The Excuse Maker vs the Howler Monkey

Howler MonkeyThere is a certain sound resonating in my household that is akin to fingernails on the chalkboard or a dog howling out of tune in the middle of the night. Without warning, this noise modulates into a higher pitch with each note, getting more frantic if it is left to continue. This annoying clamor, unfortunately, is an epidemic. What starts out as an innocent first becomes a habitual occurrence. They come more frequently as time goes on. And the result of this reverberation to anyone within earshot (mainly those it is directed at), is an elevated heart rate, a clenching of the fists and teeth, an ability to see red, and a sudden burst of mania that comes forth as a string of shrill commands even louder than the original sound.

I am, of course, talking about the “excuse maker”.

It’s funny. I used to view whining as the all-time most annoying sound ever to experience. I would tell the Taz to put his things away, and fight him as he gave me a slow, “But whyyyyyyy……..?” The whining would grate on my nerves, and would usually result in said item to be taken away. But now? I would gladly welcome back the innocent whine to this:


Except, imagine that run-on sentence made in one breath and getting shriller with each syllable until it is barely a squeak by the time it ends. And me? I am clenching and unclenching all parts of my body until I am one big ball of stress ready to unleash. And unleash is what I do.

Mr. W was describing his own mother’s conduct when he and his brother’s would pull some sort of childish action. For many years, she would remain calm, talking in a quiet voice about their misbehavior and what the consequences were. But being that there were three boys in the family, and being that their antics were only getting more mischievous as they got older, Momma W ended up correcting them in a much louder way. Read: she turned from a controlled superior to something that more resembled a screeching howler monkey. And, of course, this would leave her boys in hysterics (on the inside, of course), and unable to take her seriously.

Frankly, she had lost control. And when I look back at how I’ve dealt with the Taz as he’s frustrated me to no end, I wonder what kind of screeching animal he’s comparing me to.

The biggest obstacle I’m struggling with the Taz on right now has to do with responsibility. Our biggest dispute is over his ability to remember important details I have laid out for him. When he goes to his father’s house, he forgets half of his clothes at his dad’s house when he comes back to me. When he goes to school, same deal (it’s amazing he doesn’t come home naked…). Getting ready for baseball games is an interesting ordeal, as he has left his uniform all over the county (his dad’s house, school, his friend’s house, my parent’s house…). He consistently gets late notices from the school library for the books he has failed to turn in despite reminder after reminder from me. Homework that we have meticulously worked on the night before comes back unread in his homework folder because he hasn’t turned it in, or he has left his folder on the kitchen table. When it is time for chores, he will goof off if left to his own devices. I have to stand over him to get him to do anything. And after 10 minutes of that, the “excuse maker” and the tears start.

Frankly, I’m exhausted. I can understand the importance of keeping on him to get all of his responsibilities straight when he was younger. But at 9 years old, it is my belief that he should be able to manage his own responsibilities to a degree. At the very least, he should be able to remember to bring home all the articles of clothing from his father’s house or his classroom, turn in his assignments on time, and not have to be reminded constantly to do the same thing that is required of him every single day. And, unfortunately, growing tired of repeating myself, the Howler Monkey comes out in me. I think the Taz has successfully learned how to tune out the Howler Monkey.

When relaying the tug-of-war I’m experiencing with the Taz to one of my friends, and lamenting about my reaction to his irresponsibility, she relayed to me how her grandmother handled it when she was young. Her grandmother rarely raised her voice. Instead, she’d keep her voice in an even tone, alerting them of their screw up. And then she would calmly point them in the direction of the bathroom. For the next few hours the mischievous child would scrub the room from top to bottom. And when they were done, their grandmother had to inspect it and approve. More times than not, she would find one or more things wrong, shake an entire can of Ajax over the whole bathroom, and order them to clean it over again. To this day, my friend cannot stand the smell of Ajax, and will not let it anywhere inside of her home. And she also learned to stay the straight and narrow.

What I got from my conversations with Mr. W and my friend is that a quiet voice and a firm composure is much scarier and more effective than a screeching Howler Monkey.

This weekend we had the chance to test this theory. The Taz left his baseball hat in his desk at school on Friday, meaning that he wouldn’t have it for Saturday’s baseball game. The old me would have howled at him, ranting and raving the whole way to the store as we bought a new one. His punishment would have been ineffective, as the screaming and yelling on my part took up a good majority of the energy I could have used on creating a real consequence. Instead, I kept calm and told him that Saturday morning would be spent cleaning my bathroom top to bottom. And I explained to him that the yelling in the house was going to be kept to a minimum. If he failed to execute the minimum responsibilities required of him, he could expect to do some heavy cleaning as a consequence. This seemed to go over well with the Taz. And the next morning, he woke up before I did to clean the bathroom and get it over with.

cleaning 002

He woke me up to come check his work, and I did with a critical eye. I told him all the things that still needed to be done.


