The following is a story I wrote for our Sunday handout.
“...And the seasons, they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return, we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game.”
It is 1963.
I am in the first grade. I wear dresses to school each day with petticoats that make rustling noises as I walk. The Beatles are the newest craze, and President Kennedy is about to be assassinated.
Dad is impatient. He’s trying to fix the pickup truck, and he can’t see because it’s too dark under the hood. He sets me up on a stepstool beside the truck and hands me a flashlight. He aims it at a specific area on the engine, and tells me to hold the light there, perfectly still, no matter what.
My nose starts to itch after a couple of minutes. I hold the light where he wants it for as long as I can, then reach up to scratch. The light jiggles and falls to a different part of the engine.
And Dad explodes.
“G*****MIT!!! CAN’T YOU EVEN DO ONE THING RIGHT? GIVE ME THAT!!!”
He yanks the flashlight from my hands and throws it on the ground, where it breaks into pieces, batteries rolling into the ditch.
“GET BACK IN THE HOUSE BEFORE I WHIP YOUR A** RIGHT HERE!!”
Scared and shaking, I begin to cry as I run into the house. I have disappointed him once again.
My son was three years old. We were living in a small, two-bedroom rental house just down the street from Mom and Dad. I was a single mother, trying to hold everything together by myself. The problem was that I was little more than a child in a grown-up’s body.
That day I went to pick up my son from Mom’s house after work. There was the usual struggle because he didn’t want to go home. He never wanted to go home. And really, I couldn’t blame him. I hadn’t made much of a home for him. It was just a place to eat and sleep.
When we walked in the door of our house, something set me off. Whether it was the strain of trying to do it all by myself, or just the eternal mess in the living room, I don’t know. What I remember is the fury I felt taking over my body, me screaming at my little boy, then picking up his little wooden rocking chair and hurling it into the garage. It broke into pieces, and my son dissolved into tears, fear taking over his face.
After realizing what I had done, I fell down in front of him and held him close. I told him how sorry I was and tried to comfort him. But something more than the chair had broken that day.
The example I set for him lasted far longer than I could imagine.
Thirty years later.
My granddaughter sits at the dinner table. She is not happy with the food she has been served, and just wants to go play. I see my son gradually get more and more angry each time he tells her to eat her dinner. I know what is coming, and I try to stop it by talking to him, trying to get him to see what he’s about to do. I am told to mind my own business and to let him raise his child in his own way.
But that’s the problem. He’s not raising her his way, but the way he was taught by me. The same way I was taught by my father. The way I desperately hoped would end with me.
I can see the same expression on her face that I saw on his when he was three years old. I’m sure I had that expression on my face when I was in the first grade. And there is nothing I can do to make it stop.
I used to think this powerful, all-consuming anger was hereditary. In some ways it is. It’s passed down, generation after generation, example by example.
But it can be stopped.
My son finally recognized his behavior. He got help, and he’s hoping the cycle ends with him.
So do I, Son. So do I.