It takes a lot for me to really lose it. I realize reading my entries here may not actually back me up on this, but the reality is I write here because I don’t really talk about those things, the emotions, the heartbreak, the pain.
I tend to let things hit me, the darts puncturing me with each pass, taking the little pricks on my skin as they hit. It really does take a lot to get me particularly angry. So it really surprised me when I lost it tonight in just a few seconds.
Technically, I guess, it was longer than that. This has been building since before Andrea passed away. My middle daughter, Hannah, has more than just a focus problem. At the end of the last school year, right before Andrea died and in the month or two after she had neglected her school work. I’m the first to admit, I screwed up on this. I have four kids. Watching the kids, cooking, doing the wash, cleaning the house, working, all that puts me at Midnight each night before I can actually begin to get past the minutia of the day. Sometimes even later than that. So I missed the reports and the indications that she’d just skipped a load of homework. She didn’t get problems wrong, she just didn’t turn it in. There were even points when she did the work and never handed it to the teacher. She passed, but barely.
The school year started off promising. Then I got a note from her math teacher stating that she had 6 missing assignments. The problem is, at this age and grade level they don’t give you all the assignments. There’s no syllabus, no daily list of homework, nothing like that. I was at Hannah’s mercy, so when I asked if the work was done, if she’d turned it in or even did the work, the girl looked me square in the eye and said “yes”.
I think I should take a moment here to let you know a couple things. First, I am not obsessed with the kids’ grades. If they get an A I am thrilled! But if they get a C while trying their best my biggest concern is that they understand the material and know what they did wrong. If they get that then I’m perfectly happy that they have learned something. That is the main purpose of their education. So simply skipping the work and avoiding it in the hopes I won’t find out is the silliest, most inane thing considering that I get the progress reports and an email from the teachers!
When it came to a head, her grades slipping to the point where she is failing math, her teacher set up a conference. I met at 7 in the morning, dragging her brothers with us to pay for even more EDP charges, and sat while the math teacher, who I now admire greatly, tried to get to the bottom of why this isn’t getting done. We never did, but managed to at least put a plan in place that gives me her homework assignments every day and requires Hannah to get the teachers’ signatures each day before she can leave school.
Then the last week hit. I have done a lot of stuff at work, not staying insanely late, but doing enough that I get home really tired each night. Dinner still had to get made, and I’d gotten behind, missing the planned menu and slipping on the routine. As a result, I was so focused on getting everyone fed and caught up on the house work that had gotten so out of control I missed looking at her planner for two days. The worst two days I could have missed looking at her planner. So tonight, when I asked what her homework was, the response was “I just had to study for tests”.
“Where’s your planner? I need to see it.”
“Oh . . . ” and that’s where I knew something was wrong. I looked and noticed a chapter check had been due. When I asked where it was, I got:
“Oh, yeah . . . ” and she handed me a bright pink slip with a note from her math teacher. She’s failing the class. She’s not bringing her planner to get it signed. She’s avoiding it all.
I lost it.
I don’t mean I lost my temper, I mean I was fuming, foaming at the mouth, screaming at the top of my lungs lost it. Call it the pressure of the week, call it the horrible embarrassment, call it complete and utter frustration, but I lost it. When she started to cry I told her to knock it off, she’d already been given that chance. I didn’t yell at her, I screamed at her. When I asked why she wasn’t doing her school work all she said was “I don’t know”.
Even in that state I told her it was unacceptable.
“On the days I was sick I got so behind I just didn’t know how to catch up and . . . ”
I interrupted her. “When I got home, what were you doing?!”
“And did you do the spelling check that’s here in your planner?!”
“Did you do ANY of the work that’s due this week?!”
I’m not proud of what happened next. In fact, I’m just horrified by it. I started to lose my voice I was screaming so loud.
“You’re lazy, Hannah! You won’t do your homework, I can’t even get you to do 1 load of dishes each night! You sit on your ass on the couch, watch TV, even if it’s a freaking infomercial, and ignore me when I ask you to do things. You sit, you eat, and you do NOTHING!”
