A few days ago we had a morning. One of those mornings. If you are a parent, you know exactly what I mean. I had a little work to do after my kids ate breakfast, and before I walked WV to school. I sat at my computer and needed 10 minutes—just only a few itty bitty 10 minutes to finish a project and shut down and then we could go. It just so happened we had 10 minutes before we had to walk out the door, so perfect, right? Except that this morning, my kids were having none of each other. The day prior, Wally had generously offered Vivvi his Wild Kratts costume, and she had been Martin all day, what-iffing, gonna-go-wild, seeing-us-on-the-creature-trailing Martin. She had so much fun with it, that he suddenly realized his deep and vast and incredible need for his Wild Kratts shirt (that, before that moment, he hadn’t touched in months and months). And so you can imagine my attempt to do my 10-itty-bitty-minute project obliterated, their every sound amplified by each minute that ticked away, bringing us to the moment where I was putting the costume on top of the fridge where their flailing hands couldn’t reach it, and he was screaming and she was screaming and I was screaming for us all to get our shoes on so we could go.

In all of this chaos, we whooshed out the door and I forgot myself in my thoughts of how such a simple 10 minute project could not happen and how one unloved-for-months costume could cause all this angst and the kids shot out the door competing with each other again for who could get the furthest the fastest, not for fun but to annoy each other, and I noticed what they were doing and where it was leading (to skinned knees and/or tears and/or “beat yas” from either party, etc. etc.) and so I yelled at the top of my lungs, “STOP!” My kids did not hear and continued their 3.5-year ongoing competition to annoy the love out of each other. They kept running.

But 10 heads on our block responded exactly as I intended…the kind people of my neighborhood, who were making their happy way to school. They stopped in their tracks and thoughts and turned in perfect sync to my wild yawlp command. That was incredible, I thought as my cheeks turned a lovely red shade. I said “Stop,” and these people did as I intended. I didn’t know that could happen. It had never worked before. And suddenly, it worked on 10 human beings, startled by the powerful roar that had just emitted from my lungs. From my children’s typical reaction to the sound of my voice, I assumed that I wasn’t that loud—that I had no power. I assumed the volume was echoing in my head only.

And now I had proof that my voice is at a decibel that can be heard by humans. Even humans a block away. Just not on my own humans. They are deaf to my voice.

I would blame my kids, except that I taught Vacation Bible School over the summer. I was leading the 3-4 year old class, so 15 tiny humans were with me for 3 hours every morning. The first day went smoothly, as they got comfortable with the room and routine. The second day, they were totally comfortable—flailing around the room, wiggling and wiggling during storytime, and making me understand that the person who invented Taz from Looney Toons knew a 3-4 year old or two. The last day of VBS I was assigned to a different room—a room that had been led by a preschool teacher all week who had to leave for that day. And within 5 minutes of being in the room, I was amazed. The same-aged kids played quietly, cleaned up when asked, and were sitting in a circle before I could finish saying “story time”. These must be the better kids, I thought. But an hour into the day, they figured me out for the chump that I am and became tiny, non-listening Taz’s also, spinning and spinning the morning into destruction.


I wonder what it is? My ten-year-old-sounding voice? (I worked at my dad’s insurance office one summer in college, and every call that came in sounded confused, sure they had the wrong number or that it was take your daughter to work day or that someone was playing a joke on them and having a 5 year old answer a call about an accident or premium payment or other serious topics where you don’t want a child taking notes.) Yes, my voice might lack authority. I know it’s not my lack of consequence giving—the Ottenhoff kids are familiar with time outs, and we have been known to offer dessert every night so that when something goes wrong during the day we can have something loved to take away. They get a marshmallow, or a few chocolate chips, or sometimes something better. But no matter what, it is a cherished thing that they miss if they don’t get…especially if the other sibling gets it. When your sibling is eating a marshmallow and you are not, the marshmallow looks soooo good.

And it is not for lack of trying. I even follow the rules of dog training, where you say things once only to get the response. I follow the rules of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk—I simplify, one word requests, describe what I see instead of telling them what to do.

But somehow, I still lack authority. My kids just don’t hear me. A plight of being a mom, maybe.

And back to my story from this morning. To my embarrassment, the people of my block heard. I am not falling on deaf ears all the time. I am not weak voiced. I do not lack all authority. One day, I will discover the teacher-whisperer secret. My kids will figure that out. And on that blessed day, I won’t be in a tornado. I will be able to say, in the words of one of my favorite fictional teachers, I am not in danger. I am the danger. When that day comes, kids, look out! (As I say this, I imagine myself shouting it at the top of my lungs, “LOOOOOK OUT!!!!”…and my kids still not listening.)

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