What if my kids only remember me as a mother who yelled?

By Amanda McCoy

I can feel it coming, usually. I feel the anger stir and unfurl inside me, a snake uncoiling. Despite resistance, the snake pushes out of my mouth and I hurl angry words at my children. I suspect it stems from what motherhood demands—a loss of self and deep sacrifice. The clock winds down each day, and I watch it tick toward my freedom—the small sliver of time just for me. Some days, that time doesn’t come and as the sacrifice builds, the snake inside me stirs. The loss of self can wear on even the best of mothers.

I hate yelling at my kids. I hate the anger that erupts from time to time. I use words to assuage them, to apologize, and to explain that anger and other emotions are healthy. But I want to right the wrong. I try to replace the bad moments with good moments; I’m flipping magnets so they reconnect forces again. I hope each hug erases a yell, each kiss softens harsh words. How many good moments are needed to overshadow and replace the bad ones? How many magnets do I need to flip to fix my mistakes?

What will they remember of me? Will they remember a scary mommy who yelled? Or will they remember a mother who danced in the kitchen and read endless books even when she was tired? Will they remember feeling safe and loved and cherished?

When I think of my childhood, I’m filled with warmth. I remember the house on Fay Drive in vivid detail. I remember the creaky second step and the wobbly part of the sidewalk. I can hear the wind in the trees in our backyard. I can feel my fingers wrapped around the fence as I climb it and the soft grass under my bare feet as I land and run. My tongue can taste the tart plums I picked from our tree. I can see the little wriggling white worms we pulled from the sick ones. I can smell Oreo’s puppy breath and feel her warm little body. I can see my room, the once-beautiful floral wallpaper and the green carpet. I can feel the rough closet walls, my fingers tracing the places where I etched my name and the names of those I loved.

I can see and smell and hear our family dinners in the bright kitchen, the casseroles and pork chops, my little brother always standing on his chair to be taller. My party of five sits at that same oak table now, and sometimes I press my palms against its smooth, worn, now a-little-decorated-and-defaced surface and fly back to my childhood in that warm, happy house that hummed with life.

I learned to walk and talk in that house. I crashed down the stairs in a laundry basket with my little brother in that house. I lay on the roof of that house, my pale pre-teen body glistening with baby oil. In that house through the vent in my room, I listened to my sister cry again and again after multiple break-ups. I helped my other brother sneak in and out of that house, undetected. I sat up late on the phone in that house, whispering in the dark to a best friend who left this earth this past year. I endured my first heartbreak in that house and discovered that some things are irreparable. I moved through my life, all the awkward and wonderful phases, in that house.

Even now, I see that house in my dreams, as vivid as the days I lived there, and I could sketch a map of it—the spaces and textures and all the worn in places. When I close my eyes, I see it all: every room, every space our family of six existed in as I grew from baby to young lady, from pig-tailed tomboy to moody, heartbroken teenager.

In the center of it all is my mother. She’s a spinning top, a whirling machine. There’s nothing she can’t or won’t do. She is always there, the lighthouse we have relied on forever. Her hair changes from short to long, perm to straight, as the images flash by, but she is constant. She is taking care of everyone over and over. We hardly noticed her in the moment, and we took her for granted.

But as I stand on the edge of my memories and recall them now, I notice her. Her sacrifice is immense. She is always behind the camera. She is feeding, clothing, and caring for us. She is there after every school day, during every milestone, and after each heartbreak. She is getting us ready for Halloween and making our lunches and washing our clothes. She is driving us to events and cheering us on and helping us with homework. She is tucking us into bed and kissing our heads. She is giving us space and letting us grow and guiding us toward adulthood. She is there, always there.

What time did she have to herself?

Did she yell? Probably. But that’s not what I remember. I remember warmth and laughter, a puppy surprise, and my siblings. I remember my father coming home from work and running to him, flinging myself into his arms. I remember the worn couch and the family pictures on the red brick fireplace. Our house was full of life and love and vibrated with activity. And I realize it was my mother who gave that to me, to us. Our anchor—she made our house a home. It was her, all of it. Maybe she was a magnet flipper too.

Will my girls remember I yelled? Maybe. But I hope they’ll remember me like I remember my mother—the single solid foundation from which the rest of our lives grew and flourished—the root from which we emerged.

Amanda McCoy lives outside Cleveland, Ohio with her husband, three children, and two rescue dogs. Her writing platform on Substack, The Write McCoy, features raw and real writing about motherhood and marriage from an ordinary mom with an ordinary life.

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