THE BLOG

The Joys of Raising Boys or How I Became a Christmas Shrew

12/22/2012 01:16 pm ET | Updated Feb 21, 2013

My throat is sore. Not from a cold or flu, but from yelling.

A recent morning began with me entering The Redhead's room and saying, "My God! It smells like you've been farting in here all night!" A grunt was the only response I received as I retreated from his room. It doesn't typically smell good, but this smell was horrendous. It was way beyond the musty, body odor of a middle school teenager that usually wafted from behind his closed door. He, unlike me, was suffering from a cold and so couldn't smell anything.

Waking the boys up has gone from being a nice ritual to being something I dread. They are grumpy and whine and protest anything I say or do. It is no longer a pleasant way to start the day. But I have persisted because I felt it was my job as their mom. As is making their lunches. And buying the groceries that go in those lunches.

Only since they've all joined middle school (Thing 1 and Thing 2 turned 12 this fall and The Redhead is 13) they've become moody. Sullen. Picky eaters. Complainers. Cry at the drop of a hat. Fight each other. Argue nonstop. Refuse to wear deodorant. Never want to bathe. Don't brush their teeth or clip their nails. They are, quite simply, pigs. I know of which I speak because we share one bathroom (but that's another story for another day).

So when you pair a sullen attitude with slovenly behavior, you have a recipe for mom repulsion. And irritation.

That's mostly how I feel towards them lately. Irritated and repulsed.

But I went about my school morning duties, making macaroni and cheese so they'd have something hot in their lunches (and because there were no other lunch fixings in the house), putting a load of laundry in the dryer that would probably not be dry in time for them to wear anything from it to school and trying to check my work email with a faulty Internet connection. You can see how this is shaping up, can't you?

It was around this time that one of the twins (searching for a missing shoe) was assaulted by the horrific smell coming from The Redhead's room and went to investigate. He discovered that Yellow Dog had pooped on the carpet, in two places. I don't know how I'd missed this. One pile was behind the door and had been smeared and dragged underneath the door when I opened it.

When he reported this to me in the kitchen, I said, "Well, I can't clean it up! I've got all this other stuff to do!" Just as quickly, Aquaman said, "Not it!"

It was then that the Christmas shrew arrived. And by shrew, I mean me.

I freaked out and started yelling. The Redhead fled the house with no notification, without lunch or his band instrument, to avoid being yelled at (and to avoid cleaning poop). He was at the bus stop thirty minutes early. Now we had a missing shoe and a missing boy, along with Aquaman attempting poop cleanup while retching. I finally got the Internet connection working, made sure there were no urgent work emails, and went to finish shit detail before I had vomit detail as well.

Aquaman walked Thing 1 and Thing 2 to the bus stop. I might have screamed at him when he returned about how the boys needed real attitude adjustments and it was all his fault. Then I left to do my work from a coffee shop downtown. Not my proudest moment.

But here's what came of it: I now wake them up -- one time -- and do not return to their rooms. There are three alarm clocks wrapped and under the Christmas tree, so come December 26th I won't even be doing that. I stay out of the kitchen in the morning and let them make their own lunches. I instead bite my tongue to stop myself from reminding them to hurry and eat breakfast, brush their teeth, take their asthma medicine, put on their shoes and head to the bus stop. It is quite difficult. I'm pretty sure not one of them brushed their teeth this morning. But my throat is not sore because I'm not yelling anymore.

I've been enforcing the chore chart schedule I began a year ago and have not returned their xBox since they lost the privilege of playing it a week ago because they constantly fight about whose turn it is. Life is just more pleasant without it. Because we're tired of finding towels on the floor after one use, Aquaman suggested we get rid of all towels and give each boy one of a different color. So I bought three plush, brightly colored towels. They are wrapped and under the tree. Each boy gets one. They can only use that one towel. If they leave it on the floor, we know the offender based on the color and they're stuck using it off the floor rather than claiming it is someone else's and getting a new one from the bathroom cabinet.

Instead of reaching down to pick up something on the floor while thinking, "If I don't pick it up, no one else will," I've begun waiting until there's a boy around. I make him do it.

I had a talk with The Redhead about how he can't run away from conflict (and certainly can't leave the house without telling a parent) and that the best thing for him to do when there's a crazy morning with someone yelling is to ask, "What can I do to help?" or even better, "I'll clean up the poop, Mom." I explained that if he didn't want to be yelled at, he should step up and do his chores, get ready for school on his own, and help around the house. I emphasized the point that I could do it all, but that it stressed me out and shouting would probably be involved. He seemed to understand this.

Raising three middle school boys at once is tough work. We visited my brother, who has two daughters of similar ages, recently. The differences that exist between girls and boys was glaringly obvious. My nieces are happy and talkative and animated. When a friend waves to them they smile and wave back. When a friend waves to the boys, they shrug their shoulders and look away. They are moody. They are rude. They are selfish. I know this is normal because I read The Male Brain by Louann Brizendine, M.D.

But it's still hard. And you know what? I refuse to be the shrew. I refuse to be the mom who yells and nags and never lets up. I have taught them about personal hygiene -- they just opt not to groom themselves. If it reaches the point that I can smell them, I will inform them that they won't be going anywhere or doing anything until they bathe. They know what chores to do and when, they just try to get out of it. So I'll use the same technique: go nowhere, do nothing until chores are done. On the agenda this afternoon is teaching The Redhead how to do his own laundry.

We'll see how it goes. But I'm done yelling.