Have you ever been in the middle of saying something and realized you didn’t mean to sound that way? Or started speaking and it comes out as though you’re insufferably agitated, except that you don’t actually feel as upset as you sound?
Hello, I’d like to introduce myself. I am that person.
About a week ago, I had a startling come-to when I heard myself speaking to my kids. I wasn’t being kind or gentle or patient. I wasn’t communicating in a way that made sense to them. But strangely, I wasn’t even communicating how I actually felt- my words were way more agitated and demanding than I intended them to be. Ew. I would not want to be in my kids’ shoes as they look up at this weird monster mommy spewing strange ugliness from her mouth.
I realized I have been way too serious lately. I think I have new wrinkles between my eyebrows. My patience for kid-stuff seems to have gotten lost somewhere or melted in this desert heat. I haven’t been Nice and Nurturing Mommy, which is maybe why Micah has started calling me Sir.
So, I decided to try an experiment with myself. It goes like this:
Play more games.
Dear me, ease up a little! When I feel grumpy, the last thing I want to do is play Mario or Angelina Ballerina or Super Why (“Mom, you’re Super Wide!” Norah says) again. But playing games with my kids is an easy way to connect, enter their lighthearted world, and shed some seriousness between us. Really, it isn’t hard to play games as we go about our everyday life, and what it often comes down to is my decision to do it. Sometimes I don’t want to because I don’t want to be silly and laugh with my kids. Sounds stupid, right? But sometimes I just want to be serious and grumpy. I want everyone to obey and be quiet and just calm the heck down. Then I end up making everyone grumpy with me. So this week I’ve started gaming.
Since we need a game all of us can dive into, we came up with some super silly ones that can be played anywhere. We can revert to these quickly whenever we need a good laugh together. Or when I’m about to lose my mind because they just won’t take anymore bites of their dinner, dang it!
1. The Rule Game: each person takes turns saying a rule they make up. It has to be outrageous. Last night Micah made the rule that we never put flowers on our toes. Norah made the rule that we can never drink coffee, at which point I threw my head back and shouted a desperate “Noooooooooooooo!” straight to the heavens. I know God heard and had compassion on me.
2. Snail. Who knows where this came from, but one day our fingers turned into snails. We often play this at meals because it’s a sure fire way to keep my kids in their seats. By making our first two fingers into snail antennae, and bobbing them up and down when we speak, we can create innumerable snail adventures all within the confines of our trusty dining room table. (Snails can only live on dining room tables, obviously.) We gave them names to create an ongoing game. Norah’s is Cutesy Baby, and Micah’s is Super Basketball Star. Mine, quite anticlimactically, is Snail.
3. Word Face. This one is simple. Say a word, any word, and make a face. They don’t have to match. It helps if you also do some weird motion or noise. The best part about it is how absurd it is, and how absolutely hilarious the kids find it.
4. What I love about… : This one isn’t funny, but I’ve found it very useful in breaking the heat of the moment when I’m about to lose it or when we just need to calm down a bit. I’ll pick a person and say, “ok, for the next three minutes, the only words we can say are what we love about Daddy (or whoever else I think of in the moment)”. This one helps to break the whinies too.
5. That’s too bad. I don’t know about your family, but we can ramp up considerable amounts of drama around here. Sometimes I have to just roll my eyes at the level of screaming over the tiniest things. So, for things that aren’t really a big deal and don’t need to be coddled, we’ve started ramping up the drama more. If they bonk their leg, we’ll say, ” oh, that’s too bad both your legs fell off and now you have to slide around on the floor for the rest of your life !” Or if they are being crazy and run into something, we ‘ll say, “that’s too bad you thought you could just break down the wall with your head!” This morning Micah didn’t want me to take a shower because he didn’t want to “be alone.” So, naturally, Davy and I started telling him it was too bad that he was all alone in the whole world, without any Daddy or two sisters sitting next to him on the couch. Of course, he’s the loneliest boy in the whole world, with no one next to him on the couch to tickle him for the rest of his life (at which point everyone started tickling him). Usually we make it as absurd as we can, which gets them laughing.
By finding little games that I can throw into the day, we break up the seriousness of discipline and the request repeats (Put on your shoes. Put on your shoes. Put on your shoes. Put on your shoes!). And often when I’m throwing in some playing, things like “put on your shoes” are met with more cheerful attitudes than when I’m walking around with my eyebrows furrowed and I bark, “Put! On! Your! Shoes !” Surprise surprise.
I feel better about the day because, amazingly, I benefit from silly games too. Laughter, especially shared with my family, helps me enjoy everyone more, which helps me enjoy life in general. So, the next game I’m planning to add to our arsenal is a dance off. Norah’s already practicing to be Disco Disco Crazy. Come on over and show us your best moves.
PS. Here’s a cute baby.