Instead of clenching and unclenching my hands, hyperventilating with a raised heart beat, or seeing red, I stood there watching him in anticipation. His “excuse maker” tapered off and he waited for my reaction.

“Are you done?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said.

“Good. Now do what I’ve told you to do. You can eat breakfast only when you have finished.

We went through three more occurrences of failed cleaning attempts until I finally sat cross-legged by the door and pointed out one by one what needed to happen for me to be satisfied. 2 hours of total cleaning time, and he was done.

I’d love to say that this one event has cured him of all irresponsibility altogether. Of course I would. But come on, we’re talking about kids here.

“Mom, I’ve decided I want to quit baseball,” the Taz told me last night as I drove him from the meeting point his dad and I set up halfway between our homes.

“Why?” I asked. I had just finished telling him that we had an extra practice the next day.

“I just want to quit. I’m not enjoying it.”

I told him we weren’t just going to quit like that. And then it occurred to me why he was having a sudden change of heart.

“Did you remember to pack your uniform from your dad’s house?” I asked him.

“Um….no. I have everything except for the jersey.”

Right now I am enjoying a quiet house with a purring kitty, fondly eating some strawberry yogurt. And upstairs, the Taz is plugging away at making sense of the chaos in his room until I deem it acceptable. Maybe it’s going to take some time until he has mastered the art of responsibility. But my house is about to get really, really clean.

Is there a Howler Monkey living in your home? How about an “excuse maker”? Share your horror stories, or how you accomplished getting those two unwelcome guests evicted.


6 thoughts on “The Excuse Maker vs the Howler Monkey

Add yours

  1. ….you know…..if things get too clean for ya, you can send Taz over here to clean. While I’m at the gym and Will is here as acting parent, of course 😉

  2. amazing! Kudos to your friend for the tip. It takes diligence, consistency and discipline to break the cycle. I wish there were miracles that were lasting. Unfortunately, sad to say, be prepared for another cycle of “forgetfullness” as the teen years approach. Cell phone and keys misplaced or lost in the same week. Fortunately the cell was found-along side the seat of his moms car. The key is still missing- reminders of chores still occur daily. I guess our parents were right. “payback’s a bitch!”

  3. I like this idea, but I’m afraid it will create an unpleasant backlash. I think he may start resenting you for making him do the chores. He may misplace his anger, directing it at you, for making him clean, and not take the responsibility for the action which created the punishment. He’s already deflecting by saying he’d rather quit baseball than have to face another chore.

    I suggest letting him fail sometimes. Let the homework be unread, it is not your job to hand it in. (And’s he’s only 9, it wil not reflect poorly on his college applications). Let him show up to the game without a hat, or whatever part of his uniform he’s left behind. Then it’s up to the coach whether or not he can play. You sound like a great mom, but he is an individual and you are too, so time to let go a bit. You’ve done your job, he knows what is expected of him, you don’t always have to be the bad guy.

  4. E – I see where you’re coming from. Thing is, the irresponsibility thing has become a sort of epidemic with the Taz. It’s affecting our whole household and his father’s household, and it is affecting his performance at school. And along with that has come this attitude that he doesn’t have to pull his weight around the house or with the minimum things required of him. Believe me, this experience has been a positive change. He is starting to think twice about being lackadaisical, and it is allowing him to learn new things around the house. And he has actually had a positive reaction to that. Yesterday he was more than happy to start the laundry and to help prepare dinner. I’m not making this punishment way too hard for him, but it is more challenging than he is used to. It’s giving us a bit more mother-son time. And it’s secretly teaching him more ways to be responsible.

  5. I think this technique sounds GREAT. And effective — a solid, expected repercussion for bad behavior and whatnot. And no, of course he’s not going to ENJOY doing the chores, but that’s part of life. The older you get the more you have to do things you need to do rather than things you want to do. Lemme tell you, there are plenty of things I would like more than doing the dishes and — even though I like school — my homework. Like, um…this. I mean, not that I would ever read your blog instead of doing homework! But yeah, I just want to have fun too…but there are other things that need to be done before the fun having. And the sooner those things are done, the sooner they won’t be hanging over my head making my fun less-so.

    It used to be common and expected for parents to instill stuff like work ethic in their children…but now it’s considered almost oppressive…crushing their spirits and taking away their childhood or something. It’s not. It’s a part of raising them to be decent human beings. And not all of it will be fun (for parent OR child) but the rewards in the end will be worth it.

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