Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Wrath of Cold Water and Black Ink

Photo Credit: Morguefile by phaewilk


Today's post is a response to the GBE2 prompt: The Seven Deadlies: Pride, Envy, Wrath, Gluttony, Sloth, Greed, Lust



"No."

Four year-old Alexander looked up at his mother, his face possessed of grim determination and refusal.

"I need you to clean your room," repeated the mother. She said it with the voice of a woman draping manipulation in cloths of nicey-nicey. The manipulation showed through. Alexander felt his feet on the floor become heavy, as if they might bore through the old linoleum. He could not move them if he would. And he wouldn't. There was too much mess in that room.

"No."

Alexander soon found himself shut up in that room, penned by nicey-nicey meanness. Toys were on the bed, on the floor, hanging from the latches of windowsills. The mother was outside. He was in here with chaos larger than his own slight body. She could sweet-sweet all she wanted. She was trying to be cruel.


*

Lily sat at the living room table, trying for the moment to forget the frustration of contending with Alexander. She sipped a cup of coffee and listened to birds chirping in the trees. That child, she sometimes thought, was put here on this earth to make sure that she never felt she knew what she was doing. A little monster with hair kissed by sunbeams, who took delight in babies and the activities of tiny insects. She was young and he was her first child. He would not buy into her ethical teachings–her "parenting." He was the prince of his own small nation. What was he doing in there? This was what she was supposed to do, she hoped. She had tried empathy yesterday to no avail. Today she would try tough love.

"You will stay in there until you have put your things away," she'd told him.

She thought it was OK to say that as long as you didn't sound mad. She sipped once more and bit her nail. Silence boomed from Alexander's room. Several more minutes passed, filled for Lily with a procession of doubts and taunts against the background of quiet and birdsong. Finally, the door creaked open. Alexander stood in the doorway and his fair face was smeared with black.

"Ink," he said stupidly.

She leaped up and looked into his room, to find a stamp pad open on the floor. Ink covered his unfinished pine chest bed, his dresser drawers, the window frame, the floorboards.

"Black," said Alexander.

Turning, Lily felt her limbs fall out of her control. Something possessed her. That thing stomped into the kitchen and collected a garbage bag. It swept Alexander's toys into the bag.

"I am going to give these toys to a little boy who knows how to behave," the thing said.

Lily was horrified at this thing. How dare it talk to her child in this way? She was paralyzed and watched helplessly from within the body of the monster. Toy after toy after toy was shoved into the bag. Alexander stood blankly defiant and then began fighting with her to retrieve the toys. She was stronger than Alexander. He could cow her with his disobedience, with his stubborn disinterest in being good, but she was bigger and she was stronger. His body fell away from the bag as easily as a cast off shoe. He began to sob. Lily felt her heart break, but her limbs kept throwing toys in the bag, her lips kept making cruel remarks.

*


The mother was a thing possessed. He had wanted to push her, had known just how, but somehow he had flipped a switch in her. The nicey-nicey was all gone. He searched and couldn't
it find it anywhere. He had never known before how much he counted on this niceness in his mother. She was a whirling giant possessed of limbs like tree branches. She stole his things. When, with great embarrassment, the tears came, she did not stop. She did not stop and hold him. The mother was gone. He cried harder.

She lifted Alexander hard and put him in the bathtub. The shower came on and it was cold. She didn't make it warm. It was always warm in the bathtub. This cold water made him shrivel up, smaller even than he was. With hard, uncaring hands, the mother rubbed at his face, removing ink. She rubbed until he was sure he would bleed. He cried some more. He cried for missing the nicey-nicey mother who yesterday had tried to make him wonder what it might feel like to be an ant whom Alexander crushed. He shivered hard until sleep took him.

*

Lily sat at the edge of the bathtub, holding both Alexander's head and the shower hose and saw that he had fallen asleep. Control returned to her body and shame flooded her senses. She was a child abuser. All these years of careful reading of child psychology, all these years modeling empathy. It ends like this.

"Here I am," she thought "blasting my own child with cold water. Here I am telling him he is bad. I am a monster."

