Old Yeller

2774519474_3dff3f1e56_zDon’t worry. This post is not further lamenting about my dog’s death, but the title just fits my predicament so well. You see, I am a yeller. I’m not just a loud person. I need to be the loudest in the room. I need to be heard. And if I feel you are not getting my point, I will simply yell it AT you. This is a horrible trait–probably my only flaw:)

This flaw is weighing on my mind because I recently had an incident with my sons that I am still ruminating about. Last week I yelled at them–a scream at the top of my lungs kinda holler. I’ve only done that a handful of times with them, but it’s the type of behavior where just once is one too many. And of course, what really irritates me about the whole incident is that I was trying to be nice.

It was Friday. They had been bugging me about swimming at the YMCA all week. When they got off the bus, I asked them if they wanted to go. They answered with a resounding “Yes!” “Then we’ll get pizza and watch a movie,” I said. What a plan! What a great dad! What an idiot for thinking it would be so easy! “Can we have snack first?” asks one. “Can we watch a little TV first?” asks the other. “Sure. We’ll leave in a half hour.”

Of course I try to accomplish a dozen things in that half hour, so an hour and a half later we’re finally getting into the car–just in time for mommy to be pulling in from work. Shoot, I never told Pam my plan, I think. “I want Mommy to come with us,” Hayden says.  This is not fair to Pam, who didn’t even know we were going. Understandably tired, she lets him down easy. But this will not suffice. Hayden goes full throttle into one of his tantrums. He starts yelling and flailing and I realize I should have gone an hour ago. The window of opportunity closed tightly while they were getting their Sponge Bob on. Pam dashes inside and I get both boys in the car, but Hayden is still crying and whining, “I WANT MOMMY TO COME!” Owen gets out of the car–“I don’t want to go now because Hayden’s ruining it.” This makes Hayden wail harder. I tell Hayden he can’t go if he doesn’t calm down. I tell Owen he has to go because we had a plan. Everyone is now miserable–including me and Pam– who is witnessing this dysfunctional tableau from the kitchen window. But–hear me now–up to this point I have not yelled once. I did not raise my voice at anyone involved. In fact, I hearken back to the childhood behavior gurus, Brazelton and Spock, and try to rationalize with my son like the good disciple I am: “Make a good decision, Hayd, I know you can do it. C’mon, Buddy, use your thinking side.” I recall the syllabus of books that I have read throughout my years as a parent: Touchpoints: Birth to Eight , What to Expect: The Toddler Years, 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline from 2-12,  and, finally, I’m Okay, You’re a Brat (this is a partial list).

With everyone safely buckled, I take a deep breath and begin to drive. I am quiet, hoping the storm has passed. I turn on the radio, wishing to hear one of the inappropriate songs that might distract them, the songs they now sing with bizarre naiveté (Can I blow your whistle baby, whistle baby, let me know…). Within two minutes, they begin to fight over a Fun Dip packet in the back seat–a gift from one of their friends from their Valentine’s party yesterday–cards alone don’t cut it anymore. Owen lent Hayden the dip stick to have a few licks (GROSS) but now he wants it back. Hayden is holding the sugary powder pack hostage.They begin to hit each other. I turn back for a second to see what the hell is happening, and as I look again to the road, I see a line of stopped cars with glaring  red tail lights. A slam on my brakes–stopping just feet from the car in front of me. This is the closest I’ve come to being in a car accident with the boys. Once I realize that we were lucky, that we are safe and no one is hurt, I want to kill someone. F***ing Fun Dip. F***ing swimming. F***ing pizza. F***ing movie.

What I say is, “DAMMIT!” Loud–remember this post is about my yelling. “DO YOU SEE WHAT YOU ALMOST MADE ME DO? WE COULD HAVE BEEN REALLY HURT! GIVE ME THE FUN DIP! ARE YOU HAPPY NOW HAYDEN? WHY DO YOU HAVE TO BE THIS WAY? WHY CAN’T YOU BE HAPPY? WHY DO YOU HAVE TO RUIN THINGS?” Hayden sees my irrational state, and raises me twenty. He proceeds to kick the back of my seat. He yells at me, punctuating each word with a stomp of his foot. While still driving, I attempt to grab his leg, but then realize I need to reclaim my “Adult In Charge” badge. I turn the car around and head home. I am proud of myself for not continuing to go to the Y, but my screaming has not reached its end. “ALL I WANTED TO DO WAS…AND YOU GUYS DON’T REALIZE HOW GOOD….AND WE COULD BE AT THE HOSPITAL….I BET YOUR FRIENDS DON’T…AND YOU ARE SPENDING THE REST OF YOUR NIGHT IN YOUR ROOM, HAYDEN.” And with that we are home. The boys are in tears, and I slam my door and storm inside. “Well, that was a bust! We’re back…”and then I rehash the whole debacle for Pam, rants, threats, and all.

