The boys were perfect when we picked them up from camp: sweet, excited, and worn out. They had been engaged and exhausted by activity for four weeks.
“Is it possible that we just have perfect children now?” I whispered to G, hardly able to believe my luck.
It hardly lasted.
The first snag came on Day 2, when I asked someone to clear his plate and it didn’t happen. Or maybe it was the one cuffing the other’s ear after a small slight. I don’t know. The bubble had burst, and we were back, all of us, pretty quickly, to our regularly scheduled roles.
Soon enough, I was yelling about all the pee on and around the toilet seat. I was wondering aloud how they could possibly have fared at camp without clipping their toenails or picking up their crap. They were apologizing, but continuing to play computer games while I lectured.
Yuck! I hate this person that I left behind a month back, this carping, yelling shrew who makes her kids feel bad about themselves for sitting in front of screens, but doesn’t get off her duff to replace their broken bikes or lost scooters and push them outside. I do not appreciate this person who picks and prods and flies off the handle. What kind of model am I for the kids or for my equally frustrated husband to communicate calmly and rationally when I can not?
As I write, in the bath, I get a whiff of urine from around the toilet and I remember: living with other people is not easy. It takes work. It takes patience. It takes love and kindness and above all, a sense of humor. Yes. When I laugh at myself, or even at them (if I do it nicely, not like I’m making fun of them), I do us all an enormous favor. I bring levity where there might otherwise be upset. I make things seem less terrible and more fun.
But of course, like the rest of my family, I sometimes succumb to frustration. Funny doesn’t always occur when you’ve made the same request 15 times and heard back only a faint, “Wait!” Or even, “shhhhhh!” But I need to remember to take the advice I often give: stop, take a deep inhale, let the breath out slowly. Count to five. Then speak, calmly and articulately. Explain clearly what you expect, give them time to respond before throttling. Smile. Hug. Kiss. Love. Try.
I am set on changing some of the behaviors in our household this fall, but if I let things slip easily back into their familiar patterns, it will produce the same outcome. First things first: buy Clorox wipes. Calmly, rationally, point out the pee around the toilet. Show them how to wipe it up and then wash their hands. Tell them with a smile you’ll start paying, with interest, the back allowance you forgot to give. Buy a calendar and put on it every Friday: “Pay kids allowance for, among other things, cleaning up the pee.” And also write down on every day, “Breathe. Smile. Relax. Laugh.”