Just for a second. Let’s talk. That is, if you can get past the screaming in your own head or house. Most people generally navigate both. For me, it is not an easy nor even possible task to simultaneously quiet my two boys, their four friends, the small, yappy dog, the big, ball-obsessed dog, the 22-year-old, yowling senile cat, the phone, and my husband’s questions long enough for my body to take the deep breath it needs to quiet my mind. In fact, the more and the louder the screaming outside of my brain, the more and the louder the screaming inside. And vice versa. Both my external and internal realities constantly impose and project upon each other. This makes literal and figurative quiet difficult to come by. Because in order to be heard, I have to scream over the rest of the screaming. And then everyone else responds by demonstrating even more impressive decibels. And so the escalation happens and pretty soon everyone is screaming. Which makes it impossible to listen. Or to talk.
But in this current moment of pretended or absconded silence, let’s talk about what we do when screaming happens. Because it happens. (I do not trust anyone who claims they and their kids only ever use inside voices. You’re either lying, delusional, or live in a monastery.) So, when screaming happens, like many moms, the first thing I do at my house is assess the screaming: Does it sound like someone has a broken bone or is losing a lot of blood? Does the tone of the screaming denote anger or humor? Are they just having an earsplitting good time, or do I need to step in to heal, redirect, or reprimand? If, after a moment’s listen, I ascertain that no one is on the verge of physical danger or interpersonal peril, then I do my best to ignore or escape the chaos and take a deep breath.
First, I fight the urge to toss back a couple Atavan or replace my ice water with vodka. Then, I proceed through a somewhat predictable repertoire: Count to ten. Make a cup of herbal tea. Step outside. Do a few sun salutations on the back deck. Put on headphones and listen to something more soothing than the kids’ screaming, like Metallica or Black Sabbath. Retreat to my bedroom, sit on a cushion, light a stick of incense, close my eyes, and breathe, imagining that the collective disorder beyond my door is actually Tuvan throat singing or the chanting of Buddhist monks. … My best play, however, is locking myself inside the bathroom with a good book or magazine and pretending to use the restroom, running the bath (not so much in these days of drought), or using the hairdryer. Hairdryers do a superb job of blocking out the screaming. So do vacuums. Each rewards me with its own lovely white noise and soothing repetitive motion, transporting me away from the bedlam and leaving me filled with warmth and calm. … Until, that is, one of the kids breaks into the bathroom with a butter knife and comes in screaming.