My kids have curious minds. They think deeply. The ponder life, watch, evaluate, question, and come to conclusions.... or they come to more questions. They talk openly with me easily about any subject whether it be a typical "red-faced" health issue or anything else. They talk over behaviors of other kids and stories they hear about in school. They thrill in their science lessons and come bounding to tell me endless facts and the possibilities of exploring or creating things in the world. They absorb their history lessons and question me on other events happening in the world at the time. Their world view is larger than one country, so they are interested in what was occurring in the rest of the world and why one country reacted as it did. They also discuss their teacher's viewpoint and biases and wonder how that affects they way they teach a particular historical incident. They discuss plots and feelings in the books they read. Math excites them (all but the youngest who is quite capable but laboring under the impression that she hates math) and they loudly chatter about different ways to solve problems and get to the same conclusions. Geography thoroughly interests them as they talk happily about the "oh, I've been there!" or "oh, I'd love to go there!" of each place they study. If there is one thing my kids can not be accused of, it is of being uninterested or uncurious!
They question. They ponder. They wonder. They ask.
They feel free to do this also as they struggle to cope with their father. Sometimes, he is a great dad. Sometimes, he's angry and silent. Other times, he explodes for no reason. Often he is just hyper-critical. Other times, he makes up explanations for things he doesn't know and tells the kids as if it were true. Their faces wrinkle up in a confused questioning, but they are silent. They have learned not to question their dad - to watch for the signs of anger about to erupt.
Over the years as they've struggled to cope with his anger and unpredictability, they go about it in their typical way - they come to me with questions, with ideas, with their thoughts. Tonight from my two older boys, "What's wrong with Dad tonight?" I don't know exactly. I think he is more tense than usual. They nod and look around to make sure they weren't overheard. They duck their heads and work on their homework more studiously. When I call them to help with chores, they work well, and away from his immediate presence, they become children again - those half children, half adults that teens are. They work hard and well and laugh as they work, but they also goof off with each other, teasing and talking non-stop.
My daughter went shopping with me. "Mom, why is daddy always so angry?" I take a breath and pause, thinking. How much will she be able to grasp? I've always believed in talking honestly, but simply to my kids. "Well, I really don't think it has much to do with you or me or the brothers at all. I think he has a lot of anger he hasn't dealt with, and because it isn't dealt with, it erupts a lot like a volcano when anything makes him annoyed. Maybe something little like might make another person just annoyed or a little upset, but because he has this anger in him, he explodes."
She thought and then asked, "What is he angry about mommy?" I told her the truth, that I do not know. I said I don't believe it is anything we do. I think it has been there a long time. I said that perhaps it is not because of anger, but it is because of hurt. I explained some things that had happened in her daddy's life when he was a boy with some wars and tragedies and changes he had to go through. I told her that people tend to respond to hurt in two ways - either they cry and feel weak and unable to go on or they get angry. The anger is only to push away the hurt so they don't feel it as much.
She nodded and said, "Like G_____ at recess. If people are hurt his feelings, he gets angry. Then he gets in trouble. But A_____ cries if people hurt her." I agreed and told her that typically, but not always, boys tend to get angry as a response to hurt more than girls do. Part of it is because "big boys don't cry". I told her that perhaps it is not even that daddy is such an angry man, but it is perhaps that he is angry because he has wounds that he hasn't allowed to be healed yet.
She pondered that one for awhile. "But remember when you went away for a course, and it was to help to learn how to deal with people and conflict. Why didn't that help? It seemed like it helped for a little while, but it didn't stick."
I explained that the course taught people skills on how to deal with people and conflicts better, but in order to use those skills, you had to be in control of yourself. Those skills won't work if the anger controls you. I told her that the problem with choosing anger for a long time is that anything that you allow to control you will begin to control you. That you actually allow the anger to be in control.
She interrupted me with a child's simple wisdom. "But, mommy, it would be silly to say anger controls you. It is more real to say that Satan controls you."
The wisdom and simplicity of children! I had never discussed this with her before.
I told her that she was right and explained that that is why it is such a problem and why we need to be sure that we do not give sins control of ourselves. I asked her if she remembered what the gospels said about Satan - that he came to steal, kill, and destroy. I told her that I doubt her daddy would really want to hurt us with what he says if he was in control of himself, because I believe that he really loves us, but when he is not in control, but allows Satan control.... well, Satan wants to destroy. So he doesn't care about what destruction he creates in the relationships or what wounds he makes in us.
She nodded and was silent thinking. Then she asked, "Mommy, how long do you think he will stay angry like this?" Ah, child.... if only you did not have to carry this weight! I told her that I hope not long. I told her that I think God will let him get to a place that he really sees that he needs help, and I think that he is getting closer and closer to that point. That is why we see things getting worse and worse. But that we can hope and pray for daddy that he will be willing to take God's help soon.
Then we walked in the store, and her attention went to choosing which fruit she wanted for the next week. Little mind, big thoughts, and the capacity to understand more than I ever wanted her to ever have to understand. She's only nine, but she easily grasps and grapples with what she sees.
But they come to me with their questions and their pain. I've told them that we will get through this together. We will stick together - them and me, and we will be honest with each other.
At the table this evening, when their dad stopped a child praying to yell at him as to how he was praying, they all were silent. No one reacted. No one cried. We have decided that we will not cower. If someone begins to, the others will step in to defend. But the best policy for now is to go on living. To live and to chose joy where we can. To stick together. And in that moment, eyes quickly went from one to the other to me and back to each other. Quiet, still, bodies quiet, eyes seeking other eyes, supporting, willing strength not to answer back and cause more anger, willing strength not to crumble.
And then in the busy-ness of cleaning up the meal, each one comes to me, "Why is Dad angry?" "What is going on?" I don't know. It came with no warning. Slight warning yesterday that he seemed grouchy, but no warning. They draw a breath, and go on. We will stick together and we will live our lives. They search my eyes to see if I need support, and I meet theirs reassuring them that I am fine - sad, but fine, and we go on. We clean up the kitchen and empty the fridge and the garbage, working together with the practiced ease of five who often do tasks together, and as we work, we begin again to talk and laugh. Life goes on. Life of the five of us who chose joy in the midst of the pain we live in.