So I just yelled at my two older children, at length. The classic no-no sentence "What is wrong with you?" was used. I went on for some time. I believe I repeated myself.
We were letting them see if they could stay up until midnight. The deal was that they could stay awake in their rooms, and even play quiet games together or talk quietly, and if they were still awake at 10:30 they could come upstairs and spend time with us until it was time to watch the ball drop. (I didn't want their charming company all evening.)
It's common for us to allow them to stay up together for awhile after bedtime, but if we can hear them upstairs being wild or loud, we tell them to go to their own rooms and close their doors. Tonight, we gave them many, many chances. We explained that normally we'd make them close their doors at this point, but that this was a special occasion and we wanted to allow them to stay up, but now stop being so loud for real. I think one or the other of us went down ten times or so to explain this calmly. I even delivered a long heartfelt seminar on the definition of loudness and the ways to avoid meeting that definition.
And then they started slamming their doors at each other, making that high-pitched hyper giggling sound, and I snapped. I started out fine: I went down the stairs briskly, said in firm brisk tones "That's it; go to your own rooms and close your doors," and headed briskly back up.
Halfway up the stairs, I felt a rush of anger. Clearly the right thing to do was to continue up the stairs, dish up a bowl of Breyer's chocolate ice cream, and try not to spill any on this week's People magazine article about weight loss. Instead I turned around, went down the stairs, opened both their doors, and yelled at them for a long time. Subjects covered included: how easy it was to understand what qualified as loudness and wildness; how easy it was to prevent such things from occurring; how clear our explanations and requirements had been; how generous we'd been to overlook so many violations; how fun this evening could have been if it hadn't been for their behavior.
It was somewhere in there that I asked them the Very Wrong Question, inquiring what was wrong with them that they would behave this way. I could more legitimately ask myself the same question. They're children, and they were wild and not very well behaved this evening, but they didn't do anything to echo in anyone's head later on. They're aged five and seven, and I could have settled things satisfactorily just by separating them and closing their doors and talking to them about it later. Instead, I left them in their quiet bedrooms with a New Year's memory of my yelling face. Big parenting mistakes feel so revolting, like food poisoning of the whole household.
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