I had full intentions of this post being about blueberry picking. You know, about what I wrote on Facebook last Saturday right before we headed out:
“My boys have wanted to go blueberry picking for years. I always forget to find a place to go and then remember when it is too late. I always feel bad and always share their disappointment. But not this year! Just told the boys we are going in 5 minutes and their eyes popped out of their heads from excitement. And the Orange Rhino lesson in it all, because you know I always find one….
Getting it “right” will happen – even after several attempts/letdowns. And when it does, it feels great and makes all the work worth it. If you are feeling disappointed in yourself because you keep forgetting to stop yourself from yelling before it gets too late, do not lose faith. You will remember at one point. And that point will feel so great that it will give you the desire to work even harder to remember the next time – and it will give you the confidence to know that you can remember to not yell before it’s too late.”
The blueberry bush starts off with just one beautiful, exquisite blueberry. And then as time passes and the bush is exposed to more sun, another one pops up. And another one. Soon, the whole bush is full. Just like my (and your!) Orange Rhino Challenge journey. I started with no yell-free moments. Then I had one. Then I had more exposure to yelling situations and more practice handling them, and another yell-free moment popped up. And another. Soon, my life was full of beautiful, exquisite yell-free moments. Nice metaphor, eh?
But I am not going to write more about blueberries, about what I had planned. Instead, I am going to share what happened after blueberry picking because it is far more powerful.
On the way home from our blueberry excursion, we drove by a country fair. Our family loves hot dogs and cotton candy so obviously it was the perfect place for lunch. We pulled up and my oldest son goes, “Mom, look, horse and pony rides. I think I am ready to ride one, can I?” Heck yeah my dear! Overcome that fear. As my oldest saddled up, #2 and #4 on ponies behind him, my husband took #3 to scout out which stand had the best fried food. Horseback and pony riding a major success, my three sons and I started wandering to meet my husband and my other son. Within seconds of stepping out of the paddocks, my two older boys spotted the sign that later brought me to tears.
My first thought: I know just where my other son is. I guarantee he is getting his face painted as his fun activity since he chose not to do a pony ride. My second thought: I know two other boys who will be begging me for face paint any moment!
Sure enough as we got closer to the face-painting stand, I recognized this precious little curly hair kid with an almost done Spiderman face. And sure enough, the pleas started up my other sons. And well, the morning had been awesome and I felt generous and happy and all that jazz so I said, “Sure, why not!”
As #3 hopped down, overjoyed with his new face, my older two started peppering the artist with questions,
“Can you do Darth Vader?” #1 asked.
“What about Darth Maul?” #2 asked.
“Sure, we can do those.” She replied.
#1 and #2 eagerly hopped up into the chairs.
Just then, my husband returned with lunch in hand.
“Daddy, daddy! I’m getting Darth Vader!” #1 shouted from one artist’s chair.
“Daddy, daddy! I’m gonna be Darth Maul!” #2 shouted from the other artist’s chair.
“Mommy, mommy, I don’t like my Spiderman face. It’s not fair. I wanted to be Darth Vader and Darth Maul. I didn’t know she could do them.” #3 sobbed.
And I mean sobbed. His tears went right through his brand new Spiderman face causing it all to drip, drip, drip.
“Oh sweetie, I am sorry you are disappointed now. You look awesome though. I love the Spiderman look and you love Spiderman!” I said, desperate to console him.
And not just because I didn’t want him to feel upset, but also because while the day had been great thus far, this mamma was starving and the heat was starting to get to me. I could just feel that I didn’t have the best mindset to gracefully and lovingly deal with the pending “#3-style-meltdown” that I knew was seconds away. You see, #3 was also starving, tired, hot and well, legitimately disappointed. Oh, oh how I so very much wanted to prevent the pending meltdown. Needless to say, my attempts did not work and the meltdown began. Louder sobbing. Screaming. Not wanting to be held to be soothed.
And needless to say, NOW was the time that I think everyone at the fair decided to get face paint. I looked at the growing line of people waiting; I felt the sets of eyes watching my son and me growing; and I felt my embarrassment and desire to nastily snap, “Enough already!” grow.
