The crime that finally set her off that morning was minor--so unimportant, really, that she now struggles to recall its details.
And yet there she was, coming unhinged before the morning clock had struck 7. Like a million other mothers.
See, she'd already packed two lunches, started a load of wash, put an assortment of plastic animals in the toy box, picked up several stray socks, signed a school missive that one son presented at the last possible second, and located two misplaced items for her kids. Now, with the steering wheel clutched in a death grip, she was driving toward her 14-year-old's school.
In a fine, foaming rage.
She can't recall what she was screaming at the kid in the passenger seat, except that it included at least one "How many times have I told you . . . ?" and a "What were you thinking?" with a "How dare you . . . ?" hurled in for effect.
No wonder her son finally snapped, "What's wrong with you?"
Maybe you're like her. Maybe when your kid, spouse or sweetie punches your righteous-rage button, there is a small part of you that doesn't go there. A tiny pin-dot of rationality within you that sees the lunatic you've become and suggests that "What's wrong with you?" is a reasonable question.
The lunatic this woman had become wasn't listening. "What's wrong with me," her expression told her son, "is you."
Of course, "she" was me. Of course, I'd rather be parboiled than have any non-family member actually witness such dirt-ugly behavior. Of course, once my son leapt out of the car, I watched this boy--who has weathered the worst of me, and who also inspired my best and most beautiful--walk away. Alone, eyes stinging, I could finally hear that voice within asking, "What is wrong with you?"
And I told it: I want a life.
As if I don't have a great one. But as the new century looms, my mind shuttles between past and future, old selves and new. I see myself at 10, studying a calendar that projected all the way to the impossible year 2000. Noting that I'd be over 40--40!--I decided the millennium would be no biggie.
How could anyone that old enjoy it?
That girl, like millions of others, became a woman with a husband, job and a house full of kids. Now I realize that at the century's end, there are kids everywhere whose moms and dads want their own lives. And I shiver with something deeper than cold.
Such a strange new world. Women who are homemakers often are isolated from those who work. Women without kids are clueless as to the hunger with which the moms they envy often view their existences.
Whoever said you can have it all was a fool, or selling something.
But why shouldn't each of us want a life? I keep thinking of Don Roberts, the Stanford professor who coauthored that recent study detailing kids' unprecedented immersion in the media. In most American families, both parents, or the single presiding parent, work outside the home, which contributes to millions of youngsters consuming the media without adult supervision.
For everything, "there's an upside and a downside," Roberts said. "It's possible that women having more of a life costs us something . . . "
Then he chuckled. "It never occurred to my mother to have a life," he said.
Was it ever simple for mothers? All I know is that it's a heavy thing, knowing you can have a life. It means realizing that the house you never quite get clean, the marriage that requires more attention than you can give, and the family in which no one feels truly appreciated, don't have to be enough. Most of us are glad for our careers, and for the paychecks and the self-worth they provide. It's the never catching our breath, the dearly missed freedoms, the witnessing of our frustration-fueled ugliness that rankle.
My millennium musings keep bringing me to an unfashionable notion that must accompany any honest discussion of kids: sacrifice. Raising them right means forfeiting stuff, which doesn't sit well in these self-absorbed times.
Recently, my friend Mike, a loving husband devoted to his two kids, said: "I've been a father 12 years, and I'm still learning about sacrifice. My greatest satisfaction comes from my family, but I'm still fighting what is true: that my life--my life, singular--is over."
Like him, I want a life. When my rants subside, I know the life I want is this one--this husband, these kids, these tortured, transcendent relationships.
That I want more besides won't change.
But in the new millennium, I tell myself I'll do better. I'll give more of my time, patience and creativity to my children. I'll organize my life's disparate pieces so they won't scatter so easily, so my frustration won't ever make me that ugly again.
Until the next time.