Open Drawers

Let me paint a scenario…

You’re tired. Like, really tired. You have solo parented for the past two weeks while your husband is working in another state. Your mind is like a chest of drawers and every single drawer is open—did I pay the gas bill, sign homework folders, need to practice math flash cards, eye appointment for one child tomorrow, haven’t seen dentist in over six months and need to book all kids in to see one, laundry sitting in dryer needs to be folded, should really sort closets, door handle isn’t on yet call contractor, did I send money for the kids hot lunch, I want to workout Saturday but have no one to watch the kids, Volleyball practice this weekend do I have that covered, I have to do passport picture for the little one, I haven’t communicated with my team in awhile and my business is hurting because of it, I need to mail five packages of product, voicemail from aunt have to call her back, did we do thank you notes from Christmas, I’d like to try homemade dishwasher pods–and on and on and on.

With these thoughts rolling around your mind, you walk into your daughter’s bathroom and stop short. The spray that’s supposed to be for her hair was used on Barbie and now it’s mixed into some type of slop with that expensive lotion you gave her and it’s spilled all over the counter. Nail polish is out and dripped on the white cabinet. Last night’s wet towels are piled on the floor. The sink is caked with tooth paste. There are plastic horses all over the floor over by the shower and there are LOL doll pieces actually in the shower. There’s no toilet paper on the holder and there, in the middle of it all, your child. Oblivious. Even more oblivious to the fact you had told her to clean up her bathroom yesterday. She’s about to explain how this makes complete sense in her mind but you stop her. You yell. You yell and the entire time you’re yelling you can see her face crinkle up a bit as if bearing a blow and she crouches back a little scared but not really because you’ve never hit her, so it’s just the volume that’s a little shocking. Tears well in her eyes and you, exasperated, almost tear up yourself because you are so mad, annoyed, confused and frustrated. Now another two drawers open in your mind chest—first, that you have to figure out how to get that nail polish off of your newly renovated cabinets and second, you yelled. Again. That one goes into the mom fail drawer. 

I hope that some of you reading this—I mean even one of you reading this can relate. Can you? If not, I’m really sinking fast. Let’s keep the scene going…

Later that night you, crippled with guilt, cry into the phone while you tell your husband you’re a failure as a mom. You explain what happened and how you yelled, again, and how bad you now feel. You’re convinced you’re a terrible mom and that you are ruining your child. He is kind. He tells you that you aren’t and that you’re an amazing mother. You keep crying. You get off the phone still feeling rotten, wipe the snot running down your nose from your ugly crying and creep downstairs to her room. She’s asleep but you wake her up. She is over it, but you aren’t. You go into an explanation about why you yelled and that you’re sorry for yelling. That it doesn’t mean what she did isn’t wrong. That it doesn’t mean you aren’t mad. But that you shouldn’t have yelled so hard. She can’t see you’re still crying in the dark and she’s half asleep and tells you it’s ok (and she means it). You hug her and tell her you love her a million more times, tuck her in and go back upstairs to finish sobbing because that didn’t really help either. 

Anyone still with me?

Confession. I’m a yeller. I yell at my kids. I’d like to explain a few things—clarify if you will—before I continue on with this. I shouldn’t have to and I actually think the more we explain the more we give away our power but I have no power here. I never yell at my children in public. I don’t belittle them or call them names. I’ve never hit my child in any way. I don’t ignore my children. I affirm them daily—literally say affirmations with them every single day. I tell them I love them all the time. I hug them and kiss them and hold them frequently. I don’t make fun of them. But I do yell when I’m upset with them. 

Why? I wasn’t raised by yellers but I never did anything like above scenario either. Perhaps I yell because I can’t put myself in their shoes and that’s frustrating. I never would have done some of the things they do and so it’s really, really hard for me to comprehend why on earth they would do it. Maybe I yell because I don’t understand.

I yell because I’m lazy. It’s much easier to yell down the stairs at them to hustle up or stop banging the piano while Carolyn sleeps than it is to go down and talk. It’s a big house. Yelling is easier.

I yell because not only is my plate full but it’s overflowing with gravy from that extra helping of mashed potatoes I thought I needed. But whose isn’t these days? The cats’ litter box is full and they have no food or water and I’ve reminded them twenty times to stay up on this. Snap. The overfilled paper plate breaks. I yell.

I yell because I don’t know what else to do sometimes. There’s no takeaway from that—kindly chatting, warnings, threats, love even ignoring doesn’t work. I don’t even have my partner here half the time, so I yell. 

