I Am Not a Tube of Tooth Paste
It happened in front of the elementary school. We had been at a baby group that morning. I thought it would be good to get some fresh air and socialization so had dutifully packed up the diaper bag and stroller and trekked across town to sit on the floor with a handful of other moms and babies. Most of our time was spent watching the babies roll around and mouth toys whilst talking amongst ourselves.
It was on the walk back that the crying began. She had been fed and changed right before we left. I checked the stroller - was something pinching her? No, nothing that I could see. I talked to her - shushed her - sang. The crying amplified. Should I take her out? Carry her the rest of the way home? It wasn’t that long of a walk, but I hadn’t brought the baby carrier. Was it safe to carry her and push the stroller? I rocked the stroller gently back and forth as we proceeded. Sang her favourite - Five Little Monkeys. No? Okay, how about Fifteen Little Monkeys? And still it went on. Louder and louder. It’s only a few more blocks til we’re home. Please stop crying. This walk is supposed to be for you, and you are clearly not enjoying it.
I felt myself getting hot - helpless and desperate. The crying had turned into screaming. I was at a loss. That helpless, desperate feeling was churning into resentment. My gentle rocking of the stroller was becoming more frenetic. Hot, sweaty, teeth starting to clench, my own tears welling up, and then, boom - anger. And that’s when it happened. I yelled. A single syllable. That word. Yes, the bad one. In front of the elementary school. It was a nice day and cars were rolling slowly through the school zone with their windows down. The cries continued, of course, and the guilt and shame hit me immediately and forcefully. What if one of those drivers heard me? Reported me for being an unfit mother? What if someone knocked on my door and that was it - she was taken away?
I’ve got to call my therapist.
I made an appointment. Cried and sniffled and looked at the floor as I relayed what happened.
“Trish. No one ever got arrested for saying, ‘F—-’.”
“I think I have an anger problem.”
“I think your brain is easily triggered into fight or flight mode.”
But what I really meant by anger problem was, “I think I am a bad person. Maybe even an unfit mother.”
“It’s like a tube of toothpaste. When pressure is applied - when it’s squeezed - what’s on the inside comes out.” I was about fifteen and sitting in church - and I still remember this. It made sense. There’s no end of inspirational posts that corroborate.
I believed this for a long time. If I got angry or had a bad thought or a bad word, it was because I was bad. What was inside of me was bad and that was what was coming out. And I was alone. Other people weren’t bad. Not like me. Other people didn’t yell the F-word in front of the elementary school - in front of their baby - during sunny walks. I was raised that good, Christian folks didn’t talk like that. Ladies certainly didn't talk like that - and if they did, they didn’t write about it on the internet.
But I’m learning. Learning that I am not bad. I’m human. I have a sinful nature. Like every other person on the planet. Not alone. And I get angry. Like every other person on the planet. And anger isn’t bad. It’s uncomfortable, and I don’t like it. And I definitely don’t always deal with it in the best way. But anger isn’t bad. I wish I had used a better strategy to deal with my anger and overwhelm in that moment. Of course I do. I don’t want to yell and scream and swear on the street like a wingnut. I want to be patient and gentle and kind. I want to have self-control. But sometimes deep breaths and counting to ten just don’t cut it. You’re exhausted and your reserves are low - and you’re trying.
I never got arrested. My baby wasn’t apprehended. And I learned that I am not a tube of toothpaste. I’m a normal human being with a wide range of emotions. If squeezed, out will flow lots of love and joy and peace - and maybe the odd f-bomb.