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They’re … ‘killin’ me, Smalls’

“You’re killin’ me, Smalls.”

Before it became a product in a sponsored Facebook ad that people overwhelmingly tag me in, I was saying this to my girls.

For Ham Porter, it was an utterance born of annoyance. It’s not his best line in the movie. I mean, it’s certainly no “count on it, pee-drinking crap face,” or anything. But “you’re killin’ me, Smalls” is still in the top three Porter quips in The Sandlot.

It’s one of two baseball movie references that I lob regularly at my children, but that they don’t understand. At all.

The other one is “there’s no crying in baseball.” And I say it every single time they cry, because they can’t not laugh as soon as they hear it.

For me, “you’re killin’ me, Smalls” is an utterance born of the F-word.

What? No, dude, frustration! The frustration word!

I know what you were thinking. And I’d like to say that it’s a reflection on you, not me, but if you know me you know that that’s absolutely not true. If you know me, it was entirely the natural conclusion to have drawn.

But this is the newspaper, and I have been instructed to behave like a lady.

So, for our purposes, the F-word for today is “frustration.”

Motherhood, by any other name, is frustration.

It does not matter what any of the diaper commercials try to tell you. It’s lies. It’s all lies. Pampers are dirty, dirty liars. It’s as simple as that.

Being a mom is frustrating. Because, from the moment you bring that warm, wiggly little poop machine in your front door, you will be living an existence devoid of boundaries. For your foreseeable future, there will always, always, be someone either touching your face or calling your name or running around behind you, rekindling fires that you literally just put out.

Frustration is a tricky monster. It feels a lot like anger. I say “feels” for a reason. Because frustration feels like that shadowy borderland between everything’s at least okay, and having a cerebral aneurysm burst and cause a subarachnoid hemorrhage in your nugget, dropping you like a box of hammers.

But frustration and anger are two different things. It’s a subtle nuance.

They’re kind of like fraternal twins.

When someone does something to directly offend or harm you, it’s natural to feel angry. When your five-year-old is just getting her Dali on and painting the rim of the bathroom sink with pink, sparkly, bubblegum princess toothpaste, in such a way that it goes unnoticed until you lean against it to apply makeup and wind up looking like a Slimer victim in Ghostbusters II?

That feeling you get when you realize you’ve been slimed?

That’s frustration.

I mean, hypothetically. Because I wouldn’t know the first thing about toothpaste on every surface of my home and body except for my perfect offspring’s actual teeth.

But I’m guessing it’s probably really, really frustrating (she said, through grated teeth).

Because, ideally, there would not be toothpaste on any actual physical surface in your home. I mean, I don’t know you, but… you seem pretty normal. It feels like a safe speculation to make. If I’m wrong then, I don’t know. Just roll with it for now, I guess.

And later, maybe ask yourself some difficult questions.

But for some reason, even though your child has been up for two hours, she’s managed to get toothpaste on the carpet, the wall, the sink, your straightening iron, three (count ’em, three) of her own shirts, a large chunk of her bangs, and now the only clean pair of work pants you currently posess. Everything but her actual, um, teeth, which you’ve been patiently reminding her to brush for the past 45 minutes while grinding your own, like maize in a mortar, into a fine powder and hate-curling your hair.

But she didn’t intend for you to go to work this morning in a sloppy pair of trousers that you’ll spend the rest of your day trying to de-crust and sheepishly explain to strangers. She wanted the sink to be pretty, ma!

Are you catching the difference here? Frustration is a dissonance between a person’s ideals, their preferences, and actual reality.

Anger is done to you. Frustration?

You do to yourself, son.

I know. It’s the truth, but you don’t have to like it. I don’t like it. It sucks. It sucks hard.

Because it’s just so much more satisfying to assume that all those icky somatic responses to frustration — the creeping thud of your own surging blood pressure on your eardrums, the subtle uprising in the guerilla force that is heart rate, the timid creaking of your clenched jaw, and the gradual shrinkage of your myotic rage pupils, that eventually congeal and peak, like “White Rabbit,” in an almighty mushroom cloud of indiscriminate yuck feels — are someone else’s fault.

Okay, don’t even look at me like that.

Everyone has a different level of frustration tolerance.

Mine happens to be low. Like, really low. Like, I don’t know what an objective measure of frustration tolerance might be, but I’ll bet you twenty bucks, right now, that I’m two standard deviations below average at my baseline.

So what’s the point?

I tell my kids that they’re killin’ me, Smalls, every time I get frustrated. Because it feels like they’re killing me. Because my stupid limbic system is alarmist and reactionary and I hate it. I hate my brain!

And that paragraph right there, above this one? May or may not be a really good example of what low frustration tolerance looks like.

Just sayin’.

But I know that my beautiful, darling children aren’t actually killing me.

I’m pretty sure they’re not really.

Killing me.

Mostly, I’m pretty sure that they’re not, actually, killing me…

Probably.

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