The Mother I Am Becoming.

Dear Orange Rhinos,
Tonight’s post is by Heather. She wrote this note to me a while back and I asked her if I could share it, not because of the complimentary message, but because of the truly inspirational message she shares. I hope you enjoy Heather’s “Orange Rhino Challenge” story as much as I did. Thank you Heather for writing and for so openly sharing with us all; I know your story will touch many hearts in the way it did mine.
All my best,
The Orange Rhino
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I’m not a yeller.  I grew up with parents who never yelled, with grandparents and aunts and uncles who never did either.  In fact, my first exposure to a family that yelled as a form of communication was during my first trip to stay with my long-distance college boyfriend’s Italian family, who rely on raised voices to get their point across; I was so traumatized by the experience that I hid in my guest bedroom for hours.  (He’s now my husband, so I did get over it.  Eventually.)  My friends even joke that my “outside” voice is smaller than their “indoor” voices.

But there have been more moments in my parenting career than I’d like to admit that I’ve completely lost it on my kids, who are nine and five years old. Each and every instance has left them shaking and in tears; they’ve left me wracked with guilt and anger, trembling myself, and wondering, “What did I just do?”.  

I’ve been reading The Orange Rhino for the past year.  I haven’t commented on the posts, nor contributed to the Facebook discussions because “I’m not a yeller”.  But as last spring turned into summer and our family began preparing for my husband’s nine month deployment with the Army, my stress levels rose and my patience with anything began dwindling.  I was yelling more frequently at lesser infractions.  I told myself I’d sign up for and begin the challenge the day he left.
In the days, weeks, and initial months that followed his departure I was completely and totally overwhelmed.  I locked my keys in my car one day, then in the house the next.  The locksmith and I became good pals.  I forgot playdates I’d scheduled with our friends, forgot to go grocery shopping when we were out of bread and milk.  I was getting by, but barely, with my new responsibilities as the only actively parenting parent, knowing that in this town that’s more than halfway across the country from our families it was all on me to make it work.  I was aiming not for thriving, but for merely surviving.

Three months into the deployment I finally found my bearings.  We had a schedule, we knew what to expect each day, and I discovered that I was, indeed, stronger than I’d realized.  By the time I remembered to sign up for the challenge I wasn’t yelling so much anymore; I was still reading the Orange Rhino posts, and every time I almost did overreact at something my kids did, I stopped myself and thought better of it.

One day back in February both of my kids had a snow day from school, but as I work from home I had tasks to attend to; I left the kids mostly to their own devices.  At their current ages this is not something that is normally a problem; they don’t require constant monitoring, nor do they need me to entertain them.

At one point I left my desk for a quick break and realized the house was unusually quiet.  I went upstairs, only to discover my 5-year-old son “cooking” in my bathroom sink, which had just been thoroughly cleaned the day before by my twice-monthly housekeeper. He had brought up a bag of baby carrots, an apple, a bag of broccoli salad, a strainer, and a kids’ safety knife (thankfully not an actual paring knife!), along with a big jug of real maple syrup and had been making himself a snack.

He’d cut a wedge from the apple and hacked a bunch of carrots into odd shapes, tossing them into the strainer with the broccoli salad and pouring a generous amount of syrup over it all.  It wasn’t the biggest mess I’ve ever seen, but it was highly unexpected.

My first instinct was to yell but I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and collected myself. When I felt as though I had control of my emotions I very calmly helped him seal up the produce bags, had him put them away in the kitchen, then when he returned to the bathroom I handed him everything else to put away. He helped me wipe up the sink when he’d finished, and we went downstairs together so he could eat his snack.

To my own surprise I didn’t yell or lecture or even scold him.  I just quietly reminded him that next time he wants to “cook” he should ask me first and keep it in the kitchen where food prep belongs. As we walked back downstairs together he apologized to me, and I accepted it.