I march Hayden up to his room, he is still yelling, and I pretend to ignore him. As I begin to shut hisyell door, he looks at me, teary-eyed, and screams, “Why do you always yell at me?” To which I reply, “Why do you always yell at me?” I shut (not slam) his door hard, and I go to my room and lie down. Yes, it’s 5 o’clock on a Friday night and I’m spending Happy Hour in Hell!

“I’m going to order the pizza. Do you want any?” Pam calls up to me. “No!” I yell down, wallowing. I lay on our bed and just try to breathe, to relax, yet I can hear Hayden talking to himself in his room. I feel sad, not sure whether he is berating himself or me (probably both). I go to his door and open it.  “Can I come in?” “No,” he says, but bitter-sweetly. I go back to my room and lie down again. A few minutes later, I spy him hiding in my doorway, peeking his head in, hoping I’ll notice him. “Come on in,” I say. He climbs on the bed. “Hayden, Mommy and I love you very much, but we get sad when you behave like that. You say I always yell at you. When was the first time I yelled at you today?” In his signature inaudible whisper he says, “When we almost hit that car.” “And weren’t you yelling at me and mommy and Owen?” He gives me a pouty lip nod. “Let’s BOTH work on not yelling, okay.” He repeats pouty lip nod. We spend the next few minutes just lying there, savoring the quiet, which seems extra loud now that neither of us is screaming at each other. While I am glad to have this reconciliation, the thought that I often have is gnawing away at me: “Oh, God. He’s me. He’s me.”

“Pizza’s here!” Pam hollers. He and I both make our way downstairs. I proceed to gobble two slices of the pie I said I didn’t want. We salvage the night by watching Hotel Transylvania–again. My behavior weighs heavy on my mind. I am trying so hard to have patience, to show my boys how to be respectful and kind. But old habits die hard. I think back to my childhood where he who was loudest was the winner. Yelling was the most effective way to gain attention in my large family. To yell was to win. And what a price we paid for that victory.

The next day, Owen and I find ourselves sitting on the stairs tying our shoes. He then hops into my lap without warning. Just puts his arms around my neck and plants a kiss on my face. I am so moved by this. Each time we share such a moment, a voice in my mind cries out, “Remember this. Enjoy it. Such embraces will disappear soon. He will not be able to sit in your lap much more. He will not want to kiss you much longer.” I take this opportunity to address the incident from the day before. “Hey. I’m sorry I yelled like that yesterday. I was upset, and I was scared that we could have gotten hurt.” “You scare me when you yell like that,” he says softly. A small dagger pierces my heart. “I know I do. And I’ll try not to yell like that again.” He remains in my lap a bit more, and I will this moment into my mind so I can remember this promise that I make to him.

Having reflected on this situation for a week now, I am reminded of how my anger still seeps through into my life. I am not foolish enough to think I will not raise my voice ever again–I’m sure I’ve raised it every day since. But there is a difference between raising one’s voice and yelling. And I am aware that part of my anger is resentment. At times, I resent the fact that my kids don’t realize how good they have it–what a charmed life they are living, or how much attention and quality time we give to them. But then I think about these young men we are shaping, the habits we are forming in them through our example. I realize that one of the most important things I can do for them is show them how to remain calm and composed, even when angry. It has taken me decades, but one of the most valuable lessons I have learned is that yelling is one of the fastest ways to get people to shut down. Once you’ve yelled, you’ve lost.

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19 comments

  1. Dadicus, our practice in changing ourselves, our lives, and the lives of those around us for the better is constant and steadfast. Every time we intend to be patient, each time we choose calm kindness and love, we all win.