After a few more failed attempts to de-escalate the meltdown, I finally said,
“Look, I know you are upset. But I need you to stop screaming and crying. We will leave in a few moments but we can’t walk away just now.” (My husband had gone back for food for us. You can only carry so many hot dogs and fries, you know?!)
I immediately regretted saying that – it was so not the message I wanted to send. And then I immediately felt grateful because what my son said next I will never forget.
“But mommy, I want to stop crying. But I just don’t know how to.”
My five year old’s wonderfully honest, insightful, and heartfelt statement put an immediate damper on my growing desire to yell. Oh how that statement blew me away and immediately got my mind and heart to a better place.
His statement reminded me that I wasn’t dealing with an adult, but with a child, a five year old child who was understandably still learning to cope with tough feelings and who, by the look on his face, felt sad and maybe even a little scared that he didn’t know how to control himself. His statement reminded me that I needed to help him in that moment, not hurt him with my frustration.
His statement reminded me of times I have felt the same way, rather of the weekend prior when I was just bawling my eyes out to my husband out of stress and I so wanted to stop, but just couldn’t. His statement reminded me how awful it feels to be so frustrated that one can’t stop crying; his statement reminded me to find empathy with the situation, not exasperation.
And most importantly, his statement reminded me that when I don’t yell, good things can happen. Sure, a meltdown isn’t so good. But hearing this eloquent statement from my five year old? Exquisitely good, on so many levels.
You see, this munchkin of mine has a speech delay. He has made a lot of progress but our current struggle is getting him to retrieve words and express himself verbally when he is frustrated, instead of throwing things or screaming. Lately, it has been a serious struggle – for both of us – because the intensity of his outbursts has been steadily growing and it has been increasingly hard for me to help him (and remain yell-free.) So to watch him stop a meltdown faster than usual, and then hear him express his frustration while feeling him open up to me, asking me for help (a major, major first) well, it brings tears to my eyes now and it brought me to my knees then. No seriously, it did.
I had been squatting to maintain eye contact up until this point, but once I heard him so sweetly, and with such sincere confusion say, “But mommy, I want to stop crying. But I just don’t know how to,” I dropped to my knees and hugged him as tight as I possibly could. I didn’t care that my shirt was now covered in red and black tears. I didn’t care anymore about all the judgmental eyes that still watched. I didn’t care about anything at that moment except being there for my son; about calming down so that I could comfort him and let him know that it really is okay to cry, that it takes time to learn how to stop; so that I could tell him how proud I was of him for using his words, for communicating his needs so clearly.
That was a turning point for my son and me, a turning point so desperately needed. Even though I am often patient and loving (and yell-free) during his meltdowns, I have admittedly been harboring a growing anger and annoyance that he isn’t progressing. That chip has made it harder and harder to remain yell-free. But this statement, but this innocent statement by my son gave me a new level of understanding and empathy for his personal challenges. A level of understanding and empathy I have so desperately needed. His statement was an exquisite gift to me because now I feel I can be there for him in a better, more effective way. And it was an exquisite gift to himself because it showed him that not only can he communicate but that he can also ask for help, that he doesn’t have to handle his frustrations alone. Eech. Totally crying again. Folks, this moment was just amazing for us. My son let me in. He let me in.
And guess what? It wouldn’t have happened if I had yelled. If I had yelled, he would have yelled back and pulled farther and farther away from me, physically and emotionally. If I yelled, I would have shut down his ability to retrieve those words he so desperately needed to say and I so desperately need to hear.
If I had yelled, rather, if I had quit The Orange Rhino Challenge when it got tough, when I felt disappointed that I wasn’t “getting it right,” then this moment wouldn’t have happened. It certainly isn’t always easy to remember to not yell, but when I do remember, it is always easy to feel like all the hard work to not yell is indeed worth it.
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I share more about my journey, especially with this son, and how I came to have more yell-free moments in my life in my new book, “Yell Less, Love More: How The Orange Rhino Mom Stopped Yelling at Her Kids–and How You Can Too!” Part parenting memoir, part parenting guide, my book shares honest stories, simple steps to follow and 100 Alternatives to yelling. It hits shelves in October but you can pre-order it here to make sure you are one of the first to have it!