Friday, February 19, 2010

Pushing Back

I don't really know what happened. I'm not even sure it was my voice that I heard coming out of my mouth, to tell you the truth. I didn't see anything. All I know is that Westley, covered in playground sand, looked up at me with big, wet eyes and told me that someone ("he") had pushed him (Westley).

"Push him back!" I said.

In my peripheral vision I saw a mother's head whip around, towards me.

I focused hard on my son: "Tell him 'no,' and then push him back!"

I'm completely surprised that I said it. Twice, nonetheless. I am a pacifist, raised (on protest songs) by hippies. Yes, occasionally I do fantasize about punching someone, but if given the opportunity outside of a dojo, I'm not sure I'd be able to do it. In fact, I'm almost certain I wouldn't be able to. I don't even like to say mean things about people I don't know and whom I'll probably never meet. My political discussions with my husband go like this:
Him: I can't believe those fuckers from [conservative state, organization, or both] are attacking [human rights issue].

Me: That's so sad. I guess they really believe they're doing the right thing.

Him: Narrow-minded douchebags.

Me: I really wish we could find a balance between this whole national obsession with "majority rule" and minority rights.

Him: ...

Me: And could you use a word other than "douchebag"? I'm tired of it, and it's kind of misogynistic, if you think about it.
I guess what I'm saying it that I absolutely believe in kindness and compassion and non-violence...unless your three-year-old pushes my two-year-old.

I feel a real sense of hostility towards the other children at the park. At the play gym, I can (usually) see the kids as adorable and funny, even as they wrestle over a ride-on toy. But put them outside, and they instantly become awful and I feel Mama Bear waking up inside me. I try not to squint menacingly at the playground occupants, but I don't trust them. They all seem so loud, so mean, so unsupervised.

Maybe my feelings of hostility are actually feelings of jealousy...of these mothers who come to the park and seem to disappear. They're chatting with mom-friends, and I don't have one of those. Or else they're busy with cell phones, and I don't have one of those, either. I have a sleeping five-month-old strapped to my chest, a back that refuses to heal, and a toddler who's decided that today is the day to practice the phrase, "maybe I should"--"maybe I should go up dere," "maybe I should climb down," "maybe I should run"--over, and over, and over.

I've written before about feeling like every mother at a given child-oriented location is confident and happy but me. I know it's an illusion--or, perhaps more appropriately, a delusion--created by the Dirty Tricks Department of my mind. It's a kind of mental self-injury cobbled together from years of depression and insecurity. I push back against it, but sometimes my mind refuses anything that isn't, "Maybe you should stop saying 'maybe I should,' before it drives your mother insane," or, "The kids here today are awful."

I want to raise a child whose religion is kindness, who wouldn't hurt a fly. But, as a mother, I'm learning to trust my gut, and I have some angry-bear insides on occasion. I believe in kindness, but I also believe in self-defense (which shouldn't really be a revelation for me, come to think of it; I studied martial arts for 7 years).

Self-defense is a form of self-kindness. Being able to say "no" is crucial. But being kind to yourself also means it's okay to say and push back--against bullies on the playground, and the bullies inside your own head.