Stop, Whisper, Play

Dinner’s just begun and already there’s big trouble. Grumpy faces, slouching backs. Elbows on the table, spilled parmesan and blueberries. I’m a broken record of “please sit down” and “eat your vegetables,” tired of listening to myself. And dinner’s not half over.

Every parent knows this scene, this vibe, of tempers flared and days unraveling. By evening, we count up our infractions, our impatience and mistakes, regrets played out like a barbed-wire rosary.

Tomorrow, we’ll do better.

But the next day starts with grumbles, spilled orange juice and chores undone. My kids wait until I’m in the shower before they start to fight. Covered with shampoo, I’m a rotten referree. The screaming escalates. Here we go again.

Before I became a mother, I didn’t know that it was possible to growl like a bear and howl like a banshee inside a single breath. It’s not my kids you hear — no, that’s me, in rising decibles. And it’s not a skill I wanted either, just a side benefit of exhaustion.

If you’re a parent, you’ve had Those Days. All your clothes are flecked with someone else’s snot. The only language your kids speak is Whine. The house looks like a hurricane married to a tornado. Tears — yours and theirs — are flowing. That’s when you need to turn the day around, paint it fresh. As part of my continued series on inspiration, I invite you to Be Inspired in the messiest moments of parenting.

~ Stop Right There.  Tuesdays are high-octane in our house, a combo of homeschool lessons, homeschool group, ballet and musical theater, supplemented on my part by large doses of caffeine. Sometimes we careen around the house like hobbled acrobats with no net.

In such unfocused, unfastened moments, it helps to stop completely, freeze the pace, switch gears. Play a quick board game. Read a book together. Share a hug. Stop the frenzy in mid-chaos and regroup, gather together, take a breath, and start again — more slowly this time, please.

~ Whisper, Whisper.  My daughters, like most siblings, love each other with ferocious glee. And they fight like gladiators in a ring. They swing in seconds from a bear hug to a brawl.

They are full of spirit — that’s what we tell ourselves on the good days. On the bad days, I worry they might in fact be plotting to unhinge me.

Here’s my sneak attack. Instead of yelling (yet again), I whisper. To hear me, they have to stop their shouting. The novelty is enough to knock them off the battle track. A rub on the back, a hug, a squeeze and we all return to the day, embracing the gifts that quiet brings.

~ Play it Again, Mom.  In our house, the weekdays start with literature at 8 am. Then it’s on to reading, grammar, writing, spelling lists, and math. After that, it’s history or science, then Latin, and sometimes art or music. As their teacher and their mom, I sometimes lose the line between discipline and encouragement. I shim-sham between stern and soft, without a proper anchor. In any household, it’s a challenge to walk the balance between help and hindrance, between pushing too hard or not hard enough.

If I’m feeling like the air itself is heavy, I lighten it with play. I sing instructions to the girls, instead of speaking. I make a game of clean-up. I say yes, unexpectedly, instead of no. I turn the living room into a fort or the bedroom into a witch’s cave. Play is what my kids do best. If I join them in that magical land, we meet our goals and we reconnect, happier than before.

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Parenting isn’t rocket science. It’s even harder. Long days stretch out,  sticky with regret, hot with tempers and impatience.

Other days are golden. Boo Monkey smiles through the new gap in her front teeth and tells me about her imaginary crocodile, the one that changes colors, depending on what he eats. Rainbow Girl invents a dreamworld where her toy horse comes to life and carries her through meadows filled with marigolds and tulips.

It’s then I understand. I know. My girls may have a growly-banshee mama, but they also have spirit and imagination. And that comes, in part, from me. Just then, just there inside that blink, I’m grateful for it all.

If you have kids at home, how do you manage the sticky-temper days? Or, if your kids are grown, please share your best tricks and wisdom. If you don’t have kids, tell us how you manage to regroup when life itself is a growly-banshee howl.

For more in the Be Inspired series, click here.

16 thoughts on “Stop, Whisper, Play

  1. Dear Growly-Banshee Mama,
    I don’t have kids, but I never fail to get something out of your beautiful and wise writing, and I never fail to enjoy reading your lyrical voice.

