Soothing the savage beasts

No matter how much we love our children, all parents need a break now and then.

At times, the kids drive us a little crazy. Too much togetherness, too much chatter, too many demands cause wear-and-tear on the old psyche. If the parent doesn't get a pause in the action, the parent's brain can snap like an overstretched rubber band.

Children know this, of course. They're born with an instinct that tells them when parents are at their wits' end. This instinct compels the children to take action at these times -- they become louder, clingier, needier. They glom onto the parent like barnacles onto a pier, assuming barnacles could shriek at 138 decibels, "He's TOUCHING me!"

(This instinct is the same one that kicks in whenever a parent gets an important phone call. Wondering where your children are? Pick up the phone. They'll swarm you like moths around a porch light. Shrieking moths.)

It's nearly impossible for parents to counteract this native instinct. You can calmly explain to your children that you need a few moments of quiet, but this will cause them to dance around you, screaming. You can threaten them through clenched teeth, but this will only result in unnecessary dental bills. You can try running away, only to find that they're faster than you.

But I've found one way to get a little distance from the kids -- singing. That's right, singing. If you can unclench your jaw long enough to let loose with a song, the children will go find something else to do, at least for a while.

It's not that the kids are soothed by the music. It's not that they grasp that singing is a signal for them to play elsewhere. It's not even a matter of them recognizing that you're about to snap. No, singing chases away the children because they can't stand your music. If you start belting out a golden oldie (which, to kids, is anything recorded before 1997), they'll go find someone else to annoy. Someone who won't annoy them right back by singing.

(This works best if, like me, you are a bad singer who can cause wallpaper to bubble when you try to hit the high notes. But even operatic divas could make use of this technique.)

Here's how it works:

Step 1: Parent, driven to distraction by loud, demanding children, realizes that s/he needs a few moments alone. After trying several approaches, all of which make the kids louder and more demanding, the parent starts to tightly hum a song, something classic like "My Boyfriend's Back" or "Born to be Wild."

Step 2: Children will appear puzzled at first, and smiles will dance about their jelly-stained faces. What is this sound? What could it mean? Is the parent inexplicably happy? Or, does the singing indicate the parent has finally gone insane? Parent, remembering the words now, starts running through the lyrics.

Step 3: Parent sings louder as s/he gets to the chorus. The children aren't smiling anymore. They stop whining about whatever was bugging them before and start whining something along the lines of "OK, parental unit, that's enough. You can stop singing now."

Step 4: Parent sings louder, maybe even dances around the room a little while swinging hips. Children back away, their eyes wide and their mouths hanging open. The horror, the horror.

Step 5: As children beg the parent to stop, the parent sings ever louder, clapping hands rhythmically, snapping fingers, playing "air guitar," generally making a jackass of self. Children are mortified.

Step 6: As the song reaches a crescendo, the children make gagging noises, clap their hands over their ears and sprint from the room.

Step 7: Parent, still singing, peeks around corner to make sure children are gone.

Step 8: Parent, finally alone, stops singing, takes a deep breath and revels in a moment of quiet.

Repeat as necessary. You can always replace the wallpaper.

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