Back to school doesn’t have to mean back to screaming

for The Brooklyn Paper
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I am bound and determined to do things differently this school year. I want to communicate my wishes more clearly, I want to yell less and laugh more. I want my kids to talk to me instead of play on their iPhones.

But how?

A few days into our reunion, the perma-smile of joy at having them back has been replaced at moments by a twisted bitter grimace. How come they won’t listen? How come all the great theories I developed, the “Great Plan for Parenting” I came up with in the month without them, is harder to implement than I thought? Why won’t they talk to me?

I’m like a boxer, shaking my body to relax before going in to the ring. I can do this. I can do this. Summer homework has to be done. Time for all play is over. Why can’t they just jump right up when I ask them to set the table?

I have to remember that the sense of control I feel when home alone, the way the floor isn’t littered with shoes and clothes and towels, is impossible to maintain with a house full of others. I have to remember that, even though I gave birth to these two little humans, they have minds of their own and (mostly) free will. I have to remind myself that I like it that they have their own personalities, that they are staunch and stubborn defenders of their own likes and dislikes.

And then I have to remember to breathe and count to 10 before I start yelling.

Transitions are tough. School into summer has its own challenges, then, a few months later, the transition back is just as hard. Routines need to be determined anew, and I realize that I sometimes forget to account for the maturity that has come from their independent time, time without me or their father barking orders and breathing down their neck. Yes, they need to listen. Yes, they need to get off their phones and buckle down to do their work. But I do need to step back a bit and let them ease their way back in at their own pace, just as during the school year I need to let them sort out how they handle their workloads.

I do want to communicate better. I tell them this. I say I don’t want to be that mother who’s yelling all the time, whose mean tone pervades the house and prevents any fun. I ask if they could just listen, sometimes acknowledge that they’ve heard me, and let me know they’ll be on doing what I need them to do.

They look at me as if I’m crazy and I realize, as with most things, that change is going to have to come from within. Just like when I trained for the Brooklyn Half Marathon, I have to push myself to comply with my own goals; I have to see the greater mission in my mind to get me through the hard bits, the miles where it doesn’t even seem like I’m getting anywhere.

My kids are nice. They do mostly listen, even if “One minute!” can be more like 10 (or 20 if I walk away). I have to remember that it is not worth it for me to lose my s--- and have to apologize and recover, but I do have to let myself off the hook sometimes when I inevitably do, and to remember that we all make mistakes. And I have to remember how much I missed them, how I couldn’t wait to have their voices sound out through the house, to hug them close, to tell them I love them.

I am preparing to look at their school supply lists. I have salvaged what few clothes remain from their camp trunks and surveyed what they probably need. I am muscling up the gumption to take them shopping with a smile, and to remember amidst all this madness that we are lucky that these are our problems. People elsewhere don’t have schools to return to. Their cities are in shambles. I will keep this in my mind as I move into the new year with my kids, remembering the hard plight of others to keep some perspective on the petty things that often make me lose my cool.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. That’s a mantra to remember.

Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on
Updated 9:31 am, August 28, 2014
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