I have four kids. That is no surprise to anyone who’s read this blog, but the statement is more about the worries and futures that weigh on my shoulders than it is just sheer numbers. I never realized what an impact two people raising kids had until I was doing it alone. It’s not the meals, or the laundry or chores . . . none of that is the main impact. They all fall together into a big gelatinous mountain of worry, sure. The fact is I look at all four of them and wonder what impact the last year and next will have on all their lives.
When you have that partner, the one person that you trust above all others, you aren’t alone in this. The world isn’t working against you – or at least you don’t feel like it is. When my oldest daughter would get sick Andrea or I would walk in, take her temperature, run the humidifier, or just plain hold her on our lap and put our hand gently on her hair and make her feel secure and cared for. While I or Andrea would do that, the other would care for the other three. Maybe give Noah a hug or high-five for a great math test. Maybe read Sam’s story for his English class. Perhaps listen to Hannah play some new song she’s played on the guitar.
But those days are over. I find myself constantly saying “you’re all talking at once, do it one at a time!” I can see the impact that having to do this on our own has had. I’ve discussed Noah’s behavior before. It’s ebbed and flowed. There was a big lull in the lack of self-control. I took the time to garner some attention on him and listen to him and do the things he needed along with helping his siblings. But there are only so many hours in the day and so much attention I can muster before the laundry needs done and the beds need changing and the breakfast and dinner for tomorrow need to be addressed. It’s not a simple system. Let one fall the others pile up behind it.
Add to that the fact that, no matter how much good the Diocesan grief counsellors thought they were doing, they have set those two boys back – with one fell visit. It’s funny because a year ago the boys were doing amazingly well, considering. We’d established some semblance of a routine. They had stability with my parents helping us get back on our feet. Even when they returned in the Fall to school, it wasn’t easy, but they were doing really well. Talking to counesllors, and even their doctor, they informed me that the grief was . . . well, grieving. The boys were doing what everyone should do. They were sad they lost their Mom, adjusting to the new life, and we were starting to look to the chapters ahead, not dwelling on the ones we’d already read. Sure, you can’t tell a story without the motivation and history to back them, but you look back, you don’t dwell there forever. That’s what my boys were doing.
But that one moment, the day they were forced to talk about everything that happened the day they lost their Mom, in sordid, painful detail, they both – Sam and Noah – came home like their clocks had been set back by months. Noah started picking at his sister. Sam started closing down and spending all his time upstairs again. They annoyed each other until Noah or Sam would lose it and hit or kick each other. No, they weren’t perfect before, but they were now at a point that even the grief hadn’t created.
My point here is not to blame someone for the problems. I know it sounds that way, and I’m still a little angry about the whole episode, but the reality is that I worry about being just one person. I worry about what example the kids get. Abbi had 16 years with her Mom. Hannah had 11. The boys had almost 8. I remember a lot from that year, but not as much as I’d like. I know that major events, happy, sad, traumatic even get burned into your consciousness. I get that. But it weighs on my mind that, first, they won’t remember their Mom, not much, and not the woman that they should remember but the one that was coming back from depression and sadness. They also don’t have that soft, gentle influence that only a Mom can have. Before all the women I know and women reading tell me that they’ll always be there for the boys, I know that. I understand and appreciate it. The thing is there isn’t the constant, daily influence, though. There’s just something about that second, differing opinion and outlook that evens out a person. I can try all I want to give that to my sons and daughters but it’s not there.
Some psychiatrist on one of those daytime programs the other day said something about what influence you want to have on your kids. “Would you want your kids to date you? Would you want them to grow up to be you?” They were hoping to spark some deep discussion in :30 second soundbites, I get it, but the thing is, I think their questions are off-point. I worry not about whether I am the example of what they should be, I worry about whether I’m pushing them to be what they want to become. That’s a big difference. I don’t think any parent, unless they’re insanely narcissistic, wants their kids to grow up to be just like them. While the psych doc on the box proclaimed that “your kids see if you kiss your wife but she’s still sad and wonder why . . . and whether you caused that sadness” it’s not about that. They don’t get it.
For me, at least, it’s about making sure they live up to their own expectations and potential. I can see glimmers of what they want and should be and prod them along, sure, but I cannot be the end-all, be-all for what they think life is about.
A friend was talking to me today about how I was lucky. I got to meet the love of my life. I got that “fairy tale” ending and got it right the first time. The funny thing is, I don’t know if I got it right. Sometimes you’re alone, the world swirling around you, and it just takes one person – the one person out there who sees through the melee and joins you in its center, without ever seeing the damage being inflicted around you. It just takes that one person. Andrea was mine. I had given up – at 21 years old, yes given up – and figured that I’d just turn around and ride with the current. It was at that moment that Andrea, who I thought wanted nothing to do with me, entered my life. It was never the same. It had amazing points. It had horrible points. But it was there, together.
So what example do I want my kids to take? It just takes one person, sure. But make sure it’s the right person. I could have dated a string of women, tried to get through the insanity by grabbing everyone I could. In the end, though, I found a love that would hold my hand and understand. Together, we faced the world. What I don’t want the kids to feel is that they’re doing this alone. I don’t want my daughter to think that she’s taking care of her siblings and doing it all alone. I don’t want my sons to think that the “guy’s perspective” is the only perspective.
It’s easy to think that you just need to grab love where you can find it. The whole “Love the One You’re With” idea, but I want my kids to know that they shouldn’t “settle.” It’s OK to experiment, to date, to see what your likes and dislikes are. I found my so very early that it burned out too soon. But I’m not alone. I don’t lean on my kids, I want them to lean on me.
So tonight, after signing the detention slip for Noah’s acting out I had to try my hardest to give him the best advice, channeling my wife’s thoughts the best I can and letting him know how much harder he’s going to have to work. Telling him how kids act during PE games and sporting events when they play each other. Telling him “it’s alright to get mad. Nobody’s going to fault you for being angry. You can’t act out on that. You can get mad, yell, heck even kick at the dirt. But not someone else, no matter how bad you think they’re acting.”
I worry about the example I’m giving my children. But I don’t want them to grow up to be like me. I want them to grow up to be better than me. It just takes one person to make it happen. They’re lucky – they each have four already.