shoes on or head to the car for a one and a half hour drive.
My body was telling me the same, but I was too busy pushing the override buttons to listen. Until it was too late. And I found myself standing on the freeway shoulder ready to do anything to make him stop screaming. I’d let my anxiety build and feed into his until there we were—him inside the car, banging against the window and trying to kick the door down, me pacing the gravel, resisting the urge to run into traffic or pull him out of the car and spank the shit out of him or just walk away until the cops found me or…or…the negative thoughts and emotions swirled in my head until I was dizzy.
My partner got out of the passenger’s side of the car. “What can I do?” I just shook my head and kept pacing. “Talk to me—I don’t know what to do here.”
“I don’t know what you can do,” I finally looked at him. “Just give me a couple minutes here. I’m trying not to kill him.”
An overstatement, yes. But the truth is when that white-hot anger boils over into my brain, it short-circuits all connection to rational thought. I hate to admit it, but I get it, I understand what those parents who go over the edge might experience. I know what standing on that precipice feels like.
I placed the car keys into his outstretched hand and we continued our journey. Some whining still emanated from the back seat, but the knife edge was gone. I stewed in self-recriminating tears for the next 20 miles until a chirpy voice called from behind me, “Let’s play eye-spy!”