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Katrina Willis "Table for Six"
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Ever since I can remember holding a pen, I remember writing. Words are my constant companion, my solace, my connection to humanity. I write because I must, but I also write to share a common experience. If one of my sentences makes you feel like you are not alone in this wide world, then I have done my job. We have so much to share as human beings, don’t we? Thank you for letting me share my words.
When We Know Better
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When We Know Better

April 17, 2014 | 11:02 AM

I've spent some time recently re-reading old blog posts (which are, by the way, not on this site) and excerpts from "Table for Six." It's been an eye-opener for sure, a testament to growth and maturity and perspective. And hard as it is to admit, some less-than-stellar writing... and parenting.

As a young mom to four kids under five, I was over-scheduled, over-stressed, and over the top.

And I was a yeller.

When I read back through old blog posts, I'm astonished at the amount of yelling I did. From an outsider's viewpoint, it seems I yelled constantly -- at the dinner table, during bath time, at the park, on vacation, in the car, while reading bedtime stories. ("IN THE GREAT GREEN ROOM THERE WAS A TELEPHONE! AND A RED BALLOON!! AND A PICTURE OF THE COW JUMPING OVER THE MOON!!!)

It makes me sad to recognize how much I yelled when my kids were little. When I look at their sweet cherub faces in pictures past, it's hard for me to remember why it felt so necessary.

Perhaps it stemmed from exhaustion, or a desire to be heard in the noisy din, or a general sense of overwhelm. Parenting is hard. Parenting little ones is incredibly hard. It tests your patience, your fortitude, your ability to operate effectively with intense sleep deprivation, and your overall self-control. And when I yelled, I was undoubtedly out of control. An old friend used to call my hard-ass self "Farm Trina" (e.g., "Farm Trina would have never let those kids get away with THAT!").

I am flawed like every other human on this little blue planet, with my own unique repertoire of failings. I have the mouth of a sailor, I eat carbs with wild abandon, I drink more red wine than I should (sometimes even before 5:00), I eavesdrop on strangers' conversations, I gloat a little when a meanie gets a taste of karma, and I let all my kids see PG-13 movies long before they were of age. But I think the most damaging thing I've done to my children might revolve around the yelling.

Because it's so angry and so unnecessary and so scary when it lands on little ears.

And from their mother, their soft place.

I re-read a story I wrote about George disabling the lock on the Suburban door one sunny afternoon, rendering it unable to be closed. George, who couldn't keep his hands off anything. George, who has always been curious about how things work. George, who would much prefer to spend an afternoon disassembling an old XBox than running around the neighborhood with his friends.

I'd taken the kids for ice cream on the way to an event and had forgotten my wallet in the kitchen. We sped back home to grab it, cutting our time even shorter. After we got our ice cream shakes to go, I was strapping all the kids into the car. While he was waiting his turn, George did something to the door lock, and I couldn't fix it. The door wouldn't close, the lock was jammed, I was sweaty and rushed and frantic and ready to call AAA for help because Chris was unavailable to rescue us. We were most definitely going to be late to whatever event was on our over-packed calendar.

I yelled, George cried, the other kids sipped their shakes silently, the moment was ruined. He was a little guy then, and he still remembers. "I wanted to try and figure out how the lock worked," he said to me when I recently asked. "Sure, I remember. I remember exactly how I did it. I could do it again right now."

I listened to my 11-year-old explain the situation to me, but I didn't take the time to listen to his younger self so many years ago. I just yelled and accused him of touching things he wasn't supposed to touch. I wish, instead, that I'd seen the wheels spinning in his curious mind, had stopped to realize he was simply exploring his world. The door lock was right at his eye level, and he was waiting for me to strap the other three kids in the car. Of course he touched it. Of course my little Lego master / old appliance taker-aparter wanted to learn how something worked. Of course he did. And if I'd given him a chance to undo what he'd done -- if I'd added an extra three minutes into our already late schedule to give him time to reverse his actions -- I'm sure he would have fixed the door himself. Proudly.

But I was busy. Harried. Stressed. Everything else in the moment seemed more important than a young boy's curiosity.

And nothing else in that moment was more important than my kid, navigating his world, synapses firing, figuring things out.

I'd give anything to have that moment back. To do it over. To find my compassion and patience instead of my anger.

When George irritates the daylights out of me today, I get a brief reminder of why I've chosen yelling in the past. He's a button-pusher, always has been. He's high-intensity, that boy. But now (more often than not), I choose to take a deep breath and speak in my big girl voice. To listen.

Or to pour myself another glass of wine.

I say to my teens and tweens, "If you can't be nice to each other, then just walk away." I wish I could have given my younger self my own advice, but walking away from a 5, 3, 2, and 1-year-old is generally a bad idea.

In my weakest moments, I still yell… at Chris, the kids, the world. But I now understand that yelling is all about me, that losing my cool has nothing to do with my kids or my husband. It's about my frustration level and my inability to communicate. Yelling doesn't produce better results, it just results in regret. When I fall into my old habits, I cool down alone, ask forgiveness, promise to make a better choice next time. And little by little, I'm eliminating the angry yelling, saving my outside voice for the lacrosse field or the NCAA Final Four tournament instead.

Because when we know better, we do better. (Thanks, Maya Angelou, for so eloquently stating that truth.)

The patience (and what I hope passes as wisdom) that comes with age is a welcome gift. I love that I'm no longer so many sharp edges and hard angles. The softness I saw in my own mom as she aged is beginning to settle in me, too. Around my middle, yes, but most importantly, in my heart. Sure, there's still some sass and a lot of profanity, but the quick anger and hard judgment and the my-way-or-the-highway attitude has dissipated. I am grateful for that transformation, for the chance to see and interpret things differently. I used to equate soft with weak. But I now understand that kindness and compassion is, instead, strength. And isn't that the point of being human, after all? To learn, to grow, to make better choices, to become better people, to serve others more effectively and with a deeper sense of understanding and acceptance?

There is so much love in our family, so much laughter. Our kids' lives have been filled with happiness, joy, compassion. But the yelling still punctuates the in-betweens of my memory. I'm sure it's in their memories, too, and for that, I am beyond remorseful.

I don't often wish for do-overs, but this is the one thing about our past that I would change for them, for us. I'm an emotional girl for sure -- ups, downs, highs, lows -- but there is no place for the crazy, banshee yelling.

Being human is hard sometimes. Seeking first to understand and then be understood, a constant challenge. My kids deserve that, though. My husband, too.

We all do.


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