Wear Calm

I stood at the bottom of the stairs as she yelled.

She wanted my help, but not the advice I was giving.

I had already tried to help her find the socks she wanted, sat and deliberated and tried to be patient, window of time narrowing before needing to get into the car.

  I could see the sun rising higher in the sky, the dust forming on the picture frame, more grey hairs sprouting on my head.   

Narrower.  Narrower.  

Tick.  Tock.  Tick.

We couldn’t find them, because they were dirty, somewhere mid-way deep in the dirty clothes basket. Deep enough that they had taken on the smell of the collective laundry — you know — that familiar smell that the clothing item only has after it sits amongst its dirty companions for a while.

She didn’t care about that.  

My request was that she find a different pair from the drawer where an over-abundant number of socks were begging to be miss-matched and worn, OR to wear a pair of shoes that didn’t require socks.

The options were given, calmly.

Neither option was chosen, dramatically.

I decided to head downstairs as it seemed my help wasn’t helping her.

The begging, the tugging, the running to stop me.

The two options were given, again, calmly.

The screaming, the shrieking, the anger.

I wanted to go there too.  I  wanted to yell and release the tension that was building inside.  I wanted to loose it.


But I didn’t.  

And I did: I yelled about being late, about the fact that I couldn’t clean her dirty socks right then, about the fact that I’ve already given her the options two times and that she needed to just pick one.   

Jaw tight and shoulders tense, I headed downstairs.  


At the bottom, big sis was waiting. Shoes on, backpack ready, side smirk as if to understand my plight. I smiled at her, jaw loosened, shoulders released.  

At the bottom, big sis was waiting.  Shoes on, backpack ready, brow furrowed ready to defend her sister.  I tensed up even more to think about having to explain why I got upset, ready to remind her that we were late, as if she didn’t hear that already.  Ready to repeat myself about having to repeat myself.  Ready to yell about why I had to yell.   

I can see that she is older now.  So many times I don’t realize an old phase passed until the next phase had entered, or until the younger one was going through the same-yet-different phase that the older one went through, only, the older one out-grew it.  In that moment I was so grateful that she had outgrown this phase. 

I see her scorning me with her eyes, as if to tell me I should have handled it better, as if blaming me for her sister’s melt-down that is now at a boiling point. I’m both aware that my yelling didn’t help the situation and wanting her to just.  stop.  yelling.   

She saw the meltdown.  She carefully watched how I handled it.  Thankfully I chose to be calm this time.  

The yelling from upstairs is not stopping I try to distract myself by putting my shoes on with more theatrics than a 36 year old should be comfortable with displaying. Particularly with big sis watching.

Even though the yelling upstairs was getting louder despite my calm, even though the tension was still in arms-reach, even though we were still running later than is comfortable for me, at least I chose to wear calm.  

Unable to tolerate the yelling anymore, I choose to slam the closet door.  With anger at the forefront, now palpable, heart pounding, I yell again upstairs for her to pick a pair of socks so that we can leave because I’m late already and now I’m later and I shouldn’t have to repeat what I’ve already repeated.  

And because I could sense her new found ability to separate herself from the meltdowns of her own past, I focused on big sis.  I went to the kitchen to grab my coffee, brewed and ready.  I looked out the window and saw the birds.  I invited her to look at them with me.  

I avoided  big sis and told her sternly to get her shoes on.  Oh.  They’re already on. I ignore her when she asks me to calm down.  I remind her that it’s not her issue to worry about, this is between her sister and I.  Her brow furrowed, lips pursed she takes off her backpack and heads upstairs to help her sister who is now hysterical.  I tell her to get her backpack back on, when she doesn’t listen, I yell again.

They camouflage quite nicely in our back yard.  On the grass, in the feeder, in the bush.  Only if you look long enough can you see the motion of one out of the corner of your eye, and then it is as if your eye finds contagious the ability to see more.  5, 6, 7, even 10 at times.  I held her up to show her the finch under the lemon tree, sharing flashes of yellow.  And we looked together.  We see one hop up onto the wisteria that will soon have spills of beautiful purple flowers.  Tension totally dissipated. While the other one yelled, but I wasn’t focused on the yelling anymore.  

I sit on the steps and put my head in my hands.  Confused whether to scream or to cry. The younger one upstairs, crying while asking why I’m being so mean to her. Stating that she doesn’t want to wear this outfit anymore because she can’t find socks to match it, she wants a whole new outfit.  And instead of choosing yelling over crying I do both.  Breathing heavy I yell, both girls now crying, the older one goes upstairs to console the younger one.  Feeling at a total loss, I let her this time.    

Soon enough she came down the stairs.  Distraught and puffy cheeked, eyes wet and swollen. Socks on her feet, a mismatched pair as was one of the options.  No less “her” than the ones in the dirty clothes, but I wasn’t going to go there.  Her distraught heavy stomps down the stairs met me, lightened and smiling, with two steps left. A compliment and hug was offered and well received.  Her tension dissipated.  And on we went with our day.  Even though they didn’t get to go up to my office to say hello to my co-workers like they like to, we were able to talk about “why” on the drive and everyone understood.   We sang to the “Frozen” soundtrack and talked about the clouds in the sky.  Lauren is waiting in the parking lot, they hop in her truck, hugs and kisses.  I head up to work with 2 minutes to spare, enough time to take in a deep breath before the rest of the day starts.  Not without telling my co-workers about the meltdown over the socks that made it “one of those mornings”, as an explanation for why they didn’t get to see the girls.  

I go upstairs and make demands about socks, this time there is no choice.  More time is wasted.  I deflect the oldest’s attempts at other solutions, I am the Mom after all.  We stomp down the stairs,  a chorus of screams, yells and grunts and reminders about how we are even later.  The older one forgets her backpack and has to go back in the house to get it.  They don’t get to go in the office to see my co-workers, I give them kisses before they jump into Lauren’s truck.  I rush up to work, 5 minutes late and in need of a deep breath that I can’t seem to catch.  Heavy pit in my stomach and heavier heart.  For letting the morning get out of control.  For not having better self control.  For yelling at my girls before 8AM, and not getting another chance until after 5:30PM. For the fact that they will still greet me with a smile when I come home, forgiving youthful hearts still a guilt-filled Mother’s saving grace.  For it's a smile I don't deserve. For it was a morning I can’t take back.  For it’s an example I didn’t want to give.  For it’s a missed opportunity to act like the Mother I want to be. 

PS: I chose the option in cream on this day.  But it has been black before, and it’s really an ugly picture to display…almost so ugly I didn’t want to post it.  It’s interesting to me … how positive brings about positive (and nature, and connection), and negative brings about negative.    

 © Houseman 2013