Beneath the surface

Beneath the surface

Beneath the surface 150 150 JJ Landis

My kids didn’t have school on Monday. My husband forgot the kids didn’t have school on Monday. I got mad at him for that horrible transgression. How could he have overlooked something I added to his calendar? Seriously! Have you ever heard of anything so awful?

We live and die by our calendars, and he misses about one out of every 300 things, so I really had no reason to be upset.

I was kinda rude to him when he left for work and I immediately felt guilty, so I wrote him an email trying to explain why I was upset about his oversight since it obviously didn’t have anything to do with anything tangible. I knew he didn’t deserve my anger.

Here’s what I wrote: “Upset again about calendar stuff because I just want someone to pay attention to me as much as I pay attention to everyone else.”

I realized that it was a heart issue, not a calendar issue. It’s a buildup of childhood hurt turned rage that lives just below my skin, percolating. My brain is good at controlling my emotions, so I usually hide what’s under the surface. Occasionally it spurts out in bursts. Sometimes it explodes, and the tears alert me that I perhaps have some problems with handling life.

My instinct is to help people. I want everyone to be happy and fulfilled and I do a lot of encouraging to make sure those around me know their value and my appreciation. I write notes.  I pay attention. I try to remember things people tell me. When I’m asked to pray for something, I do. My main contribution to the world most days, I think, is that I pay attention to people.

I was hurt because I interpreted a small oversight by the hubby as “he didn’t pay attention to something I said so therefore I have no value.”

One time when my oldest child was about four, her little brother ran into the corner of the countertop and cut the skin by his eye. As blood gushed down his face and both of us parents rushed to help him, my daughter started screaming, “Why isn’t anyone paying attention to me?!” That’s how I felt Monday morning: “Me me me! Pay attention to me!”

This has nothing to do really with how my friends and family treat me. It has everything to do with the rejection that took root in my childhood, which I have refused to let God yank out.

I grasp onto my familiar hurts and wrap myself in the tangled comfort of the known rather than risk anything different, risk exposure, risk another kind of pain.

On my drive home Monday after an all-day meeting, which served to distract me for a bit from myself, I thought again about my morning. I knew there was no injury from my husband. But yet I was still feeling unloved and unappreciated and full of self-pity on all sides.

When I arrived to a messy house and relaxing kids (remember, no school), I texted the husband that he best beware – that I was in a murderous funk! Irrational anger. Slamming things. I dumped a perfectly good jar of candy in the trash because it was in my way. (Candy! So sad.)

Later, while I was preparing dinner and chatting with my niece who was visiting from out of town, for some reason it came up that in the nine years we have lived in our house, I have not cleaned under my fridge. (How does that come up in conversation?)

The dirty floor really bugged me but I never had the time to deal with it. No one could see it. No one cared if there was dirt under my refrigerator. But it drove me mad sometimes. The sticky, gunky dust peered out from under the edges and mocked me. But I didn’t have the time or energy to take care of it. It could always wait until another day.

My niece apparently would not tolerate my whining. She immediately muscled the fridge away from the wall and exposed nine years’ worth of ick. She and I and the two kids who were lucky enough to be in the kitchen went to work cleaning. It was disgusting. Our hands and clothes got dirty. My son’s dark hair turned gray with dust. It took some elbow grease, but when that appliance was returned to its home, the hidden area sparkled.

Why won’t I excavate my root of rejection and my fear of being unappreciated? I don’t want to put forth the effort. I’d rather eat, drink, and be merry and pretend I can’t see or feel anything amiss. But my ugly interior is visible around the edges, if you look close enough. It’s there even if I ignore it.


JJ Landis

JJ Landis is the author of "Some Things You Keep." She is a librarian in Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband and three children. She blogs about parenting, marriage, and getting through the day at

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