Warning: The Year of No Yelling has some pretty strong side effects. Take Day One, for example.
Your read that right. Day. One.
On January 1st, we woke early to cash in our Christmas gift to the kids – a two day trip to see the sights of Gatlinburg,Tennessee in the Great Smokey Mountains. It took us over two hours to pack our bags and snacks into the car.
You read that right. Two. Hours.
This is normal. What is also normal is that such a long goodbye from our house would be met with constant, impatient yelling at the kids. It might sound something like this:
“Get your coats! No. Not a jacket. A COAT!... Why?! Oh, I don’t know… maybe because It’s JANUARY AND THE MOUNTAINS GET COLD!... And for the fifth time, PLEASE put your shoes on!... Now grab your pillow to take in the car!... No. I can’t dress your doll right now… can’t you see I have 135 pounds of luggage in my arms?!... Wait. WHY ARE YOUR SHOES OFF AGAIN!?... What?!... Your socks feel funny! … THEY ARE THE SAME (muffled expletive) SOCKS YOU HAVE WORK 100 TIMES BEFORE?!... What?! Well of course there is a bumpy at the end of your sock! They have to sew it closed! If they didn’t sew it, you would be wearing leg warmers like Irene Cara from Flashdance!... Huh? What’s Flashdance? It’s a movie. No, you can’t watch it! Just get in the car!... Why!? Because it’s an adult film. Because only mommy and daddy watch adult films! Wait… Don’t tell anybody that mommy and daddy watch adult films!.. Audrey, stop repeating me! STOP REPEATING ME! I SAID… STOP REPEATING ME OR YOU WILL NEVER WATCH A MOVIE EVER AGAIN!”
For the past five years, we noticed that this yelling serves three main purposes. One, it makes our kids talk louder. Two, it makes our kids more defiant. And three, it makes us all want to ride in separate cars.
And we don’t have four cars.
So, for this departure, Gabby and I spoke to the kids like a nurse about to give them a shot. Complete with soft tones.
“Now kids. We’re going to be leaving soon. You don’t want to miss out on any fun, so the faster we do this, the better …”
The kids were just as loopy as ever. The doll. The coat. The shoes.
Always the shoes.
But something amazing happened. It took the same amount of time as normal. Maybe even less. But by the time we all got into the car, we didn’t hate each other.
Score one for no yelling.
Things were going well. The kids happily watched a movie in the back seat as we cruised along I-40. Gabby and I had a real-life conversation. Listened to music. Soon, it was time to stop for gas.
Gabby ran inside to grab some lunch for us, while I started the pump. By the time I got back into the car, Jake and Audrey were fighting. Jake had accidentally covered up Audrey’s doll with his coat. In retaliation, Audrey smacked him with the business end of Toasty, her treasured blanket. It caught him in the eye. He yelled and threw a mock punch with venom. He didn’t hit her, but he wanted to. And now she was about to return the favor.
This kind of thing drives me nuts. I wanted to yank them both out of their seats, and yell at the top of my lungs like an Army drill sergeant that that they were brother and sister and should treat each other with respect.
Instead, with a calm exterior, I asked them to explain what was happening. They continued arguing, each critiquing the “truthiness” of the other’s story. Yelling at each other. It escalated quickly. There was a molten rage bubbling just beneath my skin. I wanted to scream louder than them to get their attention.
But I bit my tongue. I just said their names until I finally got their attention, and simply said, “If you both don’t get along, we will have to turn off the movie for the rest of the trip. So figure it out.”
They slowly calmed down. Somehow, it worked. It took as long (OK. Maybe longer) than normal for them to finally get quiet, but there was no ugly aftermath.
With my frustration slowing to a simmer, I started the car and drove toward the convenience store to wait for Gabby to come out with the lunch.
As I pulled away from the pump, I heard a thud. Like I had clipped a concrete barrier or something. I opened the door to check the status of the vehicle, and noticed our car had grown a tail. A tail that started at our fuel tank and ran off ten feet toward the rear.
I had driven off with the gas pump still stuck in the tank.
I looked around to see if anyone noticed my idiot blunder. Luckily, there were only about a thousand cars in the truck stop parking lot. Each gaze drawn my direction by the bump and the clanking. The guy at the pump right next to me just stood there staring with his mouth hanging open. Though I suspect this may be his normal, everyday face.
