Keep Calm

When you are bitten by a rattlesnake, as everyone eventually is here in the desert, it’s very important that you don’t panic, remain cool and collected, and call an ambulance before you die a very painful death. Antivenom is kept in coolers strategically placed throughout the Borderland and will be transported to whichever hospital your mangled and fragile body is delivered. Panicking leads to an increased heart rate, which pumps the venom faster throughout your body, paralyzing your circulatory system which can stop breathing, and then there’s the internal hemorrhaging. Try not to think about the possibility of an agonizing death, or at the very least, limb amputation, while calmly waiting for the ambulance that may or may not deliver you directly to the morgue.

While I may understand that freaking out will only make things worse, if I am bitten by a rattlesnake, having trouble breathing, and losing feeling in my extremities, there will be no calming me down. The suggestion is laughable, since I am already anything but calm when I’m hiking because though it’s not rattlesnake season, I know they don’t migrate, so they are there even if they aren’t slithering around and socializing.

It’s clear from my research that professionals know the ideal reaction to a venomous bite is not to panic, but also that it isn’t terribly likely you will relax, so call 911 immediately anyway. I tend to take the same advice from parenting books with a similar dose of eye-rolling. “If little Johnny smashes an heirloom vase and threatens to stab his sibling with the shards of priceless pottery, don’t get upset, but calmly explain that we don’t behave that way in this family.” Perhaps the authors of these books aren’t familiar with the day-to-day activities of actual families. To a child psychologist, everything is happening in a bubble as an isolated problem, and not the vase that was purposely broken right after the walls were painted with pasta sauce and the TV remote was dunked in a cup of milk. If I’m attacked by a rattlesnake, it probably won’t be at the Target down the street from the hospital. It will be in the mountains where I can’t be reached by medical professionals for substantially longer than the ideal 30 minutes before the discussion moves from *if* we need to amputate, to *how much* we need to amputate.

I love reading advice about how I should calm down, not get upset, and keep my voice even when my kid is acting up. Surely the authors are learning from the snake-bite professionals, by giving advice they know you won’t follow because it would be ideal if you remained calm, but we all know it’s not happening. Keep your voice low and even while explaining to your child that he cannot fix Daddy’s computer by jamming a toy screwdriver into the disc drive. Remain calm and collected when you find your toddler dangling from the banister, kicking his dirty shoes into the wall below. Don’t overreact when he puts a pillow over his brother’s head “to play hide and seek”, and then sits on the pillow.

Not only is every outrageous incident preceded by another equally alarming catastrophe, but there are also contributing factors that, and I have to imagine a therapist would agree, will undoubtedly result in some seriously shrill responses from Mom. “If little Luke is hitting a sibling, simply pick him up facing away from you and move him to a quiet space for reflection.” Yeah. First, little Luke creates a distraction by turning on the tablet, the TV, and six singing cars. The cacophony causes Mom to step away and slurp her ice-cold coffee for strength before turning the noise off, but when she returns she finds Luke swinging a plastic bat at his brother’s head. Mom runs over to rescue the sibling, shouting over the clash of conflicting kiddie music, and picks up Luke facing away. Upon being lifted into the air, Luke realizes that demanding to use the potty will immediately halt the removal process, and Mom is unwilling to call his bluff after already completing 3 loads of laundry before lunch. Luke and Mom negotiate over the use of the tablet in the bathroom, and Mom surrenders since she has already mopped the floor once today and Luke is doing a wicked peepee dance. Mom checks on the sibling to discover he is hungry and needs to nurse, so she whips out a boob while Luke potties. Things are quiet, and Mom remembers Luke hasn’t been punished for trying to knock his brother unconscious with a bat, and goes to check on him. “I went peepee standing up!” Luke exclaims, and Mom suddenly sees the pool of urine on the floor, partly soaked up by the entirely unrolled toilet paper. There is restrained yelling, because Luke seems proud of his “accomplishment”, but while Mom is mopping the floor for a second time, dinner burns in the oven, and Luke throws Duplos at his brother’s head. Then the real fireworks fly. Mom is reaching octaves few humans can hear, threatening to cancel all future birthday parties and screaming about how much her life has changed since she had these ungrateful children, when Dad comes home. “All this yelling because he threw a few blocks? Did you do that thing in the books where you take him to a quiet place to reflect?” Obviously, more yelling follows, but directed at Dad this time.

Our partners work hard all day so we can be SAHMs. Their jobs are demanding and exhausting, their bosses are unreasonable, they are often undervalued. But just for a moment, let’s reflect on the comparisons between an average day at home with kids, and various forms of torture. The loud, clashing music. Being poked with sharp objects. Sleep deprivation. There are days when my kids wake me at five, demand to watch Sesame Street and then need two breakfasts and help operating all the trucks and nose-wipes and butt-wipes and I don’t have time to drink the coffee I desperately need and then I step on a matchbox car that is inexplicably shaped like a shark with a razor-sharp dorsal fin. Since I don’t have military secrets, I yell instead.

Once, my son turned to me and said, “hey! Stop yelling at me!” It was a proud moment. Nothing makes you feel more like a monster than when your toddler is acting rational and you are beyond hysterical. I hate yelling, and I want to be calm like my family friend with five kids who only became quieter the angrier she got. Quiet voices and stern looks had absolutely no effect on my son, but while yelling gets his attention, it still doesn’t have the desired response. Who would calm down when someone shrieks “CALM DOWN”? I am giving instructions I know he won’t follow, because that’s what he *should* do. So there it is, kids: if Mom is losing her %&$#, calm down and sit still. It’s the safest thing to do, but also entirely unlikely.

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