Saturday, March 8, 2014

On Anger and Legos

I have a confession. 

Sometimes at work when I am playing with small children, I have to be a bully.  I have snatched toys, called names, said mean things, and once even took a lollipop out of a child's mouth and threw it in the trashcan.

This is, of course, all in the context of role-plays in which I try to simulate real-life experiences the child encounters such that they are better able to handle them in the moment.  Depending on the child, they may or may not understand the concept of "role-play," in which case I become this nice doctor lady who periodically grabs a toy, or  gives them chips and then takes them away, or says "NO" in the most loud, obnoxious voice ever. 

I had to play the bully the other day.  "Amelia," age 4, has autism and limited language.  If someone takes her toy -- or takes a toy she assumes is hers (which tends to be all of them), she will fly into a rage that includes falling to the floor screaming, banging her knees to her head or her head to the floor, and throwing the toys across the room.  Truth be told, this isn't working too well for her in preschool, so I was forced to play Amelia's bully.  We were playing Legos and I, in my all powerful bully-state, grabbed the beloved pink Lego (of which there is only one) from in front of her.  Before she could tantrum, I prompted her, "Amelia, say 'that's mine!'"

"That's mine!" she parroted, sniffling.

"Say, 'Don't take my toy!'" I said in my best 4 year old intonation.

"Don't take my toy!" she repeated between wails.

"Oh!" I said, feigning surprise.  "Here you go."  I handed back the pink Lego and resumed playing with the other blocks.

I have another child, "Ben," that we're working on the same routine.  Ben, however, is completely passive.  You can take his toys, wreck his tall tall tower, throw his favorite Superman in the trash, and Ben just watches it happen.  In an effort to decrease Ben's vulnerability, I'm teaching him, too, to tell me, "that's mine.  Don't take my toy!"

With both of these children, we replay this scenario again, and again, and again until "That's mine!  Don't take my toy!" replaces the tantrum.  Until "That's mine!  Don't take my toy!" takes the place of the passivity.  It's long, hard work for them.  (And for me -- being the Lego snatcher is not exactly my favorite role).  The politics of play and childhood are complicated and elusive for many of the children I see. 

I have another confession (this one slightly more serious than the last).

I am really angry today.  Actually, I've been angry for about a week at this point -- but today in particular, I am filled to overflowing with an anger that is hard to put my finger on.  It's not like anger is new to me -- she and I have certainly met before in different incarnations and iterations.  It's not like we're friends, exactly, but we're acquainted.  Well acquainted.

I tried going for a walk, thinking it might soothe my spirit.  I tried doing some work and reading some articles to take my mind off of it.  I tried thinking about the anger, moving towards it instead of away, in the hopes that then Anger would  loosen the talons she was using to hold me hostage and let me run free.  No dice.  As a last ditch effort, I tried going to yoga, which typically cures just about anything...but no.  In spite of the fact that I absolutely respect and adore my yoga teacher, if she told us to breathe in and release the tension in our bodies one more time, I was going to karate chop her right in the middle of her adho mukha svanasana (which, I'm sure, would be really bad for my karma).  It was certainly not one of my better classes.

This anger today is different from the anger I have known before.  In the past, I've been angry at people and at their actions.  I have been hurt, and angry AT them.  I have beat up mattresses and shredded phone books in this anger.  I have run, and run, and run, until my legs collapsed from exhaustion and I was no longer angry.  I've been angry at me, which is destructive, and certainly not helpful at all.  I have been angry about situations.  I have cursed and sat in anger I could barely contain about situations.  And I've been angry on a more global level.  I have been angry about things that happen in this world, and the ways people don't seem to care, and I have engaged in angry, passionate discourse about these topics. 

But this anger is not any of those.  This anger started when I came home from the Women's Retreat I attended with my church.  It intensified today after I attended the first session of the Adult Our Whole Lives sexuality education course at my church.  The retreat was awesome -- it was 24 hours filled with heart and wholeness and trust and laughter and good conversation among friends I had not previously met.  And you know what?  That's why I'm mad.  That is why I am so freaking angry.  I'm angry because there are so many good and beautiful and amazing and trustworthy people out there.  I'm angry because I have spent so long believing people weren't that way.  I'm angry at what I've missed.  I'm angry that a handful of hateful people were able to take away my ability to access these people and this piece of life.  I'm angry that a handful of hateful people were able to take away my ability to believe I was worthy of good, worthy of beautiful, worthy of amazing, worthy of trustworthy.

Right now, I'm angry for me.

(Woah.  I kind of expected the world to open up and swallow me right then when I typed that). 

Being angry for me has an entirely different connotation in my mind.  Being angry for me means I am finally willing to say, "what happened to me was wrong.  I should not have had to go through it.  The things that happened, and every lasting little piece that lingers out to this day is wrong.  It's wrong, wrong, wrong, and I can be angry  about the fact that it is wrong."  I spend a lot of time being angry AT me, and even more time denying that I'm angry or need to be angry at all.  I spent a lot of time being angry at others -- and that's a piece of it, clearly.  I spend most of my time making it distant and academic and talking about "these issues" in general, as they affect women in the US and around the globe.  That anger is right, and justified, and necessary, because we should all be mad about it and working towards change.  But I'm also just angry for me because, ya know, everybody deserves good, and beautiful, and amazing, and trustworthy.  Everybody.  Even me. 

I'm not angry at myself.  I know that I did what I had to do, and that I did what I could at each opportunity.  I made the best decision I knew how to make at every single crossroads I came upon.  I know this for a fact.  I wish I could have made different choices...but I couldn't.  I can't.  We can only ever move forward.

I am angry because somebody took my Legos -- the pink Lego, too.  I tried throwing tantrums like Amelia.  I tried being quiet like Ben.  And I tried, oh how I tried, to tell everyone that those Legos were mine.  But they're gone.  The politics of adult relationships aren't like the politics of the playground.  Sometimes, somebody takes your Legos, and no matter how many teachers you tell, no matter how many grown-ups you run to, no matter how loudly you scream it, your Legos are gone.  "You shouldn't have been playing Legos in front of him anyway," they say.  "What were you wearing while you were playing with Legos?" they ask.  "Well," they sigh, "I guess you'll be more careful with who you play Legos around in the future."
I'm angry because I am finally allowing myself to be in community, and this means there are walls that are crumbling, and this is painful and hard.  I'm angry because being in community lets me see all that I did not have that I should have been able to access.  When I didn't let myself see the alternative quite so clearly, it just wasn't as painful.  Now that I can (on my good days) live into that new reality or, at least, believe it's inciting an anger that's hard to know how to process.

I mean, I have a feeling it does not involve karate chopping my yoga teacher.  On that, at least, I'm relatively clear. Other than that, though, I end this without answers.  I end this with intense gratitude for good, and beautiful, and amazing, and trustworthy people.  I end this still intensely angry in a way that cannot be put into words.  And I end this committed to letting more of that which is good, and beautiful, and amazing, and trustworthy into my life. 


  1. Anger is such a hard tool to work with, but so necessary at times. You SHOULD be angry because of these things. Be angry, for you, for what you've lost... and be grateful you are seeing it, and know there is so much more to gain.

    And, yeah, don't kick the yoga teacher in the head or anything. =)

  2. It doesn't really get easier .... except when it does. Go ahead and be angry. I'm glad you're breaking through that barrier and seeing what's on the other side.