Are you sitting there judging me while you read this? I’ll let you know that you can. Judge away. No amount of your comments or judgements will come even close to how much I judge myself or how much I beat myself up and belittle myself over my yelling. This is why I hate (yea, hate) “educate yourself” posts that moms like to share. You know the ones? I usually see them pop up on my feed the same day I’ve yelled—“yelling will ruin your child’s spirit,” or “do you know what you’re doing to your child when you yell?” and “You might as well beat your child with a two by four because that’s how yelling affects your child.” They usually have awesome images too that really make you feel good. Educate yourself they say. I’ll say this. The term “educate yourself” is the most uneducated thing you can say to someone. Someone make me that shirt please…or a wine glass.

Do you really think for one second I’m not aware of the consequences of yelling? That I’m not aware of the studies or theories or alternatives to yelling? It’s like Jolene from Georgia doesn’t actually care, she just posts that to reaffirm she’s got things all figured out and doing it better than us scum that yell. Educate yourself Jolene. Do you think people who are overweight don’t understand the risks of being overweight? That they don’t know? Do you think smokers aren’t aware of the negative effects of cigarettes? Of course they know. No amount of you educating or hanging it over their head from your soapbox is going to change that. The only thing it does is encourage me to beat myself up a little more. Thanks, Jolene. I will tell you that the mental narrative I have with myself over this is something that no person should ever hear spoken out loud. We do this to ourselves don’t we mamas (and dads)? I don’t need the posts. I don’t need your judgement. I don’t need your advice. I already have a whole drawer open in my mind—remember that mom fail drawer I mentioned? That’s the one. It’s filled with replayed scenes and fails and negative thoughts about what a rotten, fail of a mother I am. I loathe this drawer and try to keep it closed as much as possible.

Are you waiting for me to go into a Rachel Hollis moment? Here’s my flaw but here’s how I came out of it, beat it, got it all figured out, coached you on it and now have a book and tour and millions to show for it? Unfortunately, not this mama. I’m willing to be raw and vulnerable with you though, which is hard enough. I admit my flaw, am aware of it and I am willing to work on it. That’s it. That’s all I got.

Here’s what I did come up with. Upon some recent prayer and reflection, I decided for Lent this year I’m giving up yelling. I have a rubber band that I’m wearing on my wrist all of Lent to try and condition myself like Pavlov’s dog. Each time I yell or go to yell, SNAP. It may not solve everything. It may solve nothing. I may still yell but I hope to be much more aware of the yelling and hopefully it curbs it or stops it before it happens.

So this lent while others are giving up things or doing new things for their forty days, you’ll find me with a rubber band on my wrist working at fixing a flaw that I’d very much like to go away. I will say this—I still think children need discipline. When they misbehave, I’m not a big fan of sitting down as two adults and talking it out (I’m the adult last time I checked). I’m going to try to replace the yell with quieter stern moments but you bet your bottom dollar there will be quiet stern moments and consequences for misbehavior. I have no desire to let them see me as an equal or to have my sole purpose be their best friend. I’m their parent and hope there’s a little bit of fear, a lot of respect and even more love. God gave these three to me and no one else for a reason—no one else on the planet is better equipped to raise them than I am (and Kurtis). No one. Even with the yelling. But I know God is tugging at my heart as well. Tugging at me to listen to him and to work on this at the very minimum during this Lenten season. Maybe you’re feeling called to do the same. Maybe it’s something different that you struggle with or want to do better or even something you want to start doing. Regardless, let this post be a reminder that none of us are perfect. We all likely have parenting flaws we would love to magically disappear. You have a mom fail drawer too, don’t you? I bet you do. We all unwillingly play the comparison game (even Jolene from Georgia with her stinking posts). We all struggle with feeling like we fail our children (on occasion or daily). All of it. However, let this honest confession from a flawed mama also be a reminder that you aren’t alone. That we really are in this together. The next time you go to compare yourself to someone else, maybe snap a rubber band on your wrist as a reminder that she’s likely struggling too. Maybe she’s even a yeller like me.  

Good Effort, Kendra!

I watched her dump the volleyball into the net for about the fifth time that game. I put on my frozen smile—which by now likely looked similar to the Joker’s—and clapped encouragingly. I waited for it. I knew it was coming. There, from the top row of the bleachers it came raining down, “Good effort, Kendra!”

I played on a traveling volleyball team for the better part of my youth. Truth be told, I had some talent. Unfortunately, talent only got you so far in my volleyball world. What I had for talent I was lacking in last name, relation and financials. I was also a little chubby. Maybe that was it? We played on a team called Lightening. There were three teams in this particular age group in this particular club. Lightening was the middle talent team after Thunder. I maintain to this day that a few of us should’ve been on Thunder but whatever. Politics of youth sports—what can ya do? There was a girl on my team named Kendra*. She was not one of the people that probably should’ve been on Thunder. 

