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In Love and War

I've been frustrated ever since I can remember. It's like there is a clenched fist of unease and disgruntlement wrapped around the neck of my psyche, choking the life out of any potential long-term contentment with whatever my situation may be at any given time. I have a heightened sense of...well, everything - sound, smell, touch, taste, sight. This serves, and has served me well in certain areas of my life, like my job, where I am paid to notice mistakes as small as they may be; in certain aspects of parenting, allowing me to ward off tantrums and maybe even illness because I notice a minute change in behavior or body language and can act accordingly; and in school where I was able to put my occasionally photographic memory to good use. But in other areas of life, this hyper-awareness can be a cause of much - you guessed it - frustration. I pick up "vibes" in conversations with people that result in my compulsive analysis and re-analysis of what was being discussed, what 10 possibilities exist for said "vibe" to represent, and why I should even care about it in the first place; I take in too much information in crowded situations and hit sensory overload like a toddler, lashing out at those around me until things are more to my nit-picky liking; and I set up unrealistic expectations for my loud, intense, life-loving, and sometimes wild kids - wanting them to stick to a routine that won't overwhelm me and will give my psyche enough space to breathe through the impeding hold around its neck.

Shortly after the kids were born, I started a War on Frustration that carries on to this day. The war consists of my constant self-reminders to:

a.) let them live in the world without passing down my chronic agitation and apprehension or drawing too much attention to my own struggle with it, and


Every morning while I'm trying to get ready, Bryce is in and out of our tiny bathroom, standing behind me and talking to me in the mirror, hopping around while I'm trying to dry my hair or put my contacts in, usually causing me to trip over him or drop something in the process. For years I've tried to get up earlier so I'll be done before he's awake, but my attempts have failed. The part of me that is winning the War on Frustration thinks, "I should appreciate this era while he still wants to spend time with me instead of doing something much cooler, like sleeping or drowning in teen angst behind his 'keep out' sign-covered bedroom door." The part of me that is still choking under the magnificent strength of the fist thinks, "ARGH! I just want to get ready in peace! Why can't he stand still? Why is he so loud?? And what's with the seizure-like dancing??"

Last night as John was putting Bryce to bed, he said, "I want you to sleep until 7:00 tomorrow, okay? You've been getting up too early and you need the rest." Bryce said, without an argumentative or challenging tone, and at a normal human voice volume level (which is always a surprise with him), "I can't, because then I'd miss mom." There were a few days last month when I left for work earlier than Bryce woke up, and John had told me Bryce had been upset about this, but the subject never really came up again. When I heard his tentative, vulnerable four-year-old voice over the monitor, that vice-like grip of frustration loosened by enough that I think I could physically feel it.

Of course, that victorious step in the War was followed by a wave of fresh guilt and shame that was rivaled only by what I felt when I was drying my hair this morning and I heard a soft knock at the door behind me. Bryce stuck his head in, smiled, and said, "Mom, I just wanted to tell you that we named the pumpkins Batman and Happy Face, because one has batman on it, and the other has a happy face on it. That's all I wanted to tell you." Then he closed the door and left me in my empty, lonely bathroom to get ready without tripping over the kid who loves me so much he doesn't want to sleep. Ouch.

Bryce inherited my hyperawareness and my chronic frustration, and his manifests itself in so many strange and intense ways. But, ironically, rather than strengthening the fist's hold, this little four-year-old ball of intensity has single-handedly dealt the most victorious blows in my War on Frustration. Sure, the fist still tightens when he's screaming "I SAID I DON'T LIKE BIG BITES!" after I innocently offer him one half of a macaroni noodle from the end of a fork. And when he's purposely "singing" (read: shouting) and running in circles while I'm on the phone, just to get to me. And when he feigns such intense interest in whatever Quinn is playing with that he has to snatch it out of his hand RIGHT THEN, just to get to him. But when I catch glimpses into his motivations that remind me how little and vulnerable he actually still is, and I feel that grip loosen so substantially, I think, "we're gonna win this thing."

And then I'm going to need decades of therapy to deal with my guilt.

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