We have a small pond in our backyard, about the size of a hula hoop, in which my son has a handful of goldfish. He likes to catch the fish in a net and sometimes hold them with his hands, touching and squeezing them like one might touch a pet. Some have even survived.
Yesterday, it was about 53 degrees outside and raining as he sat on the side of the pond and said, “Mommy, can I take my shirt and pants off and go in the pond?”
“No,” I said.
I watched him remove his long sleeve shirt, and as he started to take off the t-shirt underneath, I reiterated, “No!” He continued to take off the shirt and then toss it on the grass nearby.
“That’s it. Go inside,” I said, pointing toward the house like a cop directing traffic. “Now!”
As he marched in front of me, I could hear him saying, “You’re a frickin dickhead.”
I’m not going to say I can’t imagine where he’s heard that. I don’t necessarily couple my curse words like that, but let’s just say I’ve used strawberries, and I’ve used blueberries, I just haven’t necessarily had them together. I didn’t take issue with his language. It was his insolence. He swung from vine to vine, going from ignoring my instructions to scoffing, disrespectfully, as I issued his penalty. And so I did what I always do. I yelled. “Get in the house!”
I’ve always been a yeller. As a kid, I yelled when I was unhappy. In my twenties, I yelled about jobs. In my thirties, I yelled about boyfriends, and in my forties, about my husband. I yell when I feel overlooked and underappreciated, slighted or ignored. And now that I have a child, I yell when he is frustrating, when he doesn’t want to go to school or take his bath, when he doesn’t want to get dressed or eat his meal.
I sent my son to his room for 15 minutes, for disregarding my instructions about his shirt and for then brazenly calling me obscenities. When the 15 minutes had passed, I entered his room, and he seemed contrite. I asked him if he knew why he was in there. He said he did.
Later that day, we would argue one more time before he went to bed, about how to properly roll a die in Monopoly. He said my husband told him that you just throw the die, which he did, and it bounced across the room. I tried to show him how to shake it in your hand and then spill it out onto the table, like in craps.
“Daddy says you throw it!” he said loudly, and stormed off. “I don’t care about the game, and I don’t care about you!” he said.
I wondered how a parent can ever have one of those gentle teaching moments with such a willful, stubborn little child, when I realized I had indeed taught him something: how to yell.