lessons from the trenches: yelling

I have very, very, very smart friends.

Lessons from the Trenches is a series of a few things that I have learned over the last few months from watching and listening to my mom friends in action.

Check out Lessons from the Trenches: Stop Wasting.



"I will not yell for one hour."

Friend: Meg

Friend's Kids: 6, 4, 2, and new. 

Friend's Parenting Vibe: Coach, cheerleader, camp counselor, like a tough but fair teacher who's really warm and animated, who also gets down on her knees to look her kids in the eye and show them that she's right there by their sides.

Friend's Parenting Spirit Animal: Kangaroo


damn girl
check out those glutes
those are like
dude
you could seriously carry like 3 children around the zoo
for like 3
4 hours
on those pistons

plus another one

#pouch

#megsupial

I sat on Meg's couch and noticed, holy shit, this boss bitch has 4 kids and ZERO Cheerios under her kitchen table. Then I tuned back into the conversation just in time to hear her say that she's been working on celebrating the little victories every day.

"You know, like if I can manage not to yell until lunch, that's a win, I deserve a high five for that, or possibly something a little stronger."

Meg is fascinating because her internal experience as a mother is so at odds with her performance of mothering.

She's one of my parenting mentors, and I could honestly write an entire blog post about all the ways she impresses me. She's respectful of all children, but in a genuine, unshowy way, not in a theatrical "HEY EVERYONE COME WATCH ME MODEL RESPECT" kind of way.

She's able to listen to a new mom freak out about hind milk without cutting her off and saying something true/useless like "Seriously don't worry, that's not a thing." Instead, she nods, makes affirming "mmmm" sounds, and says, "I remember being scared of that, too." She waits for an invitation to offer advice, which IMHO is a fucking super power. Her parenting appears, to me, to be real, joyful, thoughtful, crazy but in a fun way, and at times literally magical.

I once watched her two-year-old climb too high up on a big kids' play structure. Meg noticed him, called out, "Romeo, that's too high buddy!" AND ROMEO SMILED AND CLIMBED BACK DOWN. (No, his name isn't really Romeo.)

teach me

teach me your ways

original painting by Adam Brown


But then she'll say, "Oh my God, I am about to FREAK OUT. Romeo is driving me CRAZY. I honestly don't know if I can make it another day... he never stops whining..."

She'll pronounce herself a woman on the edge, and in the next moment she'll place a hand on his back, as soft as a cloth smoothed over a table. "Ro, can you take a deep breath? I'm having a hard time understanding you."

She talks like she's about to come apart at the seams even as her stitches appear, to me, beautifully even.

But that's part of why Meg's so great (that, and she teaches kickboxing HOLLERRRR), the fact that she is not rooted in that flattened, glowy zen that frankly, I do not trust one bit. She struggles, she worries, she tries and succeeds, she tries and fails.

And that's why I wanted to write about her today.

She's trying a not-yelling thing and she's balls-out awesome.

So I tried a not-yelling thing.



THE DAY I DID NOT YELL

I woke up and said out loud, "I will not yell today."

I got out of bed, pulled on some clothes, and splashed water on my face. I will not yell today.

I looked in the mirror. Lookin good, Katie! 

I smiled. Feelin good, Katie!

So far, so good!

Not yelling wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I just had to stay focused and centered, remember to breathe, and remember that this too shall pass.

Of course, at some point the children would wake up.

I checked the clock.

7:22 am.

I heard a thud on the other side of the door. Deep breath. I opened the door, walked inside.

___

Buster grabbed a full bowl of Cheerios off the counter and turned it upside down and I had to pick cold, soggy, slimy Cheerios off the floor.

Me: "Oh my goodness. Thank you for reminding me not to put food bowls so close to the edge of the counter. My, you are growing taller and taller every day! Okay, please help me pick these up. No, but don't eat them. Fine. Eat them."

___

I had to run into the kitchen naked but for one pant leg because I heard the telltale, hearty splash of Buster dumping an entire cup of water on the kitchen floor.

Me: "Woooooooooow." (DEEP BREATH)
"Okay, buddy. Let's grab a towel and clean this up together. I don't want anyone to slip in this puddle!"
(He runs away.)
"BUSTER." (DEEP BREATH don't yell don't yell don't yell)
"Buster? Babe? I know you don't want to clean this up, but hiding from me isn't going to work. Also you're hiding from me in the middle of the floor. With a napkin on your head."

(Please remember that I was naked, except for one pant leg. The other pant leg was just like dragging behind me. Yes, through the water.)
___

We were playing pirate, which is super fun because I get to lurch around scowling, but it's also a refreshing challenge because somehow I always go Irish halfway through.

Me: "YARRRR MATEYS, 'tis a foine day fer seekin' treasure lads, may the road roise up to meet ye..."

(No, this is not relevant for the yelling thing, but I do think it's an important detail in terms of my character development.)

___

Chicken played the Dog Catcher, which I guess in his mind meant Dog Serial Killer because he built a trap for Buster and then lured him inside and then slammed the "door" (a couch cushion) and growled "Now you will NEVER get out of the DARK AGAIN!"

Buster's face crumpled and he reached out from between the cushions calling, "Heeeelp me Mommy!"

Chicken screamed, "STAY IN THE DARK, STUMPY DOG!" and bit Buster's hand.

Me: "WOAH WOAH WOAH!"

