Backing out on the gravel drive, I breathed one last quick prayer, that all of my crazy effort to deep clean the house over the past two hours would pay off. That we would finally get an offer. As I prayed, my heart ached with regret. The past fifteen minutes had been ugly. The volume and tone of my voice aimed at my sweet boys had gone completely against the words I had copied down in my journal the morning before,
I had thrust the sword.
I slowed the car and pulled over to the curb. Turning off the engine, I glanced at my side mirror before opening the door and winding my way around to the other side of the car. When I opened his door, he was bouncing his cars up and down on his lap—unaware of my shattered spirit.
I wrapped my arms around him and buried my face into his little chest. Then I pulled back and looked straight into his eyes; my own began to water. “I am so sorry, Buddy. I am so sorry that I yelled. I know that I was stressed and trying to get the house ready, but I should not have yelled at you. That was wrong. I was wrong. I’m sorry.” He looked at me with his eyes sparkling, and he hardly gave his answer a thought before replying, “It’s so ok Mom. And you are very pretty.”
I thanked him before softly closing his car door, and then making my way to his brother’s side to make my second apology. And then I climbed back into my seat, started the engine, and we made our way towards the park. They had forgiven, and I willed myself to do the same; to forgive myself for the harshness in my quick, sharp words.
Yet that was only my first yell. The second came minutes later.
I hoisted the car seat up and out of the middle of the back seat. My infant boy squinted his eyes against the bright sunlight. As I lowered the carseat into the stroller, I did what I had done countless times before, and sent the bigger boys ahead to the playground a few hundred feet away. I shoved my bag into the bottom of the stroller, pulled on my hoodie, and gave the baby his bottle, and then we made our way toward the swings to meet the boys.
As I came around the big red slide, something did not set right. My boys, always right there busy at play, were not. I looked up from the swing set and caught a glimpse of my eldest boy. His white-blonde hair shimmered in the afternoon sun—almost as bright as the thin layer of ice on the pond that he was standing next to, just a foot away.
My heart stopped in my chest. And this is when I yelled for the second time that day—only this time my voice was high and tight with panic. “Zeke! Zeke come here now!” His little brother stopped, about a hundred feet away from the pond himself, and turned back towards me. My eyes remained fixed on Ezekiel as he turned to me, then back to the thin layer of ice. I prayed he would not trust it.
Come here, my boy. Don’t trust it. Trust me.
I continued to yell, and then exhaled as he began jogging back towards me, away from the ice.
When he was still thirty feet away from me, I calmed my shaky breath and addressed him sternly, “Do you ever, ever go by the water alone?” I asked it short and sharp. Loud. Intense. He looked down to the grass. “No…” he answered softly. He looked up, noticing my eyes beginning to fill with tears. “Why not, Mama?” he asked. I tried to gauge whether he could handle my next words, and decided that he needed to hear them. “The ice is not strong, Love.” My voice was choppy as I choked out the words. “It will break, and you will fall through. If you fall in the water you could die.”
I then wrapped him as tightly as I could into my arms as he buried his tears into my chest. “You scared me, Zeke.” my own tears mixed with his. “It scared me too!” he wailed. And I knew that we both had much to learn from this.
There is a place for raised voices. There is a place for yelling; to turn a child away from danger, and guide them back to safety. I yelled twice on that day. One warranted, one not. One yell evoked pain, and one brought life.
As a mother, the temptation to yell can be fierce and persistent and can seem impossible to control. But if I fail to harness to power of my yell—if I use it where it has no place, then it might just lose its power when I need it. When there comes a time when my child is in danger, and my raised voice induces no alarm because I have abused its power—that is where tragedy may strike.
Let it be my prayer—let it be all of our prayers as parents—that we will not abuse the power of a yell. That we will not speak harshly except where harsh words have their place. That the hard words will be said only when they give life, not take it.
Let us be careful to raise our voice only once—when it will be a “fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.” (Proverbs 13:14)