Sunday, January 08, 2017

Anger, Marriage, Children, and School

If I had to sum up the actually useful information that I learned in school, the list would look like this:

1. Excellent handwriting and exceptional grammar, thanks to my sixth-grade teacher
2. Anger is a secondary emotion, thanks to my high school theatre director

Everything else, as they say, is commentary.

In my 41 years on this earth, no one — outside of a high school math teacher — has ever asked me anything that required, say trigonometry. I have never needed to know the chemical formula for anything. I don’t care when the Aztecs died or when they say the earth will end. Carrying around an egg for a week in no way prepared me for parenting my children.

The first time my high school director told us that anger is a secondary emotion, I don’t think any of us knew what she was talking about. She quickly realized this, and explained. Anger is prompted by something else — and very often the something else is fear. She demonstrated this by standing on the stage and letting us hear her inner monologue. OH MY GOD. THIS SHOW GOES UP IN TWO WEEKS AND WE ARE NEVER GOING TO BE READY IN TIME.

And then, she showed us the part that we were used to seeing. “RUN THAT SCENE AGAIN AND THIS TIME LIKE YOU ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT IT’S ABOUT AND NO ONE IS GOING HOME UNTIL YOU GET IT RIGHT.”

That clicked for most of us.

I've written about anger, and it's pretty easy to see where the fear lurks.

On Episode 49 of Question of the Day, James Altucher called anger “a costume for fear,” which is an awesome description. He also describes it slightly differently, but also awesomely, on his blog.

The episode is titled “Marriage Troubles with Children,” and James and Stephen discussed how kids affect a marriage, and how married people fight. I think I have a fair number of kids. Five. That often feels like a lot, and at one point I absolutely wanted to tell one of my children flat out, “If your father and I split up, it will ABSOLUTELY be your fault,” but I did not ever actually say that to the child in question. (I thought it A LOT.)

If I had to categorize the fights I have with my husband, I would do it thusly:

1. Money — as in, I earn sporadically, and not as much as I would if I actually had a job, but if I had an actual job in an office, we would pay A LOT of money for other things.
2. Family — as in, I am EXTREMELY difficult to get along with, and I tend to never cut anyone, particularly my in-laws, any slack, ever, for anything. That’s probably on me.
3. Our kids — as in, my husband would like them all to study math and computers, and I think math is useless and computers are really only useful for the Internet.

Stephen Dubner related how his wife had just thanked him for their stress-free, fight-free weekend with the kids, and he talked about how his first instinct was to say, “WHAT THE HECK? Are you trying to say that I’m usually the CAUSE of the fighting and the stress?” which would totally have been my reaction, too. But because Stephen is wiser or more mature than I am, he quickly realized that he had nothing to gain by interpreting the statement that way, and so he chose not to. He also noted that “being right doesn’t mean you win the argument,” which James and I disagreed with pretty strongly.

Being right is THE BEST and THE MOST IMPORTANT. Most of the time. Or sometimes. Or maybe not at all, but it FEELS like it is the most important SO MUCH OF THE TIME.

Right up until the moment you’re sitting there all alone, being right.

Yeah.

P.S. My husband is awesome and we have not had any big fights in months and even that one was pretty tame, even though two of my kids were pretty sure the marriage was over, over a package of bourrekas. My daughter also claims that she once thought we were going to split up because of an argument we had in the car about some buildings. Neither of us has any recollection of this.


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