When my wife and I were dating, she would come to watch me play slow-pitch softball. One time I was called out for leaving first base too early after a fly out, and I blew up. (THERE IS NO WAY I LEFT EARLY! THERE IS NO WAY! YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! No, really, I’m over it.) I used no foul language, mind you, but I wouldn’t let it go—some choice words for the ump as I walked to the dugout, a few more as I sat on the bench, fuming. It was so bad that the ump threatened to eject me.
After, my wife let me know how very embarrassed she was. I don’t blame her. It was embarrassing. I was embarrassing. “Is that how you’re going to act out there when we have kids?”
The answer was of course not. At least, I hope not. Besides, I have lots of time to work on how I react to things before we have kids.
Then there was last week.
Did you ever see the Disney cartoon “Motor Mania”? If you haven’t, please take 7 minutes and do that now. Seriously. This post will be here when you’re done.
“Motor Mania” gets belly laughs because it hits home. Either we’re Mr. Wheeler or we’re married to him.
When I have passengers or I am a passenger, I’m mostly under control. When I’m alone in the car, though, my behavior has been known to get … a little colorful. There is steering wheel pounding and neck vein bulging, all seasoned with a dash of expletives. This may come as a shock to people who know me as Mild Mannered Matt from work or church or the occasional social gathering.
I’m not proud of how I act behind the wheel. But there it is.
So the other day, when a complete milquetoast of a driver failed to get his stinkin’ butt through the intersection, causing me to catch the red light, I slipped a bit. I might have said something not so Christlike, though nothing you haven’t heard before. And it wasn’t even directed at the milquetoast motorist, per se. More like an aside.
“What, Daddy, what?”
A voice from the back seat. Uh-oh. My son has been using that expression with such concern these days, and I love it, but not particularly at this moment.
“Oh, nothing, Buddy. I’m just talking to that driver. You see, he—”
“What, Daddy, what?”
Now he probably doesn’t know what I said. It’s possible he didn’t even hear the words I used. But he was aware of the way I said them and probably had a general idea of what I meant by them.
How do you explain an adult’s anger and frustration to a 2-year-old? And not just any adult’s, but Daddy’s?
My boy gets angry and frustrated, too. Mainly the crumple-to-the-floor variety. I get it. It’s all part of being 2: asserting independence, being understood and getting things a certain way. “I want iPad!” “I want TV!” “I want apple juice, no water!” “I want Mommy carry me!”
But Daddy’s anger is different. And now that it’s out there, Daddy has to deal with it.
And yes, I know it’s better to not say regretful things in the first place. No amount of explaining can unsay the bad words, and I don’t want to spent my child’s impressionable years justifying my lousy language. The easy answer, of course, is to erase all anger and frustration and associated swearing from my identity, like some kind of laser tattoo removal, lest I expose it to my kids. But we all know that’s not gonna happen. It’s not realistic. Cut it down, yes, but not cut it out completely.
So when (not if) the ugly words rear their ugly head, I need to be prepared with an answer more acceptable than “Er, well, you know” and “Uh, sometimes Daddy just.”
You won’t find an acceptable answer here, at least not yet. I have some serious thinking to do.
My wife was right. How am I going to act now that we have kids?