Weekday mornings have one alarmingly consistent feature around our house: me yelling. I don’t get up thinking, “Today I will yell.” In fact, if anything, each morning begins with the silent affirmation: “Today I will not yell.” But, almost without fail, there I am, yelling my head off.
I did not begin life this way. Until a couple of years ago, I could count the number of times I’d been reduced to yelling, as an adult, on one hand. (I could actually count them on one finger: He knows who he is.) I was generally considered a nice person with a reputation for patience and a peaceable nature.
That was Dr. Jekyll. My children brought out Mr. Hyde.
It didn’t happen until my son, now five, was almost four, the age at which I finally recognized his preoccupation with his own universe for what it was: a conscious, deliberate decision to ignore any request or demand he didn’t like. I had previously attributed this lack of focus to a learning delay, because his speech was unintelligible until he was well past three. Repeated assessments by speech pathologists and public-health officials told me otherwise. And hearing specialists confirmed it for me: His problem has never been hearing; it’s listening.
I know it’s selective because if you put headphones on him, stood three rooms away and whispered, “Anyone want ice cream?” he’d come running. But I can stand a foot away and ask him repeatedly to do something boring and he won’t even blink in acknowledgment.
Usually the morning progression, over a span of 10 minutes, goes something like this:
Jasper, sweetie, please put your shoes on for school.
Jasper, I need you to please put your shoes on.
Jasper. Shoes. Now.
SHOES! SHOES! SHOES! SHOES! SHOES!
Someone should capture this progression as it’s reflected on my face, which quickly goes from passive to irritated to out-and-out deranged. I hate yelling not just for his sake, but also for mine. It makes me feel old and tired, and affects my mood for the rest of the day.
And I know, rationally, that yelling is not an effective way to be heard. I’ve read the expert advice and tried everything I can to minimize these kinds of confrontations: planning in advance, speaking to him gently and explaining the consequences, letting him live the natural consequences of not doing what I’m asking. (But let’s be serious: Can you let a kid go to school with no shoes on without getting a call from social services?)
I’ve tried examining what it is, exactly, that makes me so mad about these episodes, and it comes down to respect. Ignoring someone is pretty much the most basic form of disrespect there is, and it drives a stake through my better self.
Until tomorrow morning, when I will resolve, for the 400th time, to be more patient, kinder, gentler.
(Photo: Brand X Pictures)