Here's something that happens in my house all the time: my boys (who are 7 and almost 5) are playing in the living room. Gradually, the volume level and chaos they create gets to a point where objects are careening off the walls, I can't focus on my task at hand because my eardrums are on the verge of rupture, and the cat is hiding under the coffee table with a puffed tail, visibly plotting their demise.

"Guys," I say mildly. "Tone it down, okay?" I don't know why I start there, but I always do. I always think, THIS time they'll listen, right?

Wrong. As they whirl around like Tasmanian devils -- not even the snorting, slobbery-tongued, comical Looney Tunes character, but more like the ill-tempered screech-growly real-life variety -- I progress to a series of equally ignored admonitions: "I'm not kidding. Knock it off. Stop being so crazy. You're too loud. Guys. Guys! GUYS!"

Eventually, I unhinge my jaw, take a deep breath, and access The Voice. "GODDAMMIT. YOU. WILL FIND. SOMETHING QUIET TO DO. RIGHT NOW."

And that's when they listen. At the precise moment I lose my composure altogether and I'm millimeters from some un-take-backable action (like the time I furiously scooped up a massive armful of my son's toys and marched everything straight out to the trash) (granted, he'd been a serious shit that afternoon) (but, yeah, I probably could've handled that differently), that's when they suddenly pay attention to the words coming out of my mouth.

I don't mean they sort of reluctantly behave, either. I mean they drop everything in a heartbeat and scramble to obey whatever order I've given them. They go flying out of the room like they've got invisible Evinrude outboard motors bolted to their rear ends. They trip over each other to get out the crayons or Legos and immerse themselves in silent, eye-darting activity. Sometimes they disappear into their rooms and tidy their books and adjust their bedspreads for a while until they work up the nerve to come creeping back into the living room 20 minutes later, grinning at me like nervous dogs.

I mean, it sort of makes me feel bad, you know? You'd think I had a habit of whipping out a cane switch every time I had to raise my voice.

But mostly, it makes me a little crazy. Why, why, WHY do they wait until I'm fully saturated with irritation before they actually pay attention? Why do they shine me off like I'm the mwah-wah-wah Charlie Brown teacher while I'm using a normal-yet-stern motherly voice? Why is it only after I've tumbled directly into Mommy Dearest territory that they start behaving? When I use my Scary Voice, they practically snap off terrified salutes, for christ's sake.

It's not even necessarily a yelling voice (although I can't lie, it often is). It's just ... well, maybe you know what I mean, here. It's the Scary Voice. It's the Voice of a Woman Who's Fed Up. It's the voice that says, I'm not necessarily in favor of spanking but I might change my philosophy about that right here and now.<

If you've seen Bill Cosby's "The Same Thing Happens Every Night" routine from Himself, you know The Voice. You can hear it here at 6:33:

My favorite part of that? "These brain-damaged people have the nerve to looked surprised!" RIGHT? This is what happens with my kids, they push and push and push and push and then I flip out on them and then they rush to behave, with terrified OH SHIT expressions on their faces. As if they hadn't just been acting like deaf, feral monkeys while they ignored my increasingly grumpy scoldings. As if my I HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS!!! reaction had come out of nowhere.

I guess the good news is that they do, eventually, pay attention. But lord, why does it have to be so hard? I don't like losing my temper any more than they like getting in trouble. Why not listen earlier on, kids? WHYYYYYYY.

Do you experience this phenomenon in your household too?

 

Image via Linda Sharps