The Scream

Kids have a way of tugging at their parents — physically, verbally, psychologically — until all that’s left of you is a murky puddle of frustration and weariness. 

I think that’s what set off Martin last week. We were at the crossroads of the day — evening, when work ends and kid chores begin. We were especially tired and on the deck, the kids were buzzing around us like mosquitoes. Hadley was the worst.

So Martin caught her eye and flatly announced, “I’m going to cut off your toe.”

Why a toe, I don’t know, but he spoke with conviction. And the Leatherman knife sold the threat.

He turned the blade in his hand. Hadley, I’m going to cut a toe off.

It was such a ridiculous thing to say, I was shocked by Hadley’s response.

She screamed with every fiber of her being. Not that cry of pain, frustration or despair. But raw terror. She tipped her head to the sky, opened her mouth and released a visceral, horrific shriek. Over and over, only pausing to refuel her lungs.

It was really loud. Awe-inspiring.

Finally Martin piped up. “Okay, okay, I won’t cut off your toe. But I’m going to cut off your brother’s instead. Cayden, get out here!”

Apparently, Hadley has just as much affinity for Cayden’s toes because she screamed even louder. The wailing reverberated off the barn and outbuildings.

“Dad’s just kidding! He’s kidding!” I yelled unsuccessfully.

And then the phone rang and Hadley snapped her mouth shut and bolted for the door.

“Hullo?” she said in her typical wary drawl.

“Yea,” she said into the receiver, “that was me screaming.” A pause. “Because my Dad was going to cut my toe off!”

“What did she say?” the neighbor asked me on the phone. “I couldn’t understand what she said.”

Probably for the best.

And as a rule, you shouldn’t issue empty threats. Kids will call your bluff. 

And maybe, “I’ll cut your toe off,” isn’t the most practical threat. But it does get their attention.