Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ruining the McMuffins

The past couple of days I've read several stories online about yelling at children. How-to stories, of course, like how you should say FREAKING instead of the other  F-word when you're wondering very loudly why no one ever does the FREAKING dishes.

No, no. That's not right. The stories were about how not to yell and were prompted by a University of New Hampshire study that found that 90 percent of parents yell at their children. The study referred to this as "psychological aggression." The study of 1,000 parents found that these parents were "psychologically aggressive" toward their children 22 times a year.

I'm not great at math, so bear with me.

There are 365 days in a year.

There are 9 months' worth of homework assignments.

There are 52 weekends' worth of chores to be done.

Sure, 22 times a year seems about right. If your pants are on fire. liars.liars.

I yell. It's one of the things I can't stand about myself.

(Other things about myself that I can't stand: My tendency to leave laundry sitting in the washing machine so that I then have to wash that load a second time; My tendency to become a hormonal, hopeless, bloated mess one day of the month and to somehow fail to realize why; My tendency to avoid grocery shopping until we have run out of all decent food and I must feed my children ramen noodles; My tendency to buy far too many books and stack them up next to the bed instead of putting that money in savings or some other financially savvy thing Suze Orman would tell me to do.)*

*This is not the real list. This is the "Oh, I have flaws that are so relatable and charming" list. My real list is only available late at night when I can't sleep.

I get worked up when the house is a mess. You'd think the freeloaders who live with me would realize this and - oh, I don't know - pick up their crap.

I get worked up when Kate whines about doing her homework and then - are you kidding me? - cries about it. Seriously, the girl wastes 20 minutes whining when she could have finished the assignment in 15.

In some ways, I'm extremely patient. I think I can hold out an impressively long time before I start losing my shit. No, really, I can.
Even Claire Huxtable lost her shit sometimes.

Here's how, in an email to a friend, I described one such incident that went down last week:

Oh yeah, then I came home from the world's most boring job and I remained patient while kids turned their noses up at dinner, while Kate asked for money (every damn night it's something) for cheerleading clinic, while I took Kate to Best Buy to replace yet another iPod she broke (thank God for the protection plan), while I paid $35 for another protection plan, while she begged me for new $25 headphones and whined when I said no, while the kids fought about stupid shit, on and on, until finally I told everyone to "shut up" and I stomped around the house like Godzilla. The end. 

Then I wrote this Facebook post: "I had a little meltdown tonight because that is what good mothers do. They give their children stories to tell later about how their mother was a crazy person."

I do it for you, kids. All for you.

I like to share these things because it's the only way to see that you are not alone in the world. You are one of 9 out of 10 parents (that 10th parent is in a coma) who is "psychologically aggressive" *ahem* 22 times a year.

My friend Emily admitted that she threw her iPhone at her husband in front of their highly impressionable toddler who, I believe, will grow up to have no respect for technology or will grow up to be a pitcher.

My daughter loves to bring up the time I threw a piece of bread at her dad. She was only four-years-old but you just don't forget watching as your mom stops, mid-sandwich-fixin', to launch a piece of mayonnaise-laden bread at your dad and that bread hits the wall and slides slowly down to the floor. I remember we laughed so hard that I forgot whatever it was I was angry about.

Emily wrote, "I have a term for when I go crazy: Throwing the McDonald's. Remember when Carrie did just that to Mr Big? So my close friends need no further explanation when I shamefully tell them I threw the McDonald's."

Jacob was sitting next to me when I read that and I showed it to him and we both burst out laughing.

This past summer, Jacob and I had an argument on a road trip. We were in the McDonald's drive-through, where - let's be honest - nothing good can happen.

It was before 10:30 in the morning so we were ordering breakfast. Jacob asked if they could fix him some chicken strips. I asked, the person said yes, but it would take at least five minutes. I looked at Jacob and he said, "Never mind." So I went on with the order and pulled forward. Then Jacob started sighing and acting put out.

And in the complicated emotions of motherhood, I felt bad that he was disappointed. Let's just forget that he disappointed himself by saying, "Never mind." I felt sorry that he wasn't getting what he wanted and so...I yelled at him.

I know. What the what?

But I felt bad for him and angry with him at the same time.

"Why didn't you just order what you wanted?!" I yelled.

He yelled back at me and then we pulled up to the window. When the guy handed me the bag full of hot breakfast sandwiches and hash browns, I threw it at Jacob.

Not my finest moment. Or his. He said something to me that you just don't write down in the baby book. Baby's first F word?

Not cool on either of our parts. I pulled into the gas station next door and I went in to the restroom and leaned against the wall and breathed in and out. When I came out to the car, I apologized for throwing the McDonald's bag at him and then I said, "Don't you ever speak to me that way again. Ever."

I told Emily that Jacob and I, having made peace shortly after that horrible incident in the drive-through, had laughed out loud at her use of the phrase "throwing the McDonald's" since I had literally thrown the McDonald's.

"But," I said, "we call it 'Ruining the McMuffins.'"

Being a parent is difficult. No one really tells you just how hard it's going to be. Sometimes you want to run away. Sometimes you want to grab short people by the shoulders and shake them into having some sense. Sometimes you are the one with no sense and your irritatingly reasonable teenage son will say, "Mom, you're getting worked up again. You should calm down."

Sometimes the yelling will feel good in the same way that pounding a punching bag feels good. You get into a rhythm and you don't want to stop. Sometimes it feels like the only response when NO ONE SEEMS TO BE LISTENING UP IN HERE!

If it makes a difference, my yelling is much like my rants about politics: mostly funny and no one takes me seriously.

But it's obviously not a good thing. We should all try to cut back from 22 times a year to two times. Two seems totally reasonable. I mean, Christmas isn't Christmas without yelling.

I don't have the answers for how to do this. The only thing I know to do is to leave the room when you feel a yell building up. Remind yourself that the mess does not matter in the grand scheme of things. Remind yourself that children in Africa are starving while you are throwing food around and ruining it. Remind yourself that these freeloaders are looking to you to show them how to react to things.

One of the articles I read said that it can be good for children to see a parent get angry and then to see that parent calm themselves down and that "the occasional, nonabusive freak-out is generally much less damaging than regular fireworks, which send a child the message that he or she is not safe and that there's something wrong with him...Kids can actually learn an important lesson from seeing you lose your temper and then regain your cool. 'This provides an opportunity to show kids that we all get angry, but what really counts is how we repair things afterward.'"

How we repair things around here is with humor and an appreciation for the absurd. If we can laugh at ourselves and forgive ourselves for how ridiculous we are, that's half the battle, I think.

The other half might be to stop eating crap from McDonald's.


  1. I need to bookmark this post and return to it in 10 years when I have two pre-teens grating on my last nerve. Oh Lord, help me now.

    1. I can only imagine what it will be like with two! I'm sure you will handle it with flying colors!

      In other news, in 10 years my son will be 26 and my daughter will be 22. What in the world? Why did I just do that math? That's insane!


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