I’m dusting around the room with my trusty feathery duster and not really paying attention because there are so many voices in my head, all discussing which things should be at the top of which lists, which is important when you’re a list maker. Then my eyes actually focus on the object at hand. It’s a silver desk bell. You tap the button on top to “ding” it, like in a hotel lobby or old-school diner when your order is ready for pick-up. So I stop and ding it.
This makes me happy because it reminds me of when I bought it. I had five kids in three schools and you can safely imagine the amount of daily chaos around the house.
I was always coming up with different ideas for ways to get my kids’ attention. Yelling for a particular child did not turn out well. First of all, I needed to call out the correct name.
“Mm, Han, Cay, J..” I would sputter, while stirring spaghetti sauce, “kid number four!” I finally scream, hoping for the best, “Child! Where are you?!”
When I volunteered in a classroom, learning the names of students was nigh impossible for me. It took all year and then I had to start over with a new batch. I was reduced to calling out, “OK, you in the blue stripes, your turn on the electric keyboard!”
Of course, this was a fun activity and anyone remotely wearing a blue striped top was stepping over the heads of other students to get to me as fast as possible.
Not so at home. A child could be summoned for many reasons, and most of them involved an activity that could not by a long stretch be labeled “fun”. My kids knew whatever they were currently involved with, from playing with matchbox cars to picking their nose, it was way more exciting than whatever mom was going to tell them.
Didn’t they know that by the time I had the correct child actually respond and arrive in my presence that my question or command would be completely gone? Yes. Yes, they did.
The child will stand there looking innocent, wondering why mom felt the need to send three other children to summon him (“Mom wants you! Now!”) while I frantically scan my last three working brain atoms for the thought they held not five minutes ago.
I decided many times that it was not okay to be constantly yelling from across the house for some random person. It wasn’t all that big of a house. Parenting manuals will tell you that it is so much more effective and bonding to walk to the child, kneel down at his eye level and quietly explain what you need. This brings the volume in a home down several decibels and sets a good example.
Excuse me while I laugh so hard my stomach hurts. This is not humanly possible unless you are working in a day care and are getting paid to do nothing else but stare soulfully into a child’s eyes while he is completely ignoring you. You can speak softly for hours. This kid is not going to hear you.
I tried the old, “Speak softly, carry a big stick” routine.
But the little buggers heard me coming and ran.
No one who joined us for dinners over the years could understand why my children all spoke so loudly. Even one on one, it was like they were sure no one was listening unless they put in maximum velocity.
The little silver bell was supposed to fix this. If I “ding” the bell once, it meant I was calling child number one, the firstborn. The one mature enough to listen for such subtle summons. Two dings meant child number two, and so on. It was supposed to be obvious that five dings, which sounds rather frantic, meant the lastborn, no real counting of dings required.
Just show up when it sounds like mom is playing the maracas on the dinger.
Okay, now my stomach is really hurting. Make it stop. Yes, yes, shades of von Trapp.
Today I use a completely different tack. I just lunge for the nearest warm body and make it do whatever needs doing at the moment. Carpe diem. “Sieze the kid.” Also saves me from looking completely bewildered all day long. Makes me look competent and efficient.
They give me a wide berth.
I thought about claiming a Greek or maybe Italian heritage. But let’s face it. We’re just birds of a feather yelling together.
When you see me burst into laughter while dusting, now you are in on the joke.
And even when I’ve put my mom messages in writing (Swimsuit Edition much?), you can be assured that hundreds of people worldwide have instantly gotten the memo…and that my own children are steadfastly not listening to a word of it.