    PS – The barbed-wire rosary wins my award for the best metaphor of 2012. Congrats. 🙂

  2. I love how honest and real this post is. Even though I don’t have children, I often find myself behaving the same way in response to our animals.

    With two cats and a dog if feels like I have children at times. There have been days where one cat has diarrhea and I have to clean its bum, another pukes up a hairball on the carpet, I find one drinking the milk from my mug before I’ve had a chance to pour my tea, another drinking from the toilet bowl because I forgot to shut the bathroom door. Then there’s the dog who will break through the electric fence, ignore every command I give her (even though she knows them all), frolick in mud and then tear around the house all over our cream carpets leaving a muddy trail in her wake. Next up she’ll toilet paper our bathroom, find a sock or piece of underwear to destroy (always the good stuff, never the ropey kind), chew anything left lying around that isn’t a dog toy and the list goes on.

    I have been known to scream and yell like a banshee and then feel guilty for losing it . . . reminding me of my mother. In fact when I’m having a bad day and call my mother on the phone I can hear her smile over the phone because it happens to the best of us.

    Sometimes I throw my arms up in the air declaring that I’m done with the lot of them but my husband knows that’s not true for the nose nuzzles, the cuddles, and all the love they give us more than make up for it.

    • Sounds just like our house!!! Our dog Mocha loves to TP the bathroom and steal underwear and socks as well. He’d get along very well with Ravyn. They’d probably teach each other new tricks (that we really wouldn’t like).

      Thank you for such a lovely response. I’m glad I’m not alone in the “scream-regret” cycle. Deep breath. Ahhhhh.

  3. Beautiful piece Lisa! My kids are 16 (boy) and 14 (girl) and this piece could have been written about life at our house, with a few minor differences! I am not quite sure how I make it through the tough times, I only know that I have made it this far, and I am scared that they will be all grown up and out of the house before I am ready.

    • Hi Carey,
      Thanks for commenting 🙂 I always love your perspective. And I already feel that my girls are growing up too quickly. I’ve tried to slow time, but it doesn’t work . . .

  4. Yes, guilty on all counts… And I myself am sick of my own voice, so I can only imagine how my kids must be feeling…
    Very good advice, sensitive and imaginative, as I want my children to become. And how will they achieve that if their role model is an out-of-control or boring, nagging mother? I must try the whisper technique…

    • Oh, yes. I worry sometimes that I’m teaching my kids all the wrong things — how to cry when you can’t find your keys, or when the dog chews up another sock, or nobody listens. I work hard to try to teach them the good stuff too. On my better days, I have hope that it will balance out. I think I need to whisper more too. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

  5. I don’t have much in the way of parental wisdom – except to say that you must treasure every minute – every unraveling moment, all the spilled parmesan and orange juice, all of it – because, much too soon, they are gone from your daily care and out in the world, on their own. Where you can only hope that the whispers and the shouts and the hugs and the smiles have all integrated themselves into the people they have become.

  6. I know it’s easy for me on the other side of the daily mom life, but I agree with Brenda” treasure every minute. It really does seem like it’s over in a blink of an eye. By the way, not sure this will make you feel any better, but my house? I don’t have kids at home but it STILL looks like “a hurricane married to a tornado.”

    • Julia, I always keep your perspective in mind, and am grateful for it.

      And, yes, it does make me feel better to know your house is as messy as mine!! Maybe it’s a writer thing?

  7. I’ve had a lot of those growly-bear (or is it screaming-banshee?) days recently. Dealing with one of my children has left me wrung-out, regretful, and generally low. NOT the way I want to be in December.

    I’m religious, so I take comfort in “new mercies every morning”. The second, third, fiftieth, five thousandth chances, the new page, the erased slate, the long talks after tempers have cooled, the olive branches, the renewed relationships–they all give me hope.

    • What a perfect phrase, “new mercies every morning.” New grace. Thanks for sharing that, and good luck with the growlies. They’ve been visiting me today as well.

  8. I’m always waiting for my favorite line when I read yours because I always have one. It hit me here: “Parenting isn’t rocket science. It’s even harder. Long days stretch out, sticky with regret, hot with tempers and impatience.”

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