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Tonight was one of those nights.  It started with a mad dash from work to pick up my oldest from baseball practice.  No, it’s not spring yet and yes, the season here has already started.  And yes, I am just a little bitter about it.  Especially since signing our son up for this league was my husband’s idea but he can’t pick our fella up tonight because he is working late. Again.

In fairness, he rarely works late but for the past three weeks, he’s had a big project that has left me consistently home alone.  Well, not truly alone but, alone with our five kids on hectic weeknights and busy weekends.  I think I”m burning out and if tonight is any indication, our kids are too.  This is how it unfolded…

The baseball pick up was seamless.  I was on time and we were on our way home in no time at all.  Then the gas light went on.  No, we didn’t run out of gas but yes, it was another pitstop on the way home to my four other children, all of whom greeting me at the door like this:

AAAHHHHH.  WAAAAAHHHHHHH.  HE DID IT! SHE DID IT! AAAAAAHHHH!!! WAAAAHHHH!  I DIDN’T DO IT!!!!!

OMG, I thought to myself, this is going to be a doozie.  My daughter was coming down the steps bawling that she had just “bashed” her head into the wall.  One triplet was screaming and holding his hand out.  It revealed a very swollen finger that had apparently been slammed in a door by the young lady with the head wound.  With my coat still on, I went to the kitchen for ice packs.  When I opened the freezer, another triplet demanded frozen berries.  When I said “No, sorry buddy, we have fresh berries so let’s eat them first and save the frozen ones for another day,” he went off the deep end.  “I WANT FROZEN BERRIES!  FROZEN BERRIES, FROZEN BERRIES, FROZEN BERRIES!”, he wailed, adding to cacaphony of the wounded with ice packs.

At that point, my oldest asked (again), if he could go play basketball.  He hadn’t had dinner, hadn’t taken a shower, hadn’t finished his homework and had already asked twice and been told no.  I felt like screaming at him but knew that if I joined in the din, things would only get worse.  So, I said yes, under the logic that having one less kid in the house during this most witching of all hours would only be a good thing.  So he left. And then there were four.  And me.

I didn’t know what to do.  Three were screaming and one was scheming, whispering to the Berry Boy that he should just go ahead and help himself to those frozen berries.  I was exhausted; they were out of control.  It was 6:47.  “It’s time for bed,” I said, not knowing what else to do.  The wailing persisted as we went upstairs but quieted down as the library books came out and we read about baby bears, a platypus and a mouse named Geronimo Stilton.  At one point, as I was getting their toothbrushes, I looked out at the setting sun and thought “this too shall pass” as I took a deep breath.  And it did.  Thank God!

By 8:00, four of them were in bed and sound asleep.  My big guy was back from basketball, showered and together we ate dinner.  We talked about his day and he revealed that he’d gotten his report card.  We took a look together and it was good.  Very good.  He’s a good kid.  They are all good kids.  And, like all of us, they have bad moments and we have bad days. And nights.

Tonight was the exception, not the rule.  Our house, like most, I believe, is like that old nursery rhyme, “When it’s good, it’s very very good and when it’s bad, it’s horrid.”  Tonight was horrid.  But it’s over.  Tomorrow the sun will rise again and a new day will begin.  And, like most days, I suspect it will be very very good.

You may recall that one of my goals for the year is to yell less.  I’ve realized over the past month that if I’m going to achieve that goal, I really need to choose my battles.  This, like most things, is much easier said than done.  I’d like to think of myself as a lover, not a fighter but the reality is, with my Type A personality, I find it hard to resist a good challenge and I’m wired to want to win — even if that “challenge” comes in the form of a five year old who doesn’t want to wear his mittens.

This is not something to be proud of, this innate sense of wanting to control another person simply because “I said so.” Granted, as it relates to the mittens, it is cold outside but the reality is, after explaining the frigid weather to my wide-eyed tyke, it really boils down to “I want you to wear those mittens because I TOLD YOU TO!!!”  And there you have it.  I’m yelling again.

We made a pact a few weeks ago.  All five kids and me.  We agreed that we wouldn’t argue about wearing coats/hats/mittens/boots/etc. until March.  We agreed that it was cold outside and that it was in their best interest to stay warm.  We made a deal. No more arguing, no more yelling, no more being late to the bus due to quibbling about outerwear.  And that was that.

