The thing is, I cry now.
I don't mean today. I mean I cry easily. And often. Since we've had the children, it's been a thing.
I first noticed it when I took my oldest daughter to see the movie musical Annie. Katie was 3 or 4, and she sat pretty well through the first half. But after Annie sang "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow" with President Roosevelt, Katie got a little squirmy. Not wanting to disturb folks, I walked her to the back of the theater. Some other mom was having a much harder time. Her kid was running up and down the aisles reminding all of us that it is, indeed, a hard knock life. Mom finally shook a box of candy and the scamp returned to his seat.
A few minutes later, during "Easy Street," one of my top six favorite Annie songs, an usher came over to me.
"There have been some complaints about your child," he whispered, directing his little flashlight at my shoes.
"Actually, I think you have the wrong kid," I responded. "Those folks have been having a tough time." I gestured toward the candy-munching duo a few rows up. The usher nodded and headed over. I felt guilty for outing them. It was a family crowd. Most of us felt that mother's pain. A few moments later, the usher returned -- to apologize, I presumed.
"They stressed that it was your child who has been the problem," he said, pointing his flashlight toward Katie now. "If you can't keep her quiet during the show, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
I am a reasonable person. I understand that people make mistakes. The other mom was feeling defensive, and this young lad was just following up. But I wanted to set him on fire. Or knock him to the ground and beat him with a box of Junior Mints. How dare he spoil this? I was sharing my childhood with my child. We hadn't done anything wrong.
I wanted to tell him all of this. Instead, I stepped away and started to cry. Just a few tears at first, but the anger soon lodged near my collarbone, and I began the ugly business of trying to hide my sobbing from my child. For anyone who has ever done this, it's not all that different from swallowing back vomit. The sadness wants to come out and you suck it back, usually with a lot of choking and guffawing.
I took Katie's hand and we left the theater. Without defending ourselves. Without our popcorn. I could not even calm down enough to lodge a complaint. I was so embarrassed. Why couldn't I pull it together?
Fast-forward to last week. The same thing happened, this time at a highway rest stop in Mississippi. I was hustling three children and a Labrador towards the bathroom. One of the kids was threatening public urination. Hence, the hurrying. I did not see the sign about NO PETS. We were simply trying to reach the toilet. I decided to wait outside with the baby and the dog, while the two girls did their business. Any idiot could see what we were doing. Instead, the security man ran after us, first hollering, terrifying my kids, then forcing his body between us and the bathroom door.
I've never started a fistfight, but I'm pretty sure I could have taken him. I just needed the toddler to hold the dog. Instead, I started to cry.
I like to think of this as a primitive reflex. When someone comes at my kids, I get a little nutso -- I want to go for the jugular. Back in cave times, I would have. Nowadays, taking a swipe at someone is uncouth, but my body still needs a way to release that big emotion. My inner lioness has become The Tears.
But I hate it. It's the number one reason I will never be president. My husband will argue that it's my lack of political savvy and ignorance about macroeconomics. But I know it's the boohooing holding me back. I mean, I'm a feminist. I read Lean In cover-to-cover. I'm tough. I hold my own at dinner parties. Conversations about religion and politics don't scare me. I learned to drive in a stick-shift car.
But parenting kids... man, it rocks you to the core. You think pushing them out is gonna be the hard part -- they call it labor for a reason. But that is a Disney cruise compared to the years that follow. Keeping them safe and healthy and happy for decades to come...
When I think of it that way, it's a wonder I'm not crying all the time.
Follow Annmarie Kelly-Harbaugh on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dadvmom