I said something to him like,
He was further rendered speechless by my clever oratory skills.
I wasn’t sure of the protocol in this situation. The pump had an automatic shut-off valve, so there was no immediate danger. Logic would insist that I place the torn-off pump back into the handle, but, for some reason, that seemed silly to me. Instead, I gently draped it over the concrete barrier like I was tucking it in for bed, hoping it would somehow look less conspicuous.
I’m not good in a crisis.
We parked beside the building and entered the truck stop. Not realizing we had crossed the threshold into “inside voice” territory, Audrey loudly asked, “Did my doll get hurt when you broke the gas pump?”
“Not unless she was rotating my back tires at the time of the accident.”
I saw Gabby who was standing at the Subway sandwich counter on the other side of the building. She missed Audrey’s announcement. I walked toward her. She spotted me and asked,
“What are you doing in here? I thought you were going to stay in the car?”
“I broke the gas pump?”
“I drove off while it was still attached to the car.”
“Are you kidding me?”
I’m sure she wanted to yell something at me, but offered her Look of Mild Disapproval TM instead. Message received.
Even though the clerks at the register must have seen or heard what had happened, when I approached the counter, the woman asked,
“How can I help you?”
In that moment, I would have preferred to be asking for a price check on adult diapers, but this woman was not going to let me off the hook. I think it’s a requirement that they make idiots like me admit their mistakes. Believe me, it leaves a lasting impression when you realize you are the absolute most boneheaded person in a place that regularly sells out of gallon-sized bags of fried pork rinds and T-shirts emblazoned with the words, “This Ain’t A Beer Belly. It’s A Fuel Tank for A Sex Machine.”
For the record, I think it’s a Gandhi quote.
I confessed my sins to the cashier. This sort of thing must happen all the time, because she reacted like I just told her the bathroom toilet was backed up.
We left as quickly as possible before she could snap a Polaroid of my face and plaster it on some Wall of Shame in the employee break room. Once we were back in the car, Gabby refused to find the humor in the situation. Had we been living in the 70’s, such a blunder might have killed us all. Technological advancements of the past 30 years didn’t keep her from adding a periodic Head Shake of FrustrationTM to the Look of Mild DisapprovalTM to accentuate her point.
But she didn’t yell.
Luckily, fifteen miles down the road a Tennessee state trooper was happy to help us change the subject. Apparently, all of my Holiday weight gain had settled into my right foot, causing the car to travel 25 miles per hour faster than allowed by law. I considered telling the officer we would be unable to pay the fine due to our Year Without A Purchase, but it was now January 1st, and Trooper Tennessee McTrafficstop didn’t look like he was in the mood for a funny anecdote. Taking a page from the cashier at the truck stop, he asked me a question which forced me to admit my mistake.
“Do you know why I stopped you sir?”
I confessed again, just like I did at the truck stop. I was peeved by this, but didn’t yell. And the officer rewarded me by reducing the recorded speed on my ticket to five miles over the limit, allowing me to salvage some dignity. Gabby’s mood improved, too. Not because the fine was reduced, but rather, because I am the worst driver of the two of us, yet, unlike her, have somehow managed to avoid a ticket for the past five years.
We drove to our destination without further incident. The evening was a blast. We listened to live music, and watched a live rodeo dinner show at the Dixie Stampede while tearing into four whole roasted chickens and a pile of tater skins with our bare hands.
Yes, it’s a vegan dream here in the south.
Back at the hotel, I realized blunder number three of the day. In my haste to get packed to leave the house (and not yell), I had forgotten my prescription medication. Something I take every day. Something I take with me on EVERY business trip during the year.
And I forgot it.
And that’s when it hit me. It had taken an incredible amount of energy to not lose my cool all day. It distracted me beyond belief. And I broke a gas pump, got a ticket, and forgotten something important.
I am slowly realizing that this challenge is going to be tougher than the Year Without A Purchase. By far. It will require changing my attitude. Changing the story in my head. And changing my behavior. But in the end, I know it will be worth it. Because if my yelling distraction wreaks so much havoc when it’s bottled up inside me…
just imagine the damage it can do in the open air.