01 August 2013

Old Yeller

I have a problem.  I am a scary mommy.  I'm not talking Goosebumps scary.  I mean, lose-sleep-at-night, The Ring type scary.  It's because I yell at my kids.  And I'm really good at it.  Or, bad about it?  Since Max hit the terrible twos, it's a very rare day when I haven't lost it for one reason or another.

Pretty sure this is what I look like when I yell.

I tell myself it could be worse.  I really do try hard to be that calm type of parent who always reacts in a loving way, who disciplines without anger.  I don't spank my kids.  And yelling is for the most part harmless anyway, right?  So some feelings get hurt.  I always apologize when I know I've gone a step too far, when I've over-reacted.  It's not like there's any long term damage.  Right?

My Mr. Sensitive.  Major guilt trip if I yell at this puppy-eyed mama's boy.

Well, let's get real, I know that's not true.  I know from experience, because my mom was a yeller, too (sorry to out you, Mom).  My mom could yell in a way that shook the house, or at least it felt like it.  I'm talking get-a-hearing-test-afterward decibels.  And you know what?  I'm pretty sure I'm even worse than she was.  I'm pretty sure I can warp my voice to the point that even Matt's convinced I've been possessed by a demon.

Pretty sure she is my personality clone.  Probably why I want to smack her sometimes.
(For the record, I never have.)

The thing is, it's so hard not to yell.  It wasn't hard when I had just one child.  It wasn't hard with two.  But I now have four kids, and it seems everything is multiplied by four, including bad behavior.  It snowballs, and when it gets rolling, it's really hard.  It's hard when it's the 157th time you've told your 3 year old to put his pants back on, and he runs away from you, kicks at you, and squeals like it's a freaking game when you try to put them on him yourself.  It's hard when your kid is flailing so wildly in a tantrum that he rears his head back and gives you a bloody nose, or when he's running and jumping so carelessly that he injures a sibling--and then keeps on running and jumping without a second glance.  It's just really hard.

And yet after I've finally yelled, the fear and emotional pain I see in my child's eyes are no less real than they would have been if it was only the fourth time I told him to do something.  I get what I need to do done, but I'm not sure the message I'm sending is the one I intended.  I always hope the message is, 'I better not do X again!'  But I'm pretty sure the message really ends up being, 'mommy is mad,' 'mommy is mean,' 'mommy is scary.'  I'm pretty sure the fact that I'm yelling is simply the final confirmation that, yes, I am indeed failing.

I know this is what I feel like when I yell.

I always hate myself after I have a flip-out sort of yelling attack.  I know how scary I am.  And if I scare myself, I can't imagine how much fear I put into my kids.  To your kids, you control every aspect of their lives.  You control everything they eat, everything they own, the people they can interact with, everything.  You are the whole world.  And when you're yelling, it's got to be like an earthquake.  Things are ripped away.  The very walls could cave in on them.  There is not a soul who can save them.  And they have absolutely no power to stop it.

I think to myself, I know I could never do anything really bad to my kids.  Surely they know I would never hurt them.  I would never leave them.  Or do they?  If I'm screaming threats at them, aren't they going to believe them?

How can someone so adorable drive me so bat-s*** crazy?

The fact of the matter is that there are parents that do horrible things to their own children.  We read about them in the news with disgust and mentally distance ourselves from even the remote possibility that they are anything like us.  And those children are helpless against them.  But it serves as proof that we really are lords over our offspring.  I am just as capable, physically, to overpower and, essentially, torture (or worse) my kids.  The critical difference is simply self-control. Everyone draws a line in the sand.  This form of discipline is acceptable.  That one isn't.  Kids are different, they sometimes need to be punished differently.  What works for her isn't enough for my 'wild child,' or what she's doing is a bit extreme...maybe she's got one of those ADHD kids.    *shrug* 

I want to pull back my line in the sand.  I want to be one of those rare people that doesn't yell at their kids.  I mean really never yells, not just the grit-your-teeth-in-public-but-let-loose-at-home type, like the vast majority of yellers.  It really seems impossible.  It really does.

My baby.  Can't imagine yelling at this sweet face.  But I'm afraid someday I will.

