Taming the Hulk Within

By Gregory Keer

On this particular weekday morning, it’s my turn to take Benjamin to kindergarten. I awake upset because I hit the snooze button one too many times. As I stumble toward the bathroom, my wife Wendy half-consciously warns, “He’ll get upset if you’re late.” She falls back asleep.

In the shower, I go from spousal pressure to water pressure as Herbal Essence floods my eyeball. Then my son startles me to ask, “Can I watch The Sav-Ums?” I compose myself to answer, “Go turn it on.” He whimpers, “I’m too tired to do it alone.” I get out and escort Benjamin to the den for his favorite show on The Learning Channel.

In my wet feet, I strain a groin as I dash to the boys’ bedroom to collect Benjamin’s outfit, taking pains to not wake Jacob. I dump off the attire and pull on my own get-up with 10 minutes to spare.

Out in the den, I urge Benjamin to dress. He doesn’t hear me. He doesn’t hear anything when the tube’s flickering. Maintaining my blood pressure, I push the clothes into his lap and he absently puts them on. “I’ll get you some cereal-in-a-baggie,” I say to the child too busy laughing at the claymation heroes.

I enter the kitchen where my cats whine frantically for food when I hear Jacob calling from the crib. As soon as I reach him, Jacob’s face screws up as if he’s seeing his worst enemy. “I – want – MOMMY!” he wails. With my toddler screaming, I place him with his brother. As I turn my back, Jacob scrambles for the master bedroom. Valiantly trying to prevent his breach of Wendy’s fortress of extra sleep, I scoop him up — too late.

“What are you doing to him?” she says, scowling at me like I’m her worst enemy. Fortunately, the nasty words in my head stay there as I look to Benjamin, “We have to go.”

“But the show’s almost over!” he moans. My voice wavers: “Let’s go, now.”

I beeline for the door, my son running after me as he tries not to cry. I hoist him up with one arm, my other grasping a bag of textbooks, and step outside. “Damn, it’s cold outside,” I grouse. “You need a sweatshirt.”

“No I don’t,” he retorts. “Yes you do, “ I fire back as I hurry to his dresser to find summer shorts where the longsleeves should be. I grab a red fleece thing and put it on Benjamin. It doesn’t fit.

“I can’t wear this,” he says. “Tough,” I growl as I sprint to the minivan. Benjamin’s sobs escalate and—as I put him in his seat—he throws off the sweatshirt…I go stark raving “Hulk.”

“Aaarrrggghhh!” I boom. “Why do I bother trying to keep you from freezing your arms off? We’re both going to be late! Now, get – in — the car!”

Benjamin climbs in quietly. As I drive off, I rant at my son as if he were an adult, explaining all the ways he could have prevented our tardiness. He just sheds tears the Crocodile Hunter would yearn to wrestle.

I finally cool enough to shut my mouth. My head spins like a clothes dryer as I ponder my miscalculations in the last 45 minutes, imagine my students picking on me for the hypocrisy of preaching punctuality, and glance at the fragile kid in the back seat.

At the school, I kiss my son a hundred times, saying, “I’m sorry I got so mad. Daddy makes mistakes sometimes.”

Benjamin hugs my neck, “I’m sorry too.”

As I later drive to my own school, I catch a look in the rear-view mirror at the unhealthy green tinge in my cheeks—I am my own worst enemy. Must make New Year’s resolution to not get so mad.

In approaching this resolution, I require three things: more patience, more laughter, and less perfection. Stressed out by work and family responsibilities, I carry pressure that reaches epic proportions around those times my kids repeatedly ask why they can’t have Scooby fruit chewies before dinner. I need to take a deep breath before boiling over, and realize that I’m standing in front of adorable, dependent creatures, not competitors or enemies.

I also need to laugh. When I recognize the absurdities inherent to parenting, I stay loose. As I’ve done on occasion, I should catch myself in mid-tirade and crack a joke or make a funny face to show them that I’m still a safe guy. When I holler, it intimidates more than teaches.

Lastly, I have to accept imperfection. I’m gonna yell, pound a table, even throw french fries once in a while. But if I admit my mistake to my kids and get back on track, they will see that anger is normal and controllable.

Later on that day of my morning explosion, I picked up Benjamin at school. I looked for signs of trepidation in him, but the first thing he said was, “See, Daddy, it was a warm day. I really didn’t need my sweatshirt.” Hulk laugh. Hulk hug son. Hulk plan a New Year of not being so angry.

Anger Management, Columns by Family ManPermalink

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