This is a post for Josie’s Writing Workshop. This week, I could have written something for each of the prompts (perhaps because I’m doing some serious nano-wri-mo procrastination), but this is the one that decided to come out. You might have preferred an angst-ridden delving into my past, that you would have got from ‘Past Secret’ or a rant about the image of beauty portrayed in the media, from prompt ‘On Beauty’, or a(nother) rant about the Catch 22 that so many people find themselves in and the need to not stigmatise them for that and to actually help provide jobs, rather than taking them away and punishing people for staying jobless in a shit economy, from prompt ‘Catch 22’ or an emotional rollercoaster of a tale of lost babies and gratitude from ‘The Book of Lost Things’. But this is what you’ve got – a tale about parenting ups and downs and learning not to scream, which is kind of fitting for this blog and this blogger.
Coming up for air
or How I stopped screaming for a day
I know there are parents out there who are able to remain calm all the time – or to, at the very least, appear calm (in fact, I’ve talked about this before) – but I am not one of them. It seems my calmness goes in cycles. I can spend a week or so coming close to how I want to be – calm repetition, counting, ignoring unwanted behaviour, praising the good stuff, using distraction, and so on and so on – then, gradually, I’ll start snapping, then I’ll add in a bit of stomping (yes, often I can throw worse tantrums than my children) and some door slamming. As the calmness disintegrates entirely, my temper crescendos until I’m shouting at every tiny misdemeanour and screeching ‘Get on with it! We’re going to be late!’ almost constantly, every single morning.
And then something or someone will make me realise that it’s all me. The children have not changed and turned into hideous little brats. They’re as compliant or non-compliant as they ever are, though perhaps a little bit of consistency might help them to be more compliant. Frequently, the loss of calm coincides with a busy work period, and so finds me under stress about meeting deadlines, sending work out to the right freelancers and ever finding the time to send out some invoices and see the fruits of all that labour. And when I’m stressed I snap and shout and swear. The latter I can usually keep back, but the former two not so much.
What snaps me out of it can be anything, really – the blog post I linked to above was when I saw what seemed like perfect calm in a mother of a child with similar independence and vitality as Rosemary (you can interpret ‘independence’ and ‘vitality’ how you like). Other times it might be Chris pointing out how very far from calm I am. I might just see it myself. Yesterday it was my interpreting a slightly less exuberant smile from a neighbour as a castigation of my whole parenting ability. Of course, the neighbour was probably just having a bad day and not thinking about me at all, but in my head she was away to call the social services because the shouting and screaming she was hearing every morning were worrying her. And in my head I was thinking that I would be worried too if I heard that from a neighbouring house. I wouldn’t automatically think that this was a woman who loves her children deeply and wants only the best for them and works hard to be a good parent, who happens to be having a bad few days. I’d be wondering if I could offer her some help and wondering if I needed to keep an eye out.
And so this morning, I did not shout. I did not scream. I stayed calm in the face of ‘No!’ and ‘I won’t!’ and ‘I don’t want to!’ I repeated what was required calmly and stated that I would count to three (luckily I didn’t have to state what would happen after three – or, in fact, start counting at all). I made games out of getting dressed. I enlisted Rosemary’s help in getting the breakfast ready, instead of shouting at her to ‘Get out from under my feet!’ I got Rosemary to read to Eleanor, while I cleared up after breakfast. I put music on (Mamma Mia, of course) to get us in the mood for tidying the living room.
And, as we walked happily and calmly up the hill, on time, I thought ‘This really feels like coming up for air’.
I hope that this time I stay above water for a long time – if you hear me screaming, though, please give me a nudge and don’t call social services.