A year ago, under different circumstances, that would have been cause for a BIG yell-fest on my end, and a lot of crying as a result on his. Instead we both handled it calmly and appropriately.  Though I’ve read a library’s worth of parenting books and blogs and news articles, the credit for my change in behavior goes to The Orange Rhino and this blog.  Because she has written so honestly about her journey and transformation, I have evaluated my own; I’ve overcome my struggle with losing my temper with my kids on a regular basis.  Being a mom who yells and demoralizes them was never who I wanted to be but found myself becoming, and I am grateful for the solidarity of a wide community of parents who have also found themselves wandering down that path and hating it.

I’ve noticed that by intentionally sitting down and talking about my expectations and disappointments when my kids have done something wrong, rather than yelling at them for slipping up, I am much more calm on a regular basis. This has, in turn, led them to be more calm, too. Things around our house have been more than pleasant; they’ve been fun!

There have been occasions when I’ve put the kids to bed by 7pm so I could sit down and watch my favorite TV shows in peace, and because the hour has been earlier than their usual 8pm bedtime I’ve allowed them to play.  (Don’t judge – we don’t have a DVR and there are some shows that can only be watched live. Plus, by the end of the day I’m DONE, and so are they.)  More and more frequently I’ve heard my kids giggling and playing together upstairs, which is a huge change from the arguing that had been rampant just a few months earlier. Me not yelling has led my kids to behaving better in general, and all of that has made this deployment 100 times easier than it would be if we were all stressed out all the time.  It’s true when they say, “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”, and in our case the opposite is accurate, too.  Even when I’m faking the happy, it sure beats fully showcasing the anger.

We’re in the home stretch now; with less than two months to go until my husband returns and with an actual return date circled on our calendar, the excitement is starting to build.  Part of our redeployment adventure also includes a Permanent Change of Station (PCS, or military move to another base) this summer, and I’m in the midst of getting my house ready to sell in preparation for that event.  Though a big move like this is something I’ll have done six times in the twelve years of his career and our marriage, it does not get emotionally easier with each move.  This one will be the hardest so far as we’ll have been here for three years, the longest we’ve ever been stationed anywhere (3 full years, as opposed to the 33 months we lived in Germany, 5 months on the east coast, 2.5 years in the Rocky Mountains, and 23 months in Okinawa – yes, we’ve lived overseas twice).  My kids have spent more of their lives here than anywhere else; we’re leaving the first house we’ve ever bought, friends that have become our family, and schools that have supported us during this challenging year of life.

So for me this summer will be a mixture of bliss and sadness, filled with the “hurry up and wait” mindset that comes with this life that we’ve chosen for ourselves.  I know I’ll rely heavily on the techniques I’ve been practicing these past months, and will continue reading the blog posts for inspiration about how to carry forth when I don’t think I can take any more.  I’ve always liked being a mother, and now I find myself liking the mother I’m becoming.

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4 thoughts on “The Mother I Am Becoming.

  1. Hi Heather,
    First of all, here’s a great big THANK YOU to your husband for his service to this country and another big THANK YOU to you for making the sacrifices so that your husband can serve! I appreciate you sharing your story…its really an inspiration! Also, as a frequent mover myself, I’ll be praying that this next move goes very smoothly for you all and that everything falls into place nicely!

  2. Heather, I really like your comment “even when I’m faking the happy, it’s better than showcasing the anger”. Kudos to you!

  3. I have not signed up to be an Orange Rhino, but I too read the posts regularly. I appreciate this post as my husband is military as well. I grew up in a house with yelling. I am trying to break that cycle. Some days it feels completely impossible. And last year, when my husband was in tech school for 10 months and was a 16 hour drive away, I wish I had known about this site. It might have helped me handle things a little better. I continue to work on it and rededicate myself to not yelling on a daily basis. Thank you!

  4. I am a yeller, but not as much as I used to be. It’s something I have to work on moment by moment every single day. You’ll get no judgments from me. Motherhood is this universal club where we all get it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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