This morning I was taking three of the kids to school and had to break the tension. They’d been at each others’ throats all morning, fighting, hitting, yelling, just making everyone crazy. I looked at Hannah, the middle daughter, and told her something was wrong with her nose.
“What do you mean?”
In my best Mr. Miyagi face, I reached over, slowly hovering my hand in front of her nose and squeezed it, saying: “honk”.
“See, you really need to get that fixed.”
“What the heck?!”
“You need to get that fixed, it could really lead to problems.”
I squeezed it again, giving her an ahooga noise like an old car and told her it’s getting worse.
Hannah busted out laughing, as did the boys in the back. Hannah shouting “what is wrong with you?!”
I asked her if it was so strange why was she laughing? “I don’t know!!!”
This was the only thing I could think of to do to calm them down. I’ve been here before. I’ve been in this very situation, threatening them, yelling at them, only to get the note or phone call later in the day that states I have to keep my kid’s behavior in check. Usually it’s Noah. Sometimes it’s Hannah. Sam . . . well, he just needs to toughen up a little. His is usually an injury report because he got hit with a dodgeball or basketball and cried. The kid’s built like a 1930’s professional wrestler but has the constitution of a marshmallow!
These are the things I have to do. I need to see the kids laughing again. I need them to feel comfortable and not go to school with worried feelings and feeling tense, on-edge. They may have argued before, but their mom always forced them to come over, give her a hug, patted their bottoms and the problems melted away. They stopped fighting (well, sometimes). I don’t have that. I don’t have the aforementioned twinkle in my eyes that hypnotizes you (particularly boys) and gets them to do whatever you want.
I have to go Miyagi on their asses.
I know that they feel this way, they told me so. Every night we have the same routine: after dinner they get to play, usually not with the TV on, and around 8pm they start the showers. After that, we have a “midnight snack”, a habit my mother began with them of getting a small bowl of cereal, usually rice crispies with bananas. They brush their teeth, head to bed and I head up there, if things go on-schedule (not usually the case) and read a chapter out of whichever book we’re reading this week.
This week Noah’s been telling me he’s having problems with a couple kids at school. In my paranoia I always think they’re getting in fights or arguments, but the way he tells it, they blame him for things, he gets called up to the teacher, it’s found not true but another kid vouches for what the accuser says and it all just sits at a stalemate. All I can do at this point is tell Noah that his behavior to this point has made others wary of him and teachers ready to believe he’s doing something wrong even if he didn’t. I told him a couple days ago that, unfortunately, he has to be better than his best. If anything goes wrong, he’ll get the blame, that’s just the nature of things so far.
Then he just knocked the breath out of me.
“I prayed to Mommy this morning.”
“What, little man?”
“I prayed to Mommy. I asked her to help me be good. I wanted her to help me so I could ignore the other kids and just do my school work.”
I don’t think he noticed my eyes getting a little glassy.
“What did you say, Monkey?”
“I just asked her to help me so that I can be good. For her. ”
“Did it work?”
“I don’t know. They still were mean to me.”
But he didn’t get into trouble. He kept it together. I didn’t get any behavior reports, he didn’t get in any fights, it just played out and he let things be.
But I could tell he was hoping for more. He wanted what he was missing. He wanted that presence, the warmth that we all felt when she would put her arms around you and say the absolutely perfect thing. He asked for it, but he didn’t get it, at least he doesn’t think he did. I don’t think she came down and visited some sort of patience on him, though I ache knowing that it would mean so much to him if she did. I do think that the shards of her that are left, the little pieces left behind when she was ripped from all of our souls, the fragments that drift around in the wound are there and I hope that’s what he is thinking about. I hope that he’s remembering what she said and felt.
Andrea had a way of coming up with the perfect solutions. When we first moved to town, Abbi wanted to do something for the school talent show, but the group she’d joined with to perform couldn’t agree on what they wanted to do and she had her name in and nothing to perform.
“Do something with your Dad,” was Andrea’s answer.
“What?! Nobody does stuff with their parents at these!”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t.”
I looked at her, and we both figured, why not? My big thing was I wanted this to be Abbi’s moment, but for years she’d sung along with my music on the radio. Sang to the point that Andrea, her dad, everyone told her she was too noisy and to knock it off. But one of her favorites was a fun old Buddy Guy tune, performed by Stevie Ray Vaughan – “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. It didn’t even take much rehearsal. I took my Dobro, an acoustic guitar that has an aluminum cone – like a speaker cone – instead of a sound hole, and headed to the show.
Abbi was nervous, very much so, and I took a chair back behind her so she was able to be out front. We followed a lot of really talented people and she was just a little freaked out by the fact that her friends had played classical pieces on the piano and complicated magic or juggling and she felt like she was singing a nursery rhyme. But her Mom told her it would be OK and that she had a bluesy voice and they wouldn’t know what hit them. When I finished the intro, she belted it out, growling out the song, sassing a little when she called: “tisket . . . tasket, baby. A green and yellow basket.” The crowd went crazy, and she had a huge grin painted on her face – again, that twinkle in her eyes. We did it again the following year, allowing her little sister to sing, too. That year, Andrea pushing us both – wanting Hannah to sing “Bein’ Green” the Kermit the Frog song. It may seem a simply, jaunty little tune, but it’s actually filled with more chords than I’ve played before, contorting my fingers to play Kenny Burrell style jazz while she talked about being the color of the leaves.
But we did it, pushed ourselves, strove to be better with the help of their Mom. With the support and smile of that amazing person.
Noah had the most disappointed look on his face when he finished his sentence that night. He was crestfallen knowing that he’d reached out to his Mom and had it reinforced that she’s just not there any more. Not in the physical sense, and I’ve been there where he is. He wanted to have his Mom reach out from up there somewhere, to feel her presence and get that calm.
The best he gets for now is Mr. Miyagi.
Wax on, wax off.