There has been a lot of yelling going on in my house lately, about the usual things like “STOP TELLING YOUR SISTER SHE LAUGHS LIKE A HYENIA!” and “GET OFF YOUR COMPUTER! YOU’VE BEEN ON THE POTTY FOR 45 MINUTES!”
But the weather is warming and the windows are opening—and my house is surrounded by neighbors. Kick a soccer ball north, south, east or west and it will end up in someone’s yard. I’m pretty sure my voice travels just as swiftly.
Now, I love my offspring like I love half-off Valentine’s candy, but unlike a bag of stale conversation hearts, they don’t take anything I say seriously. I have to raise my voice about 120 decibels for them to listen. (A lawn mower is about 90 db just to give you a frame of reference.)
They scream at me. I scream back at them. They scream at each other. It’s a lot of fun over here. But like I mentioned, the fun has to stop because it’s open-window season.
If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering how to accomplish this difficult feat. I thought family therapy would be a good start, and I’ve been researching doctors since the day temps hit above 65 degrees. I’ve yet to make a visit but, believe it or not, the screaming has really tempered in the last few days.
I’m about to tell you how I made it happen. Keep in mind I have no professional training and I’m not a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or even a counselor. I’m just a mom hoping to help fellow moms keep their windows open this summer.
It all started (or ended?) on a Sunday night, around 7:00, after a hot, sticky, weekend of lacrosse games and baseball games and bouncy houses and ice cream trucks and—this is unusual for us—horse brushing. So being the horrible, mean mom that I am, I asked my six-year-old daughter to rinse off in my shower. “I DON’T WANT TO!!” she emphatically implored and I admit, she really was in touch with her feelings. Plus, she had gotten a very classy black, red and green glitter tattoo of a burning rose on her forearm just hours earlier.
“MY TATTOO IS GOING TO COME OFF IN THE SHOWER,” she sobbed, as I helped her peel off her clothes.
“Don’t be silly,” I told her trying to conjure any past glitter tattoo experiences in my messy brain but coming up empty. “I’m sure it’s waterproof,” I told her because what kind of tattoo doesn’t last at least a few days? Even the Bic pen reminders on the back of my hand lasts longer than necessary. “I promise.”
Seconds later she enters the shower with a mixture of trepidation and trust. I’m sitting on my bed folding a mound of laundry. And then I hear it. A sound so gawd-awful, at a piercing pitch. “NOOOOOOO!”
I throw my head back in an “I give up” sort of motion. And that’s when it happens. I crack it against the wall. The pain shoots around my skull and I sink down into my pillows. I bring my knees up fetally.
“MOOOOOMMMMM!! I HATE YOU!!! YOU’RE SO MEAN!! THE TATTOO WASHED OFF!! IT’S GONE! YOU’RE THE WORST MOM EVER!” The sound is vibrating. It’s echoing. It’s sound waves against water waves against glass walls and tiles.
I curl up tighter, listening to her vitriol punctuate the throbbing in my head, and feeling damn sorry for myself.
Then she gets out of the shower and walks right past me. I’m moaning, with a pillow over my head. (I’m feeling slightly better, but I’m trying to get some sympathy), yet she breezes by as if I always lay in the fetal position mumbling incoherently.
The thing is, she’s generally empathetic but apparently that tattoo was the most beautiful tattoo ever, and can never be reproduced or some ridiculousness like that. Now I’m crying for real. But not because my head hurts.
That’s when my son comes in. There’s an anomaly in this story, because usually it’s my son and me who are screaming at each other. But life is full of surprises. And he actually looks at me and says, “What’s wrong, Mom?”
“I banged my head really hard,” I whimper. (Again, the pain has dissipated slightly but I’m drawing it out for sympathy.) And then I say it. I know I sound like a child. I know I sound like one of my children—but it just comes out. “Mackenzie didn’t even care!”
He takes this information and runs with it. Literally, runs into her bedroom. “Do you know Mom banged her head and you didn’t even ask how she was?!” He says incredulously, relishing in being the “good” kid.
She runs into my room sobbing. “I didn’t know!” (She knew.)
“I hit my head and you stormed right past without checking on me,” I whine. “I’m in so much pain!” I curl up and dramatically hug the pillow around my head for effect. I can tell she’s feeling less mad at me and more guilty for the way she was acting.
It turns out that milking the injury really threw off the usual pattern of yelling. I’m strangely quiet and calm (basking in my discomfort), and they’re concerned. They stand by my bed, side by side (without fighting), and stare at me like I’m a hurt zoo animal.
Normally I’d have to tell them to brush their teeth at least five times, first in a regular speaking voice and finally culminating in a throat scratching yell. But this time when I ask them—in a low muffled moan from beneath the goose feathers of my pillow—they simply trot off and brush their teeth. (Wait, what?)
“And get your pajamas on, too!” I feebly add, testing my luck.
They come back into my room, teeth brushed and pajamas on. “Mom, do you feel any better?” They ask.
“A little,” I admit—although I’m referring less to the throbbing and more to my joy that they’re actually listening.
It’s like they don’t know how to react to my actual humanness, to the fact that I could really feel pain, to the reality that I can be vulnerable. That I’m not just a soul-less robot who orders them around.
That night they got into bed without fighting. The next morning they woke up and asked me how my head felt. (It still hurt, surprisingly, and I told them so, with slight exaggeration.) When I asked them to get their shoes on for school and they pretended not to hear me, instead of raising my voice, I simply put my hands on my (injured) head and quietly begged in a sad, pitiful way.
At first they looked at me in confusion. But then, guess what? They got their shoes on!
Like I said, I don’t have a degree in this kind of thing, but the pain I felt after smacking my head against the wall was totally worth it for the few days of listening that followed. Now, I’m not suggesting you purposely hit your head, but if you want to enjoy the cool breeze and the chirping birds this summer—at the very least fake an injury. You can thank me later.