You feel it. You’re getting warm. And you begin to simmer. As the heat rises, you try to push it back. You take deep breaths. You count to 10. You walk outside.
But, despite your best effort to squash it, your blood boils over, and you just can’t take it anymore. You’ve rolled into a full-blown mommy tantrum, and there’s nothing you can do to tap the brakes.
So, you blow your stack.
You scream at your kids. They run for the hills as your swirling tornado of emotion overcomes their physical space.
You march around, and as the steam flies loose, and your heartbeat races, you slam things around and yell some more. You might even drop an F-bomb. And you immediately feel terrible. Usually you work hard to maintain your composure, but mommy tantrums are real, and you are really experiencing one. You’re out of control. And all it took was one small thing to finally tip the cart.
Afterward, you beat yourself up about it — because you’re not supposed to get that mad. You’re supposed to maintain grace and stability at all times. When you’re a mommy, you are supposed to keep your cool.
You’re not allowed to explode like a volcano, but you will and you do. Hopefully, it’s seldom, but still, you will. And guess what? It’s normal, natural, and I’m here to tell you that as long as there are no emotional or physical injuries involved, it becomes the stuff of family folklore.
“Remember when mom lost her mind that time you spilled your milkshake all over the couch?!” your adult children may someday lament with a giggle, remembering the incident well, and thank god they think it’s funny now, because it wasn’t funny then. At least, it wasn’t funny for you.
I’ll never forget the time my mother had a complete conniption over a small Styrofoam cooler. When my brother, sister, and I talk about it, we laugh uncontrollably. During the storytelling, my mom closes her eyes, still visibly upset with herself over losing her composure. But, damn, that story is funny.
We were getting ready to go to the beach, and my mother was packing up the car. We kids were running around being nuisances, basically not helping at all, and fighting (of course). She brought out a stack of towels and beach toys and was getting the food ready. She had a new, small, Styrofoam cooler in the garage and went to look for it (it happened to be the third one she purchased that summer). She saw it in the corner with the lid broken in half (my bother), the red handle falling off (my sister), and a piece missing from the side (I think I bit into it to see my tooth impression).
And then, she completely lost it.
“Why can’t I have anything?!” her primal scream, with head tilted back, echoed down the street across several yards.
“You kids are driving me to drink!” she bellowed, moaning as if in physical pain. Then she marched through the garage with a purpose I had never seen before. We kids scattered like mice.
She snatched up the cooler, stomped into the driveway, and threw it down. My brother, sister, and I watched in awe (and growing alarm) from the safety of a closed screened door. Mommy had never behaved this way before, and we were frightened.
My mother then picked it up and punted it. She jumped on it and smashed it. She yelled, “Can’t I ever have anything?! Why can’t I have anything?!”
Then she huffed back into the garage and selected a pitchfork (a pitchfork!) from the wall where all the tools were hanging. Our eyes grew wide, and our heads shifted into our necks. What was she going to do next?
She raised the pitchfork over her head like an axe and slammed it down on the cooler. She wound up like a golf swing and teed off right in the middle of the driveway, sending larger parts of the cooler off into the yard. The lightness of the Styrofoam made her seethe with anger. She ran and swung, sending bits and pieces of the cooler all over the place. Shards of Styrofoam flew like feathers across our lawn.
“Do I have to buy another one?” she yelled, angrily shaking her head. Shaking all over, actually.
When the cooler was sufficiently destroyed, she stabbed the pitchfork into the ground, and her shoulders sank. She turned to look at us with tears in her eyes. We prudently ducked and scattered again.
Her rage subsided. She put the pitchfork back in the garage and made us clean up the tiny pieces of Styrofoam while she chucked our lunches into a paper bag. Then she calmly told us to get in the car.
We carefully obliged. She never apologized, but we saw it in her eyes. Mommy guilt.
We rode to the beach in silence. And then we had a completely normal day. It was fun, because my mom always made things fun. It wasn’t until we kids were well into our 20s that the cooler “incident” was brought up in conversation with my mom present. We laughed until our bellies hurt that night (yes, a bit of drinking was involved), but I could see that my mom still felt remorse over her loss of control. I reassured her that the cooler was there for a reason — it took the beating instead of us.
The mommy tantrum is real. And most of us have had one (or two, or three). We’ve all lost it at some point, and it’s really okay, as long as no one gets hurt. That anger, when we lose control, is the flipside of our loving mommy fierceness. Harnessing that passion and energy is what helps us protect our children. Sorry to say, the guilt never truly goes away when we lose our cool. But we must remember that we are human. And humans can only take so much.
In a real fight, I’d place my bet on the mom, because I bore witness a real mommy tantrum and lived to tell the story.
This post first appeared on Scary Mommy