Buds is under a great deal of stress. He’s got several very busy weeks in a row. We’ve talked as a family about how his schedule is going to be for the next weeks, and what the children can expect from him in the evenings, so we all know his plate is very full.
Tonight when he got home from work, it was later than usual, and rather than a workout, we decided to get dinner ready as quickly as possible. Buster was unloading the dishwasher, Buds and I were working on parts of the meal, Monkey was back working in her bedroom, and Yessa was helping in that way she does.
Buster was feeling a little squirrely. Buds was a little grumpus, and at one point, those two sets of feelings collided and Buds snapped at Buster. (For Buds, “snapped” means a slightly harsh tone.)
Buster stopped the annoying behavior he was engaged in, explained to us why he had engaged in the annoying behavior, and went back to his dishwasher business with no indication of being upset. Buds settled back into working on his part of dinner, seemingly with the same slightly grumpus mood.
But me, I was roiling with emotion; I had been thrown back into my childhood.
Huge anxiety welled up in me and I felt the need to protect Buster from Buddie’s anger. I wanted to scream at Buds. It felt so tense and scary and horrible, and I couldn’t tell if other people were just hiding their emotions or if I was the only one who could sense it.
Because these are not feelings I’m willing to hold in, when we all gathered for dinner, I looked at Buds and said, “I wanted to scream at you when you spoke harshly to Buster. I am feeling so anxious right now and this brought up so many feelings from my childhood.” And I choked by the tears.
Buds’ face softened as he looked at me. He’s heard enough stories of my childhood to understand. Dinnertime could be fraught with yelling or stony silence, the quick lash of anger, or gentle storytelling and laughter. You never knew what you were going to get, and you had to be ready to handle whatever it was.
That is not the home we have created, and by anyone’s standards, Buddie wasn’t even really angry. When I asked the children how they felt about the interaction, Monkey looked confused, Buster said, “I’m reading over here.” and Yessa said, “Oh, yes, I could tell Dad was upset, but it was fine.”
Buds has always done a great job helping me remember that the children do not have the same reactions I do to things. Tonight was a great example of this. Overwhelmed by an upsurge of emotion; I was ready to fight to protect my child, my safety, my peace of mind. (To be clear, the swelling of emotion was completely outsized for the slightly negative interaction Buds and Buster had. This was clearly about my past, not the present situation.)
This is the first time in a very long time I’ve been confronted by childhood trauma so strongly. Decades of living with a balanced, loving, thoughtful partner has brought us both a long way in our ability to handle disagreements. Just yesterday Yessa was talking about how, “you and Dad don’t really argue.”
And Mom and I have spent a fair amount of time over the decade since Dad died talking about how to sort through the mixture of emotions. For one person to be so generous and visionary, yet manipulative and angry, and for us to see the changes in him over the decades, but to not be able to let go of some of the instinctive reactions that had been trained into us; it’s a lot to process.
I’m not even really sure why I’m creating this post. In some ways, it’s because I’ve been thinking of my dad so frequently as we help Mom prepare to move out of the last house they shared; the only house my children have known as Grandma’s house.
Or, possibly as a reminder that everyone has a story, and that we are all a bundle of the many different people who have shaped our lives. No person is all bad or good.
Or maybe even to remind myself that Buds is my own sweet Buds. He may get grumpus, but he will never lash out in anger; he will never give us the cold shoulder; he will never throw a fork across the room in anger. This family he and I have created; this family is safe and loved and peaceful.
I loved my dad, and as time has passed, I understand him better and better. He was the best father he could be, and family dynamics run deep. He was able to decrease the trauma he passed on from his horribly traumatic childhood, just as I hope to give our children a relatively trauma-free childhood, lessoning the power of negative family history, and passing on the best of the lessons my ancestry has given me.
Or maybe I’m writing this to remind myself that love makes the difference. I never doubted I was loved as a child, just as I pray my children will always, deep in their very core, know that they are loved, and just as I know I am loved now.
Just as I know I am loved.
The above was written late at night last night. I wanted to sit on the post for a day and see how it resonated with me. In the middle of the night I woke up with a very vivid memory of an interaction The Buster and I had had earlier in the day yesterday. Suffice it to say, it ended with me saying, “And the person you should be angry with is yourself.” in a not very nice tone. I could sense the not kind part of myself coming through in my words and actions.
Parenting is hard work, even with a non-dysfunctional childhood. Being a child, tween, teen, adult, also hard work.
I’m doing the best I can. Sometimes my best isn’t good enough, but hopefully across the minutes and years of time, it all works out.
Buds…doing his best.
The children…their best.
My parents…always their best. I can only imagine some of the internal battles my dad must have fought. For every time he was emotionally difficult, he probably suppressed those emotions five other times.
At the end of the years, if there’s still a healthy relationship, you’ve done well. I have glorious memories from Dad’s final years and days. That’s what I’ll hang on to.
You did well, Elroy. You did well.