Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Angry Chicken: Enrage +5 Attack

Those of you who have never played Hearthstone have absolutely no idea what the headline is talking about. For the unenlightened: Hearthstone is an app-based game that plays like a World-of-Warcraft-influenced game of Magic: The Gathering. Never played World of Warcraft? I'm sure someone you know has ruined his or her life by playing it. At least, that's what the media says. Never played Magic: The Gathering? Please visit the Game Loft in Belfast, Maine, for an introduction to non-electronic gaming. Everyone can use a little Magic. But what does this have to do with parenting, particularly of the UU inclined?

I did not just attack my children, with or without a +5 attack bonus. Let's get that out of the way right now. Besides, James is already so good at his Lego City Construction app game that he could totally use a crane or a fire truck or something to trump my attack bonus and send me back to the chicken coop where I belong.

James was actually at school when Angry Chicken mode hit. That explains this whole situation, really; it's my four year old's fault for not being with me to make me behave. School, schmool...wait, isn't it still summer?

Nope - summer is gone, school has begun - and, judging from my friends' social media, it's a societal epidemic. School is upon us. Two or three days ago, not many days after my fateful, trashy mom appearance at the all-parent school meeting, I dropped James off for his first day of school. This week is phase-in week, meaning he only goes for an hour and a half for the first two days, and then a full day on the third day (he goes three days a week). He was thrilled when I dropped him off - at this age, school is much more exciting than 24 more hours of Mom and her Big Ideas.

Violet and I headed to the UU to meet with the church secretary (also my friend) to put together some paperwork for the youth group. The parents needed to have some of this information during the week before the year's first meeting. After Violet pestered the minister and I got the paperwork squared away, my friend sat with me and watched Violet play for a few minutes outside of the church. Things were peaceful. Violet was even running toward the trees rather than the road, a truly amazing event.

As I talked with my friend, I saw a gentleman heading our direction, walking down the hill on the sidewalk, headed toward Belfast's downtown. I smiled, and he smiled back. And then he made a fateful decision: he threw his cigarette butt on the ground, a few feet from my toddler, a few feet from my church, and a few feet from me.

"Hey! That is not okay!" I yelled.

And this is where he made Fateful Decision #2: he ignored me.

I picked up the cigarette butt. I did not head to the trash, which is exactly where I should have headed.

I headed into Angry Chicken Enrage +5 Attack mode. I ran down the hill at top speed (well, top speed for an overweight 35 year old mother of two) and threw the still-smoking butt at him, screaming, "Hey, @$$0! What the %#&?!!"

He stopped, turned around, and glared at me. "Go to hell!"

A switch flipped. I caught up with him, put one arm around his shoulders like we were best buds, and grinned maniacally at him. "No, thanks, I don't want to go to hell, because you'll be there, you jerk!" (I'll pretend I said jerk. The rest is accurate.)

He hollered back at me, "I'm already in hell!"

Now, this is the point, that later, out of Angry Chicken Enrage mode, I realized I actually had an opportunity to make things better. I didn't, however. I didn't completely hear what he was saying, what he was really feeling, when he said that. The fury of adrenaline had erased most reason from my mind. I say "most," rather than "all," because this story does not have an ending that leads to anyone in jail, thank goodness.

With very little reason left, though, I responded, without processing, "Get the f out, then! Leave my town! Stop f'ing it up! Go the f away!" (I'll keep up the trend and pretend I just said "f." This was beyond excessive profanity, even for me.) He continued down the hill, yelling obscenities back at me, as I came back to reality.

What in the hell had I just done? What the hell was the matter with me?!

My sweet and kind friend looked at me and said, "Well! Jessica, you're very brave!"

Although I was still pissed as hell and not completely reasonable, I knew she was wrong. "Nope. I am definitely not brave. I don't what's the matter with me. I didn't change his mind. All I did was make him mad. I can't believe I just did that." And yes - she can attest to the fact that those words are in fact what I said - no profanity. Followed by, "I need a drink of water."

Thankfully, Violet had been too focused on making a mess of the UU yard, under careful supervision of my mother-of-two-adult-children friend, to have witnessed much if any of this escapade.

I refused to get in the car and drive until I knew I had simmered down all the way - evidence that this sort of behavior is highly out of character for me. I'm a fairly calm, analytical person, and I'm pleased that I at least held on to the self-awareness necessary to prove I'm not absolutely insane. The water helped, as did sitting down for a couple of minutes of self-evaluation. When I was completely calm, and absolutely overcome with remorse, I drove us home.

The first person I contacted for advice was the only therapist I like and trust: that would be my husband's and my joint best friend. We were in the same MSW cohort, and he runs an agricultural and recreational therapy program. No, he is not my therapist, and yes, I know that you can't be your friend's therapist, anyway. I'm not an idiot. However, I trust him to tell me if I've gone off my rocker and actually need a regular therapist.

When I recounted my story, ending with, "I don't get it. I'm not a violent person," he agreed with the latter assessment, much to my relief. But did he think I had had some sort of crazy, manic episode?

He did not. "Jess, we've all got our triggers, especially when we're under stress," he said. "One of yours is apparently having a smoking cigarette butt tossed close to your small child."

Triggers. Okay. That made sense to me. Now I knew I had this trigger, so I could plan out how to cope with it in a more appropriate manner. End it at, "Hey, that's not okay." Count to ten. Take the butt to the trash.

However, I also made an appointment with the minister, because I wanted to know what his take on it was. When I walked in, I said, "Well, have your Hail Mary chart ready." Thank goodness he didn't assign me any, because I wouldn't have the least idea how to handle it. Seriously, though, I wanted some additional insight, and thankfully, he gave it to me - or, maybe in some way, I gave it to myself.

As he pointed out that my real trigger was the guy ignoring me, I had two epiphanies. First, not being listened to. Yes! This happened on a Monday, and the entire weekend preceding the Great Angry Chicken Incident of 2015, I had calmly struggled with the fact that no matter what I said to James, he didn't listen. I don't mean telling him to do stuff, either - I mean asking for space, asking for help, request request request, NVC'ing until I turned (calmly) blue in the face. I stayed calm, for my children. A stranger ignored me, and I couldn't take it any longer.

Second, I was able to consciously analyze the most important thing he said to me: "I'm already in hell!" Any ounce of anger I had left evaporated into sadness.

So, if I ever see the guy again - and I might, I live in a small town - I am going to walk, not run, up to him, and apologize. I'm sorry for being an Angry Chicken. I'm sorry for overreacting. I don't like it that you threw down a cigarette butt, but I don't like it that I yelled at you, either. You polluted the earth; I polluted my own heart and mind, which is worse.

I hope I do see him again, because maybe my words will make us both feel better. But more than that, I hope he finds his way out of his own hell. I've been there - my hell was Lubbock, Texas - and it's stifling. I want him to find what I've found: home.

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