I also told her, since she’s failing more than one class that if they hold her back she’s leaving the Catholic school. I’m not paying for that if she’s wasting the education she’s supposed to be getting.
I must have been more than a little scary because the other 3 kids, including my 17-year-old disappeared.
I grounded her. No TV, no computer, no iPod, no Wii, no games, nothing. She cannot go out to the playground during EDP. She is to do her homework and – even if the teachers won’t give her points for it – turn in the back work that she’s missing. When she’s done with that she can go to her room and read. (My thinking in my rage that maybe she’d be so annoyed by how filthy her room is she’d clean it, since she’ll have to spend so much time in there.) It’s a month, or until she gets passing grades. I doubt that will overtake the month.
I’m horrified by how I acted, but as a parent I can’t tell her that. She’s got to face her punishments. But when I finished with her, handing her a pencil, paper and her school books at the kitchen table, dinner cooking in the oven, I stomped upstairs, slammed the door and sat on the foot of my bed with my face in my hands. It is the first point since the days after Andrea passed away that I am scared I can’t do this. Andrea could handle Hannah, she could always relate and find a way to get through to her. Nothing I do works. She loves me, and I love her more than anything in the world, but I’m failing her somehow and I don’t know how else to do it.
When Hannah was very little, around 5 years old, she came down with obsessive fears. Andrea’s big concern was her grades – at Kindergarten, mind you – were slipping. I wasn’t worried about that. I was worried that this tiny little girl, a petite little thing, had started growing these inordinate fears. She couldn’t voice them all and the way she responded was to eat – constantly. I started punishing her, taking the snacks away, stopping Andrea from buying treats at the store. Hannah started getting snacks at the neighbors, hiding in the pantry, literally eating out of boxes of Cheez-It’s while we weren’t looking. When we took her for a checkup her cholesterol was higher than mine – and mine is BAD! I wasn’t worried about focus problems, I was worried that this little girl who clashed with me, fought with me, then gave me hugs and always had a smile on her face was going to break. Then, we put her on medication. After Andrea passed away, she grew out of it. Even while taking the medication she stopped doing homework. Even when her Mom was here.
Worse yet, Hannah was worried that when she got older, had kids, that she was going to die. That at some point her Mom and Dad were going to pass away. That something horrible was going to happen. She couldn’t sleep at night. When her uncle would visit and sleep in the room where she was, she would get up all night long and ask him if he was OK or ask to turn the light on. She wasn’t just having nightmares, she was terrified.
Then tonight I scare her even worse. It’s important you know I didn’t touch her, not even a little. I would never do that in anger, but angry I was. I didn’t know what else to do. Andrea could talk with Hannah. Andrea KNEW how to deal with her. They were two peas in a pod. I tried being calm, kindly, sweet, acting as close to her Mom as I could, but the girl lies to my face and doesn’t do the work! I could only keep the cap on the bottle so long. Like her mother, she knows just what buttons to push that trigger my anger’s detonation – this time to the point I was like a hydrogen bomb on the Bikini Atolls.
So I sat on the edge of that bed, digging my fingernails into my scalp. Shouting for Andrea to help me, knowing full well she wasn’t there. The tears were welling up in my eyes, both in anger and in fear and sadness. I wrote notes to her EDP teacher and math teacher explaining what we’re doing. I am looking through everything. I will add another hour or two to my evening’s routine. It’s not that I am upset I have to do it, it’s that I’m scared I can’t do it.
I sat there not sure what to do. I wiped my eyes and heard the bedroom door creak open.
“Dad, are you OK?” It was Sam, one of the twins.
“What do you need Sam?”
“Nothing. Love you.”
It was like he opened the steam valve a little and I started to calm.
“I love you too, Samwise.”
But like his mother, it’s never that easy. They can’t let me slide.
“Um. The oven’s beeping. Is dinner ready yet?”
All I could do was chuckle, get up and tell him I’d be down in a second. I had to laugh. If I didn’t , all I’d do is sit in the room and cry, and there’s just too much to do. If I let that slide, we all slide off the cliffs of insanity.