Tears rolled down Lily's cheeks. Gently, she rested Alexander's head on the side of the bathtub. She retrieved his towel–the one with his name and pictures of insects on it–and covered him up. Gingerly, she lifted him out of the bathroom. He was so small, so tiny for his age. She laid him down on her bed, his wet hair making a halo of damp on her husband's pillow. Smears of black ink were still visible on his cheeks, after all that scrubbing. She curled up next to him, wiping tears away from her eyes. She must never let herself become so angry again. She would not be that kind of mother.

She would stave off wrath with education, fight it off with empathy. She would build a wall of understanding so high that wrath could never reach her. She would never feel or act like this again. Of that, she could be sure.





17 comments:

  1. WOW. I am going to assume he was 'sleeping' though my heart says it could be an eternal sleep. I know most mom's have lost it at least once with a willful child and this is a taste of what can happen if mom is unable to reign it in. I have warned father's about spanking for this very reason. I was a young mother and I know I had way too little patience when raising my kids and I regret that more than anything in my life. I will say that for the most part, my kids are raising their own kids with a great deal more understanding and kindness than they were raised.
    I have asked them if they think I was a mean mom and they say, not mean, just no nonsense.
    I guess I can live with that!
    And a fairy lives!

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    1. It's based pretty closely on an experience I had with my first son and he definitely lived. :) I think the lesson for me as the young mom of a "difficult" child is/was first one of NOT reigning it in but learning to be OK with being angry and expressing it appropriately lest I place myself at risk of going postal on my oppositional kid. I think the danger lay in my unwillingness to be angry or to not "be nice" to my kid. I do better when I tell them I'm mad and explain why. Since all three of my sons are prone to having tempers themselves, I also hope this might teach them something about how to manage anger. It was also a long process of learning to separate their behavior from who I was as a mother because that confusion caused most of the anger and despair I felt. I think lots of moms/dads struggle with this. More than would be willing to admit, I expect. Thanks for saving a fairy, Jo!

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  2. great details.. i felt her anger, and then her sympathy. nice writing, tara.

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  3. This was chilling in its reality. I think we often walk such a fine line between doing things right and losing it. The eternal struggle called parenthood.
    Nicely done.

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    1. "I think we often walk such a fine line between doing things right and losing it."

      Yup. Just...yup. :)

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  4. It's sad to know that too often in this world, a mother reaches this point.. and the ending is not so positive. I wish people would tell mums it's ok to be angry. Kids can and do drive you to the point of screaming rage (I've been there too), and that is just fine. Let it out - preferably far away from the child - come back and start again. The world needs to stop telling mums that they have to be good at everything and start telling them the truth... sometimes it is just too much and it is right, it's very much ok, to ask for help and advice if you hit that point.

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    1. So true. The biggest piece of advice I might give my sons when they become parents would be to remember that they are just human beings and so are their kids. When I come from that context, I find, I don't get mad nearly as much and it's much easier to deal with; it can even be a good starting point for discussions. It's the iconic Perfect Parent that will drive me to places I don't want to go.

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  5. This is so powerful - been there myself with my only son who is 23 now. Love the dual perspective here and the vascillating emotions. With only having one, our son didn't have hte benefit of my having any form of "honed" parenting skills, so he got all the good, but the bad as well. It took me a while (too long probably) to find my balance with my anger and patience. Count my lucky stars every time Abe tells me what a good parent I am/was. Someday I may even believe it. Thank you for the honesty that comes through with this piece!

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  6. I had a moment like this with my nieces. It's been so important for me to give them what their own parents could not. How hard could it be to give love, patience, and kindness. Except, children can be brats, and people get angry. My focus was completely on them. I could not see I was losing it, and holy socks, did I lose it. I broke every dish I could get my hands on. Never again. I hope.

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  7. Extremely well written. We learn with every step we take in this journey called life. Kudos.

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  8. This is such a powerfully written piece. It is hard to be a mom and deal with all situations calmly. Sometimes being calm is simply impossible. I can identify with the remorse and guilt after losing it. With every correction, my kids get hugs and kisses because I feel bad they have pushed me to anger. A person does mellow with age.

    Kathy
    http://gigglingtruckerswife.blogspot.com

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  9. A great piece about how out of control anger can get, especially when it is repressed.

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  10. Lucid yet lyrical. The perfect tone. Very nice!

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  11. Wow. Just wow. This is heartbreaking, yet somehow beautifully told. My heart breaks for both Alexander and Lily.

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Faith in Ambiguity by Tara Adams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License