But of course, that wasn’t that at all.  Because life isn’t that simple and children aren’t that agreeable.  And frankly, the majority of mine don’t know what month it is even if they do know it’s noble to honor a promise.  Just a few days later, I found myself asking my oldest, a fourth-grader with a beaming grin and good intentions, “do you know what month it is?”  “Um, February?”  “Yep.  And do you remember what that means?!”  “I’m supposed to wear a coat?”  “Yep!”  “But Mom, I’m not cold!”

He’s not cold?  It’s freezing out.  Literally.  Icicles hang from every roof and mountains of snow surround us.  But apparently, it’s not cold to him.  I felt the yell start, deep inside.  An insatiable urge to show him the thermometer, to PROVE to him that it is indeed cold.  He is wrong; I am right.  So there.  And then I caught my husband’s eye.  “Give the kid a break”, he said without saying a word.  And so I did.  And I’ve been trying to ever since.

Last weekend. four out of five weren’t wearing underwear, but they were wearing pants.  As the temperature hovered near fifty and the snow began to melt, they took off those pants and put on shorts.  And short sleeved shirts.  And went OUTSIDE!  It was freezing, though no longer literally.  I wanted to yell. To win. To force them to put on pants, sweatshirts, heck, even some underwear!  But I didn’t.  Because you have to choose your battles and you can’t win them all,  I figure I might as well save the good fight for the ones that really matter.

A few weeks ago, with resolutions top of mind and a renewed zeal to be a better me this year, I came across a great article on the Huffington Post about yelling.    About why we yell, the negative impact it has on our kids and how to stop yelling so much.  You should check it out.  The author, Rachel Macy Stafford, has a lot more street cred than I do.  She has a Masters in education, is a certified special-ed teacher, an author and I’m sure a whole lot more.  But like me, she is a Mom.  Unlike me, she is a Mom who has found a way to stop yelling.  I’m not there yet.  But I’d like to think that I’m on my way.  It seems that Rachel has crossed the finish line to a yell-free victory party and I’m just approaching the starting line.  But really, what better place to start?

Her article got me seriously thinking.  Why do I yell so much?  Many of the reasons are the ones she cites — we’re about to miss the bus or we’re late for soccer/baseball/basketball/lacrosse/church/the dentist,/the doctor/etc.  Or perhaps the kids opened a gift meant for a birthday party (which happened just last weekend).  Maybe they splashed water out of the tub or spilled a glass of milk/water/juice.  In short, like Rachel, I often yell when our kids are just being kids, doing the goofy, inevitable things kids do.  This is a huge realization for me.  They are just being kids!  And I’m sure yours are too.  Maybe you don’t yell as much as I do, but the next time the eggs hit the floor when a budding baker is just trying to help, I’m going to think twice and remember, “he’s just a kid.”

Of course, it’s not that easy.  If I think about why I really yell, it’s not because I’m mad about the box of Cheerios on the floor or the sopping wet bathroom.  It’s because I am tired.  Exhausted.  Frustrated.  Overwhelmed.  At my wits end.  I’ve been known to stoop down to their level, the level where on a good day, I look them in the eye with empathy and understanding and provide an encouraging word or a hug. But on a bad day, well, it’s really bad.  And I’m not proud of it.  I’m not proud of looking a little person in the eye and yelling with all my might.  It’s not pretty.  It’s ugly.  And it’s scary. And I don’t want my kids to be scared of me.

That was Rachel’s ah-hah moment – the moment she realized she was scaring her daughter.  I know I’ve scared mine.  And my four sons too.  But still I yell.  I do think there are different types of yelling — quite frankly, sometimes I have to yell to simply be heard above the din of our clamoring clan. Although, I’m sure an expert would say that’s no excuse.  And it doesn’t change the fact that I’d like to yell less.

Going cold turkey is unrealistic but a little (and hopefully one day a lot) less yelling is my goal.  I want to stop, for so many reasons.  For starters, it’s mean.  Rotten, mean and nasty.  And generally speaking, I’m not.  Or at least I’d like to think I’m not.   Then, there’s the aftermath of the “Big Yell”.  It’s not over when it’s over.  They remember. I remember.  And we all feel crappy.  I don’t want us to all feel crappy.  Happy beats crappy any day, right?  And last but not least, while the snow blows and wind howls today, in just a few short months, those windows will be open.  And I don’t want to scare the neighbor’s kids either!

So, before winter turns to spring, I’m going to do my best to yell less.  To take a breath. To walk away.  To remember they are just kids.  And they won’t be forever…