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A House of Harmony

Posted by Mary Webb on January 26, 2015 at 10:35 AM

I read something the other day, and I felt totally convicted about it. The Parent magazine reporter started with an anecdote about the ever-painful potty stop her 5-year-old daughter requested on a road trip just five minutes after they had stopped to use it because she hadn't felt the need to go.

Even though as a mother who claims to have common sense, sense that would have been demonstrated by making my own child go anyway, I could totally see myself gripping the steering wheel so tight that my knuckles were white. And, clearly, I wasn't the one in this situation.

Then, I realized this wouldn't be an article where we ganged up on defenseless children. It was an article where we upset parents needed to have an angry mob unleashed on us for exacting the kind of fear, uneasiness and apprehension we have caused the ones we loved. In the article, the mother had reminded her small daughter that she'd said she hadn't needed to go when they stopped. The daughter had answered as honestly as the little babes tend to: "But, I didn't."

The author said she turned around to see her child's "little face deflating like a soufflé and her literally wringing her hands." What's worse is, though she saw her daughter's expressions, she still muttered her disbelief that they'd have to exit the highway yet again. But her 8-year-old son checked her, and that's what drove the point home to her when he said, "Mama, she just needs to use the bathroom. Probably she should have gone before, or whatever. But, she needs to now." All that was left to say was, "Soooooooooooooo? How about it?"

My first thought was, OMG! That's me when I have a heart attack because I'm ready to leave school, and the kids are still struggling into their jackets and haven't even started collecting the homework they need to place back into their folders, even though I told them minutes before I was done. That's me when Quentin is trying to tell me something in the morning, and he's still in his underwear though it's 6:15, and he should at least be at the breakfast table. That's me when Jory is insisting I help her with homework that I know she knows how to do without my assistance while I'm trying to prepare a quick dinner.

It was certainly me the other day in Target when a) we'd just let a fully functional toilet at the hair salon; b)I really just wanted to pick up Jory's king cake for class and get home; c)she'd waited until we'd pass the restroom at the front of the store, and we'd gotten all the way to the back of the store to say she had to go; and d) excitedly hurried me on back to the front even though I was going as fast as I could in heels and a still-healing ankle, as I certainly didn't want to contend with an accident on top of everything.

The truth is the last thing I want to do is make my kids feel like I think they're blowing it. Yet, that's probably what my huffing and puffing and dramatic sighing (which I thought was an improvement over yelling; you know if you can't say something nice...) is conveying to them. I just want things to go the way they're supposed to...as quickly as possible...without me repeating any directions. I just want what that article offered -- harmony. I'm just going about bringing it about the wrong way. A little inharmoniously, to be exact.  

So, what to do? First, I have to recognize what harmony means; it means that while each voice is different and individual notes may vary, we're all singing the same song. The article also said harmony means cultivating communication and compromise, flexibility and kindness, courtesy and the benefit of the doubt.

Here's my answer to this: As it related to communication, instead of trying to bury my head into a magazine at the dinner table (because I feel I never have time to read) and getting pissed when it gets interrupted with delirious peals of laughter when Quentin starts with his "Jory, would you eat a (insert stupid inanimate object here)" comedy routine, I put them first. We actually talked at the table. One night, we just did "highs and lows" of our day. Another night, we did the brain puzzles and riddles from Jory's Highlights magazine. And while we laughed, it was actually the pleasurable kind.

Compromise was a little more difficult for me. Let's face it. I grew up in the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do era. Maybe I'm getting revenge on the wrong people by making my kids do the same thing. The flip side, though, is I just think I make more sense than my kids do. But, these are very well the reason why I should be compromising. It's not their fault I didn't get to do things the way I wanted to do them. And, if I don't allow them to start making some decisions (and see why the ones they make might not work), how are they going to learn to make better ones? So, the other night when I told Quentin he needed to come to the table to do his homework when I saw him reclining in his bed to do it after he finished reading, and he asked to just stay there instead, I didn't march him to the table anyway. What did I really want in this situation -- for him to do his work or to sit at the table? For him to do his work. What didn't I want? The homework drama we usually have. So, I let him stay where he was. To his credit, he got it done and correctly.

For flexibility, I just ran down the schedule they have me juggling on Saturdays with catechism, dance, basketball, band and whatever invitations they acquire, and they were open to wiggling when I needed them to. For example, last weekend, I was under the weather for the entire holiday weekend. I dragged myself to the things I needed to take them to, but then, dragged myself right back to bed. Even though that meant they didn't get to go anywhere and they had to be quiet and they ate more than fair share of sandwiches, they did it without complaint.

Admittedly, I am unkind when I'm fussing at them. It's pretty much the nature of reaming someone out. I've decided it doesn't have to be. There's a way to tell Quentin when he needs to take the garbage out without reminding him of how many times I've reminded him about that, which I know drives him crazy. And, I could have declared my disappointment in Jory that she continues to be a talker in class without telling her that I was going to give her teacher permission to put her desk outside of class, so she would be mortified about being singled out. That totally overshadowed her otherwise stellar, straight-A report card.

I think I already do a good job of being courteous. Even though they have to do what I say (technically not), I'm the first to thank them for it. Maybe that's why they're equally good about thanking me for doing the things I really do have to do for them.

Last night, when Jory didn't come when I called her to get her teeth brushed because she was on their laptop, I collected my ruler and, to her "surprise", smacked her across the rump with it. There's been a sudden epidemic of "not hearing me" when I've told them to do something. Perhaps, I should have given her the benefit of the doubt that she might have been so caught up with what she was doing that she really hadn't heard me. A second call might have been more fair.

Essentially, I want all our days to be like the ones we spent in DisneyWorld last month. There was zero beef and lots of love and laughter. We simply just enjoyed each other's company, which was a relaxing state of mind to be in, especially since I really do like them as people and not just my children. Realistically, I know all our days won't be like that. Juice spills and last-minute-mentioned projects will still happen. But, getting as close as possible to nirvana in the home begins with me. Yesterday when Jory asked to go to the restroom as soon as we got to Mass, I just said okay. And, guess what? It really wasn't the end of the world.

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