(I know it's all caps but it wasn't a yell.
Okay, it started that way but then I kind of played it off like I was exclaiming in song.
Think, like, the "WOO WOO WOO" from Grease's "You're the One that I Want."
It was goddamned lyrical, okay?
Not yelling.)

"You know, Chicken, I can see that you're really interested in this character of the Dog Catcher. But a Dog Catcher is really more of a Dog Protector, not a Dog Trapper."

Chicken transformed instantly. Gone was Sweeney Todd: The Demon Dog Catcher of First Avenue. He brought Buster a basket of toys, crawled into the dog house and snuggled him, and then when I pretended to be a dog he gave me A PAW RUB.

Holy shit, not yelling is working so well. It's already...

8:09 am!

___

Buster started walking around the house, moaning "DA BOOOONE! DA BOOOONE! DA BOOOONE" in what I call his Forrest Gump voice - you know, the voice Forrest turns on his teacher after his teacher has just laid the pipe up in Mrs. Gump? 

If you don't remember, it basically sounds like someone dropped an accordion player into a chumming machine.

Me: "Bone? A bone? You want a bone? Are you still pretending to be a doggy? Like you want a bone? Are you asking for chicken? Chicken on the bone? Did you hurt one of your bones? Dinosaur bones? What bone? What bone, baby? BUSTER. YOU HAVE TO STOP MAKING THAT SOUND BUDDY."

___

I started changing out the laundry and Buster ran up hollering "WANNA HELP!" and slammed the washer door shut. 

"No thank you, Buster," I said, eerily calm. I'd found a new place of peace. A robot place.

"WANNA HELP!" he screamed again, and grabbed an armload of dirty kitchen towels to throw into the washer, which was still full of clean clothes. 

"Buster," I snapped, switching from Zen Robot to Lucille Bluth in the blink of an eye, "I don't want your help right now. Go play with your dinosaurs." 

He threw himself to the ground, hitting his elbow on the way down, turning his "whining" scream into a "wound" scream. 

I picked him up and hugged him. I said, "Are you okay." You know, the way you do when you go to the bathroom and find your friend who always gets drunk and cries, drunk and crying. 

I said, "Why don't you go play in the play room until I"m done." 

He got up and walked into the kitchen. 

"Play room," I said again. 

I heard him opening drawers. 

"Buster, please go into the play room." 

The clatter of plastic dishes hitting the floor. 

I almost screamed his name. Instead I stalked into the kitchen, grinding my teeth, and carried him into the play room, where he immediately toppled into a sobbing heap.

___

B: MOOOOOOOOOOOOK
Me: I hear that you want milk.
B: MOOOOOOOOOOOOK
Me: Yes, you want milk. I am cooking lunch right now so I can't get you milk but you will have milk with lunch.
B: MOOOOOOOOOOOOK
Me: Yes, baby, you want milk. Please stop yelling at me.
B: MOOOOOOOOOOOOK
Me: I don't like when you pull my pants down.

___


Okay, so, no, I didn't make it the whole day without yelling.

Which I honestly think is a good thing, because I was getting worried about what was going to happen to all of the unyelled yells I'd been choking back all day. I'm not a doctor, but I think that's how ulcers and schizophrenia get made.

I've started every day since then with the goal of not yelling, and at some point I break.

I always break.

Like a person on a diet, I hold on for as long as I can, and when the fast is broken, well, I gorge. Once I've nibbled the first crumb of yelling cookie, I can house the yelling equivalent of a pint of ice cream and four cheese quesadillas in two minutes flat.

Here are some of the things I've said yelled that have marked the breaking of the fast and the end of the day's tether:

Tuesday - 7:43 am - THIS IS NOT HOW I WANT TO START THE DAY

Thursday - 3:22 pm - I HEARD YOU JUST POOP IN YOUR PANTS I'M SCOOPING OUT A MELON

Friday - 6:06 pm (so... close...) - I AM NOT GOING TO ASK YOU AGAIN. DO. YOU. HAVE. ANY. EIGHTS.


Saturday - 4:18 pm - OH MY GOD YOU GUYS THE COOKIES ARE EXACTLY THE SAME SIZE


But Meg was right - there is something to be said for celebrating the little wins. Each day is an incredible tapestry of delights and insanity, rage and love and boredom. All too often we go to bed replaying the failures, analyzing the fumbles rather than the touchdowns (I talk sports!) and of course, we can all learn from these missed opportunities. But just as important as avoiding past mistakes is repeating past victories.

We have to be careful with this mindset. While I think it's wonderful to set the goal to not yell, and then celebrate as far as you get, all too easily we could slip into the guilty darkness wherein we set the goal to not yell, and then despair when we "fail."

Everybody yells. Some people (cough cough) yell every day, some much less often (I'm told.) I know for a fact that Meg doesn't make it through the day most days either. She's awesome, not stoned.

But the lesson here isn't about yelling - it's about honoring how hard even the simplest of tasks can be when you're operating under constant, unrelenting stress.

If you don't have kids, imagine making an omelette in the middle of a blackout at the MGM Grand Casino on fight night. Or try to listen to your mom recount what happened on each day of her 9-day Norwegian cruise, while giving your house cat a bath.

Maybe you burn the omelette; maybe you walk away from that bathtub with only one working eye. But dammit, that shit was INTENSE, and you deserve a high five.

Or maybe something a little stronger.

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