The Madman Across the…er River

Alright, it’s a stretch when trying to pry a title to fit a song, but hey.  I’m musical and more often than not the titles and lyrics give inspiration to what I am writing.  I say “madman” because I think sometimes my children see me that way, not as some crazed character out of a Jethro Tull record but as the guy who cannot control his flustered disarray when his kids come to him with more than a little insanity.

It doesnt’ help that in avoiding the crush of others’ grief around Andrea’s passing I took the kids out of town just two weeks before their Spring Break.  Now I have to find ways to get them watched as their school is a week off from everyone else’s.  On top of that, the school decides to spring half-days and inservice and “monthly minimum day” on me and I’m bouncing around spending more time looking for ways to get them picked up and cared for than actually making dinner or doing laundry.  Then there’s the insanity of home on top of it all.

The start of the latest bout of madness started when we got back.  I have already chronicled the need for others to reflect their grief onto me and the kids.  I won’t bore you with that again, if you want go back a couple days and you can read about it.  But this is the normal minutia of life that needles me and crawls under my skin like a splinter.  Hannah, my middle child, who I have a good relationship with, confounds me at times.  I am a middle child.  I know the trials and tribulations.  I try very hard not to favor one child over another.  It appears at times I give Abbi a wider berth, but it’s not true.  I just have to rely on her age and driver’s license more than the others.  If Hannah was 16 my life would be inordinately easier, but she’s also a different kid and a lot different personality.

Let me explain: Abbi has much of her mother’s personality.  That’s good on many fronts.  That’s bad on others.  Abbi, my oldest, is insanely responsible.  She likes the responsibility and has always been close to me.  She sits next to me on the couch, hugs me when she’s feeling bad and chastises me when I’m sick and refusing to go to the doctor.  But that same reliance breeds a bit of over-confidence.  Telling her sister to avoid some homework that is likely not getting turned in on time or saying she’ll watch the kids but leaving them to their own devices and going into her room to video chat or play “words with friends”.  The consequences lead to other things, like Hannah coming to my car in the middle of her homeroom in tears.

“I don’t have my math homework!  Abbi said not to bring it!”
“Didn’t you finish it?”
“Well, most of it.”
“What did I tell you to do?!”
“Finish my homework.”
“And what did you do?”
“What Abbi said.”
“So…who is your father in this house?  Who’s the parent.”
“You are.”
“And . . . who was right?”
“You, Dad.”

I had watched her do most of her homework, and she had a deal with me.  One more missed assignment and she’s not getting to go to a concert with her sister and I.  It’s the deal she made.  The one before: no basketball, soccer, nothing because she was failing classes due to the fact she wasn’t turning in homework.  Now, some of it she just didn’t do.  Others?  She’d done the work and wouldn’t turn it in!  I was flabbergasted.  How could you do the homework and not turn it in for the points?  I mean . . . sure, you may get some wrong, but some points are better than no points right?! 

Add Noah and Sam into the mix, having to see a “grief counselor” when they didn’t want or need one and I was starting to pull out my hair  (Which, with the short haircut I have is no small feat, let me tell you!)  Then there’s Abbi . . . my amazing oldest child still has issues that stem from the pieces of her mother that reside in her.  The need for perfection burns inside her to her detriment.  If she gets less than an “A” she’s upset.  Yet, the desire to procrastinate often overwhelms the desire to get that grade.  So when it all comes to a head and she cannot get it done she comes to me in a panic.  The thing is, I am doing the best I can, really I am, but I’m a guy.  I’m not a girl.  There’s not much estrogen pulsing around in my veins, at least I don’t think there is.   (OK, I have some pounds to lose, but I don’t think I’ve gained enough I have man boobs or anything, so let’s leave the mental imagery there, OK?)  So the balance I have to strike between the need to just listen and be comforting – what a girl her age needs quite often in her hormonal and confused state – is often fighting with my male tendency to want to fix things.  I want to pick her up, tell her what she needs to do and show her where the fault in her system lies.

Some days, though, I get that wrong.  It drives me . . . well . . . MAD!  I will tell her what I think her options are and she gets mad and frustrated.  She starts – much like her mother – to push my buttons in a way only Andrea could, yelling at me and saying the things that she knows full well make my blood boil.  The difference here, and the advantage I have, I suppose, is I’m not her equal.  I’m her Dad, and I can force my experience on her when it’s for her own good.  I often mistakenly tell her “If you’d taken the last two days to do this work you wouldn’t be in this predicament, would you?!”  That’s the absolute wrong thing to say when she’s hysterical and needing to calm down.

It’s the 2×4 method.  That’s what I call it: “tell me when you want ideas to help you” is what I tell her and her sister.  “If you don’t I’ll just assume you need me to be there and I will be.  Always.”

It works.  Last time she was in a panic.  I forced her, under duress (Oh, lots of duress) to go to sleep.  “You’re exhausted and you won’t do anything right.  You’ll read or write the same line over and over and over again and not understand what you’re doing.  Take a breath, sleep right now for 4 or 5 hours and then get up really early, drink some coffee, and finish.”

While she disagreed with the method, when I got up not long after her to cook breakfast she’d finished all the work.  it wasn’t perfect, and that’s what was bugging her.  That’s her mother in her. 

But sometimes you cannot be perfect, the message that all four of them are getting from me.  Sometimes you’re not even close to the border of sanity.  Sometimes you’re the madman across the water, but that’s OK.  Because perfection is overrated.  It’s the mistakes, the little things, the sharp and flat notes in the song that give it emotion and humanity.  If all your life you know perfection you never know reality.  And sometimes, there’s a method in the madness.

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