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Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at rossmurr@aol.com
Posted 02.03.04
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

Old Yeller & Calamity James

There are two personal qualities I would like to improve upon in 2004. The first I can't discuss in a PG website. The second is to have more patience with my kids.

More patience, less yelling.

There's nothing particularly wrong with yelling. Sometimes a good yell can be beneficial. For example:

"James, get up. It's time for school."

Ten minutes later.

"James, are you moving? C'mon! Let's go!"

"Mmmmallammnn…"

Another ten minutes.

"JAMES! I'm not calling you again!" (A lie.)

Nothing.

"James! If you don't get out of bed right this instant I'm going to drag you out of bed, throw you in the van, and drive you to school in your underwear! Do you want that in your senior yearbook? Do you?"

These are good healthy yells that apply internationally recognized norms for Decibel-to-Situation Ratios and Geneva Convention rules for intergenerational warfare.

No harm done. Just another session or two added to James' future therapy.

It's the non-justified yelling that I need to work on. Take James again. He whistles constantly - a shrill one-note cantata that feels like getting a tooth drilled during a hangover.

"James! Shut-up!"

"Why? You're allowed to whistle."

"Yes but I'm Roger Whittaker compared to you."

There really is no reason for me to yell at James for whistling. I know this because the rest of the family tells me so.

"Doesn't his whistling bug you?" I ask my wife Deb.

"No. It's just you," she says. "You're a grump."

"I prefer to call it 'channeling my inner old man.'"

It's this same unreasonable crank that has me too often yelling over spilled milk or, in the case of our house, spilled fruit punch.

This past fall, Deb and I bought our first new van, a lease actually, which means we have to keep it in fairly pristine condition for the next four years. No tooth marks on the arm rests, no battery acid burns in the carpet. It's given me stain anxiety.

"Nuh-uh, you're not eating chips in my car! Get. Your. Feet. Down!"

We also bought a new sofa. It's a light beige suede sofa. Considering we have four kids, one not toilet trained, what were we thinking?

There had already been a number of spills when one morning James - poor James - got himself a huge glass of fruit punch.

"You'll never drink all that," I said.

"Yes I will," he replied.

Turns out I was right. Less than a minute after his arrival in the living room, sister Kate called out, "James spilled."

He spilled, all right. All over himself, the seat cushion, and the back cushion of the sofa.

I flipped.

"What is wrong with you? Every time! What do you have against our new furniture! Can't we have anything nice in this house? From now on, you are banished from eating, drinking, or having a full bladder within ten feet of this sofa!"

It was quite a scene. I've been angrier but I've rarely yelled so loudly. I over-reacted, I realized later, and apologized to an upset James. It's only furniture. It's not like it's, I don't know, whistling.

I have to pick my battles and be sure my yelling is justified.

At very least, I should try to direct it where it can do no harm - at National Post columnists, for instance, or those goons who tear up and down my street on all-terrain vehicles, or old men with hats driving with their turn signal on, or squirrels at the bird feeder, or the guy who delivers the heating oil at the end of the winter just so the oil company can bill you one more time, or kids who shortcut across the lawn, or the weatherman…

As for my own kids, I just have to bear in mind that soon they will be older, even Calamity James, and that our new stuff will be old too. Until then, I'll just have to take some deep breaths. And a few stiff drinks.

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