Sunday, January 12, 2014

Anger: Part 2 or "The entry about the Big Scary Anger Monster but without Stupid Things"

I don't know... "Without Stupid Things" may be a bit much to ask. As I've been working to compose this little trip down the rabbit hole, it has occurred to me there are a great many seemingly stupid things that have marked their way into this particular journey.

First, Big Scary Anger Monster is an ideal name. It has a childlike tone to it and it's in early childhood where our attitudes and understanding of emotion are forged.

I don't know where neuro-scientists get the idea memory isn't firmly forged before certain ages. Becka, Rachel and I all have memories from before the age of 2 and, if I remember correctly (heh), so does Krys.

My first actual memory is misplacing Mum and Dad at a crowded picnic. I can remember the confusion of toddling through a vast sea of knees and the shock of grabbing a familiar pair of slacks, crying "Daddy" and looking up into the face of a stranger. I also remember the relief when Dad found me. I couldn't have been much more than 18 months at the time... but the memory is there. Perhaps it had some great significance to my toddler mind because it's a memory I visited often in my preschool years. You can be damn sure I never made the same mistake of trying to identify a parental or sibling by their clothes. It was face or nothing after that.

There you have it. The limited fashion choices for men in the 70's are why I have trust issues.

Sorry, my rabbit hole tends to have lots of little side trails... Back to the Big Scary Anger Monster...

I'm the seventh of nine kids. My elder siblings were all born an average of only a year apart. My next older brother, Chris, was almost 5 when I was adopted... So there had been at least a couple of years living free of diapers and all the things that come with a child too young for school.

By the time I was walking and talking, it was pretty clear I was different. How much of that stems from being given a certain place of honor because I was specifically "chosen" and was therefore petted and loved like a little princess, I don't know. It's possible I was spoiled in those first few years. It's possible I am simply wired differently on a genetic level from my siblings and would have stood out as "One of these things is not like the other" no matter what. Whatever the cause or causes, by the time I was 3, I'm pretty sure Mum was perpetually exhausted and it was only added to by a small child who seemed entirely composed of sound and motion.

Mum tells a story from when she was pregnant with Nora. She says I came running up the stairs from the family room and woke her from a  hard earned "before everyone else gets home" nap by getting in her face with my thumb and forefinger held an inch or so apart and asking "Are you afraid of a man this big?"

Her knee-jerk response was to stand, towering over me, and ask "Are you afraid of a Mommy this big?"

She never outright said I shat myself but it was sort of implied.

I was certainly not as easy as my comparitively compliant brothers and sister. That's not to say they never got into trouble... I know for a fact they did. Our family is made up of story collectors and we like to share them. Seriously, my elder siblings all did strange things in their preschool years. Mum shared some of those stories when I was little, perhaps, in an attempt to reassure me I wasn't entirely alien.You can't have that many little people in a house without some measure of chaos, no matter what sanitized "based on a true story" movies of the time would have you believe.

I sometimes wonder if Mum and Dad hoped for something like this:

The Original Duggar Family
Anyway...

Our understanding of emotion is built into us pretty young. What we see and hear, we take in. We understand first from the raw and intense place of a tiny human devoid of logic or sophistication. It's all a huge big black and white world. The average 3 year old can't grasp being angry and loving at the same time. It's why that age is when a parent is likely to hear their first "I don't love you anymore because you won't let me have my way" type statement. (Incidentally, that's almost verbatim how Krys said it to me.)

So take a small child who was allowed to get away with a bit more than her siblings because of her "Chosen One" status. (Blame Rachel for that comparison) Add to that an inborn sensitivity and sense of rejection commonly found (but not yet recognized) in adopted kids and it might be easier to understand why anger is something I've been afraid of for as far back as my memory can reach.

Again, I don't know if I was different because I was born that way or if it was the environment. Rick, Michele, Rod, Randy, Ben and Chris were such a unit, I doubt any of them can remember being the total center of attention, much less alone.

I, on the other hand, am nearly 5 years younger than my nearest brother and almost 5 years older than my next sister. I had more time than anyone but Zac (the youngest in my family) to be the baby of the family. Also, with the older kids all attending school, I had more time "alone" than anyone else. Mum once told me I was so incensed, at the grand and grown up age of 12 months, by having to get back in the car when my brother was taken to kindergarten, I'd stiffen and scream so much she had to fight to fold me at the waist to get me into the car seat.

How do I know I had lots of alone time? Easy, I remember it. Remember it so well it was during a period of alone time that my Imaginary Friend who lived in a crib mirror I'd carry around and talk to, started talking back. I don't really remember our discussions but if they were anything like those Becka had with her imaginary friends (Austrailia and Alabama), there might have been a lot of giraffes involved. I hope it was giraffe talk because the nightmares that started that same year weren't quite so cute.

Okay, maybe almost as cute. The recurring nightmare of my preschool years involved running for my life with this iconic hero of 1950's family idealism.

Richie Cunningham: An embodiment of innocence even a 3 year old could grasp
The terror of those early nightmares?
Canister Vacuum: This 3 year old's subconscious view of Big Scary Anger Monster
Yeah. I spent my preschool nights running from the Black Hole of Life Sucking Death that was a canister vacuum... with the sweet-cheeked, fully coiffed, Ron Howard. (Make a movie out of that one, dude)

And here's where you'd expect we get to the real nitty gritty of the anger thing. You'd think that but you'd be wrong.

Just getting to the beginning of where Anger and I became mortal enemies has left me with a headache and desire to crawl under the covers and thank Big Opie for being my preschool hero.

Shit, this is going to take actual work.