I did the scary kind of yelling last night when my 3-year-old would not stop messing with a package of toilet paper when he was supposed to be sitting with me reading a bedtime story.
It started with him putting the package on his head, yelling “ICE CREAM” like the vendors he had seen at a recent baseball game. This, of course, made me laugh, and I gladly traded pretend money for some invisible vanilla ice cream.
But after a few minutes, I asked him to sit so we could read. I asked nicely, like seven times. Then standing in the middle of my bed, he started splitting the package up the middle. I pictured myself trying to carry 12 rolls of toilet paper precariously balanced on one another, and that’s when I lost it.
“SIT DOWN NOW!!” I yelled, much louder than my previous requests and with just enough crazy in my voice that he stopped immediately, then gave me a look like I had slapped him across the face. He dissolved into genuine tears of the saddest kind. Looking at him made me want to slap myself across the face.
I never yell right off the bat. I am a calm person. I’m extremely patient, until I’m not. I guess that’s why it works. And it always does. He immediately does what I’m telling him to do, what I have been asking him to do for 10 minutes, but it always comes with tears—real tears—and a look of genuine hurt.
Sometimes he yells back at me, “Be NICE to people!”—a lesson I’ve spent the last three years trying to teach him flying back at me like an unexpected boomerang. And though I retort with a desperate, “All you have to do is LISTEN,” it’s a good reminder that at three, he does need to listen but he’s also still figuring out so many things.
Within minutes, we are snuggled up reading a book together, the toilet paper ice cream cooler tossed aside, the yelling and tears behind us, but familiar questions bounced around my brain: “Am I doing it right? Will I ever really know?”
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