    “Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.” — Mark Twain

    I was born into a large, loud family as well, only I wasn’t a winning yeller, I was an innocent bystander, an introvert — I hid in hedgerows, climbed up trees, and sat on rooftops. I escaped, often.

    This post is powerfully insightful. And it holds such promise and love. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  2. As I was reading this post I realized I was smiling. I’m sure any parent (not just Dads) can relate to how we reflect on behavior we ever would have before becoming parents. I remember “Old Yeller” on Sunday Disney’s. I love your writing, I shared it with my daughter…she smiled and laughed too.

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    1. Thank you, Alan. I really appreciate the compliment. I’m glad I found your work, too. You are very talented.

      Parenting has so many crazy universal elements. I am always amazed at how my experiences as a dad make me reconsider my own father’s, and then look ahead to what my sons’ will one day discover.

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  3. Mike… I am a yelled too…. Old habits die hard. Thanks for your honesty…. Your son will remember the sorry…. Sometimes it’s the best we got.

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  4. Great article Michael. It’s funny,we yell because at that moment we want to shut people down (up!) as we can’t cope with their behaviour. Then later we want them to be open to us again, which is clearly not going to come easy, as they will now find it hard to trust us not to hurt them!
    I know you’re scared of passing on the legacy of yelling, but to be fair to yourself, remember that you’re also mitigating the legacy by adding to it a very healthy dose of self reflection and honesty. Through this example you’re teaching your boys how to reflect on their behaviour, admit failings, and make amends. That’s a legacy they will carry throughout their lives – one which will be tremendously helpful in shaping good relationships and increasing their happiness. So well done!

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    1. Thank you, Michele. Once again you remind me about the reflecting part–how can I not know when I’m doing it?:) I do so hope that I will continue to instill in them all of the things you so eloquently mention above.

      On another note, are you publishing a book of poems? Your new profile picture would go great on a book jacket! Fantastic photo. Hope you are well.

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      1. Thanks Michael, no book of poems (yet), I think I still have a LOT to learn! The new photo curtesy of my 15 yr old daughter, who considered the last one (taken by my 8 yr old son) to be too “mommsy”. Sigh… there is no harsher critic than a teenage girl.. 🙂 Take care.

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  5. People yell at each other all the time, and clearly you know you really shouldn’t have yelled. BUT you nearly had a car accident! And it was caused because you were distracted by your little angels in the back seat so I think that, even though your yelling scares little H, you are right to yell! I used to get angry at stupid things and that was learned behaviour. It’s good that you are aware of your yelling and loudness, and are trying to change it. That way your kids will model your better behaviour. Saying that, though, don’t feel you have to stop yelling all together!!!!

    NB. you should watch Back To The Future – the Doc yells EVERY SINGLE WORD! Have you ever noticed that? lol

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    1. Thanks for your comment. Such a funny observation about DOC–I will put him on my list of role models:) And I know I can’t stop yelling forever–I just wish there wasn’t so much behind the yelling. Thanks for the insights and advice–I will remember your point about modeling the “better behavior”.

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      1. I used to drive a school bus and the kids would sit on the back seat and yell at each other all the time. I would sometimes stop the bus and go up the back and say to them ” how far away is your mouth from his ear? I think he can hear you! Stop yelling!” It worked for… ohhh, about five seconds.. lol

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  6. Oh to have a parent that feels guilty when he hollers.What a blessing you are to those boys and their mother.When I was young that was the norm at our house and I made a vow not to holler.I failed also but my kids don’t seem to remember it now.They remember the laughter and they remember our rocking chairs.I can’t quit smiling about the title of this piece.You are very witty even in your remorsefullness.Blessings

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  7. so true and what a deep self analysis you have done after this incidence I would say…I agree that ‘once you have yelled, you have lost’ as I have done this to my younger brother when we were young and I think it has still its mark in our life….I wish I could have thought this that time…thanks a lot for sharing this…lovely blog

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  8. Unquestionably believe that which you said. Your favourite justification appeared to be at the net
    the simplest thing to be mindful of. I say to you, I certainly get
    annoyed at the same time as other people consider issues that they plainly do
    not understand about. You controlled to hit the nail
    upon the highest as smartly as outlined out the entire thing with no need side effect , other folks could take a signal.

    Will probably be back to get more. Thank you

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