Since about the beginning of the year, when I made a lofty New Year's resolution to stop yelling--doubtfully, because I knew how hard it would be for me--I've been following The Orange Rhino, a blog dedicated to the subject of curbing the strong maternal urge to yell when children misbehave.  It is a fantastic resource for support, tools and tactics, anecdotal inspiration, etc.  I often catch a blog or Facebook post from The Orange Rhino and get reinvigorated and think, 'today can be Day 1!  Again...'

But little tricks and techniques aren't what I need if I'm really going to stop yelling.  Those things are useful, but I'm not even there yet.

Who's yelling now?  Is that a mad bump?

What I really need is a paradigm shift.

My kids are way into Disney's Mulan right now.  I mean way into it.  They pretty much have it memorized.  Yesterday I discovered that there's a Mulan II and it's on Netflix also.  Finding a leprechaun's pot of gold wouldn't have excited them as much.  And no, I'm not changing the subject here.

Coolest Mulan poster ever.  Want it!

This morning my brain kept turning over a seemingly random line from the movie:  "No matter how the wind howls, the mountain can not bow to it."  The calm and stately emperor says this when the dreaded giant beast of an enemy, Shan Yu, is demanding, at the threat of his sword, that the emperor bow down to him.

I've always thought this line - originating from a legit Chinese proverb - was a clever one.  But today I turned it over and over, thinking about what the emperor really meant when he said it.  How frightened must he have been in that situation?  Surely any other man would have peed himself with fear.  Any other man, weak, old, alone and unarmed, would have pleaded for some sort of mercy, right? Where is the emperor getting his resolve?  And I realize that the strength to stand up to a man who surely will kill you in a matter of seconds, to refuse to show even the slightest hint of inferiority - that strength doesn't come from the man in the yellow robe.  It comes from the position.  It comes from the duty implied by that position.

He is the Emperor of China, standing in front of hundreds of thousands of his subjects.  These people practically worship him.  They hang on his every word.  He essentially plays God with their lives.  What would be the repercussions of a whimpering, begging emperor?  Pandemonium in the Forbidden City, and mass hysteria throughout China as the news quickly spread that the emperor has fallen to Shan Yu; that the security they thought they felt was a sham; that the person to whom they entrusted their safety and their lives was not invincible or omnipotent.  The consequences of even so much as a flinch were dire.

So what does it mean, then?  "No matter how the wind howls, the mountain can not bow to it."  And why is it sticking with me so much today?

In my life, my position is Mother.  For four little ones, I hold demons at bay.  I take all the worries and anxieties that fill a childhood and put them at ease.  I show them the safest way.  I am supposed to be the Great Protector, in so many ways.  And when I break down and resort to yelling, I can feel that Great Wall of security that I am supposed to embody crumbling into millions of pieces.  Five minutes later, I must begin the impossible job of rebuilding the whole structure one brick at a time.  And it is indeed impossible.

Yesterday I really blew up at Karol.  It was bad.  There are not words to describe the remorse I felt for it.  I shouldn't be surprised if, in 20 years, her shrink pinpoints yesterday as the inciting event for everything that goes wrong in her life.  Yesterday, I was struggling just to do my 'job.' You know, the perfect-mom-that-carts-the-well-behaved-kids-around-while-providing-genuinely-enriching-experiences job, trying to live up to all those super-important Babycenter.com articles that tell you how you're supposed to do this job.  And I just got tired.  And Karol threw all that effort right back in my face with one sentence.  And I freaked. The. Heck. Out.

Today, I am thinking differently.  I feel like I am the emperor.  I think I get it.  I think I might finally have an answer to why I don't want to yell.

Today I did better.  I can honestly say I didn't yell at all to my children.  Even when I carried Max back to time out for the 12th time, or when his flailing about nearly broke my jawbone, or when Karol shrieked--shrieked--at some ridiculously insignificant perceived injustice.  I can't explain how that happened, except that in those lose-it moments, it seemed as though there was a flash of a moment--a millisecond at the most--where I saw I had a choice.  And I made the right choices.

I repeated that phrase in my head like a mantra all day.  "No matter how the wind howls, the mountain can not bow to it."  I can not let myself fall.  I can not buckle to this pressure.  I. Just. Can't.

July 31st, 2013 - Day 1.  We'll see how tomorrow goes.  Pray for me.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this. I yell all.the.time. since my third was born. #2 has been out of control and has brought #1 along for the ride, teaching her how to throw a fit. It's tough to not yell when you've had to repeat yourself 10 times not to "burp" (AKA hit) the baby. I am always so sad after I yell too.