Looking back at how the teams were stacked, I’m wondering if it was just an age thing for us girls at the time. You were either good or you weren’t. In-between didn’t really exist. Thunder was good. I can’t even remember the other team name—Cloud? Rain? Hail? I don’t know, but they, well, weren’t. Lightening was a mix of people who should’ve been on Thunder and people who should’ve been on third team I can’t remember. That made for a mess of a team. So there I was with my frozen smile, internally screaming at Kendra because I had no clue why the heck she was even thinking she could’ve hit the ball that she took away from Emily. And all the time that voice, “Good effort, Kendra!” 

Why do some people have such a lasting impact on us? I have boyfriends who left less of an impression on me than she did. It wasn’t because we were bosom buddies. We were two very strong personalities. I may have also accidentally chuckled when she sprained her ankle. That was actually rotten of me but I remember it clear as day. She went up to hit a ball—pass, set, Kendra jumped (maybe an inch off the ground) spiked it directly into the net (which was to be expected) and came down. Next thing I know, she’s on the ground screaming. Kendra had a loud voice. I didn’t mention that. You know people who have loud voices and then people who have loud voices. Hers was the latter. Anyway, we learned that her loud voice also translated into a loud crier. Screaming. Screeching. Some kind of dying animal cry. When I looked over at her, I was expecting to see bone coming out of her skin it sounded so bad (it was a minor sprain). Her dad, taking two stairs at a time, came leaping down to carry her off the court because she couldn’t even get up to hop off with our help. It was just too much. I chuckled. It’s terrible. I don’t wish pain upon anyone. But I chuckled, so there’s my confession. I’m sorry Kendra. 

It got to the point that Kendra was super reliable for being unreliable during games. At thirteen I wasn’t ok with losing games. You know how you get put on a group project with a C student when you are a straight A student? Suddenly, your entire grade depends on this person magically bringing his or her “A” game? So naturally you just take over everything and tell them you got it? Or was that just me? Maybe that’s why the checkbox for “works well in groups” was always a zero on my report cards? The point was, that was the unreliable feeling driving me crazy during games.

I wanted to play the sport moving into high school and I was highly competitive. I’m also the type of person that when I make a mistake, I want to acknowledge it and try to find out what I did wrong so I can improve on it. Kendra was not that person. She was a it’s-all-just-for-fun-this-doesn’t-matter-participation-trophy-kind of person. So were her parents. After every single error her dad would shout from the rafters between cupped hands, “Good effort, Kendra!” I kid you not, after every single mistake. Missed serve. Good effort. Whiffs the pass. Good effort. Dives for a ball that’s five feet away. Good effort. Good effort, good effort, good effing effort. If hashtags were a thing back then, his would’ve been #goodeffortkendra…on a t-shirt. To make it even worse, he started thinking he could good effort me anytime I made a mistake. No, no Mr. Hawkins* it was not a good effort. It was a terrible serve that I missed and should’ve made. Don’t you start good efforting me! I never said that to him—but I thought it. My parents understood. They weren’t good effort type people either. The first time he said it, I think my mom said something like, “Well it wasn’t really. She should’ve made that serve.” God bless moms for knowing you to your core. For two seasons I lived through the good efforts. Two trying, painful seasons I was haunted by them.  

All sarcasm and joking aside—these were good people. I have nothing against them and I appreciate they were so supportive of their daughter. We were just very, very different. I mean, I just watched Tia play basketball the other day and there are the really nice, good effort moms and then lunatics like myself yelling for her to focus on the ball and stop waving at Payton. So neither is right nor wrong and we are all, quite frankly, just doing the best we can. I get that now Mr. Hawkins. Totally. Little did you know that after all these years, “Good effort, Kendra” is a staple term in my family.

A few years after I hung up my volleyball spandex shorts, I was playing tennis and totally missed a shot. Laughing at the folly (tennis ended up being my sport), my dad yelled down, “Good effort, Kendra” and I busted a gut. It stuck. I mean, stuck. Mom makes a homemade lemon pie that resembled lemon soup? Good effort, Kendra. Kurtis falls out of the penalty box at a playoff game? Good effort, Kendra. Lauren plans an epic dinner and a family fight breaks out? Good effort, Kendra. Friend hits a terrible golf shot? Good effort, Kendra. Friend looks at us, confused, who’s Kendra? She asks. Months later, she’s saying it to other friend who hits a bad shot. I mean, people in my circle hear this phrase often—likely without a clue as to where it came from or who it’s referring to. But it lives on…and I think of her. I think of thirteen-year-old Kendra and me playing volleyball on our mediocre team. I don’t have a clue where she is these days or how her parents are doing. I do, however, look back fondly on those days. Somehow, that loud-voiced little girl and her effort-loving father have managed to be a part of my life for the last twenty some years. And with each folly in my life or that of anyone around me, their legacy lives on—good effort, Kendra. Good effort. 

*Name changed.