I’ve had a number of conversations with people lately that I guess shouldn’t surprise me, but then I guess I’m also not someone who looks at the world in the same way as others. It’s not like this weekend helped my demeanor much, either.
Stress isn’t something that I thrive on, but it usually takes an inordinate amount to make me change in personality. This weekend was one of those times. My wife, Andrea, used to say I was the person you wanted in that situation. She was always a bit flabbergasted by the fact that I hadn’t gone into some sort of medical field. My father and brother, after all, are pharmacists. “You’d have been a great ER doctor,” was her line. “You just never get flustered under pressure.”
The scenarios changed, of course. The guy who takes over the platoon when his sergeant gets killed in the war. The guy in the alien invasion who knows how to get out of a situation when we’re being attacked.
But let’s be honest, I never really agreed. It’s not that I’m good at these things, it’s that she’d seen me succeed in a few high-pressure situations and was impressed. It’s that she didn’t handle the pressure well and was floored I wasn’t falling apart when she was. But Andrea had a tendency to see the problems and, rather than attacking the problem at one point and moving forward, saw the vastness of the problem and just shut down. I tended to hear my Mother’s voice in the back of my head saying “start in the corner and work your way out.” Panic never succeeds in doing anything but creating more panic.
So when I get approached by people and told “I don’t know how you do it, that’s so amazing” when they hear about my caring for four children, I am a bit short. It might be because I’m so overwhelmed by the fact that I’m acting as two parents. Most likely, though, is the fact that the expectations of me were so low that they’re surprised I’ve done more than that. It’s an amazing thing to see the tendencies of some people to think there’s little or no way any guy could care for a kid on his own, let alone four of them.
My response to them in general is “what did you expect?” And what did they? They’re my kids, I don’t want them to fail, I want them to do better than I did, and at this point, that shouldn’t be too hard! These four kids need someone who will watch over them, care for them, be an example for them. I’m not sure I’m the best one, but I’m not going to ignore them or fall apart and just let them lie by the side of life’s road like a cup of pop I’ve tossed from the car. I didn’t act that way when my wife was still here. Why would I act that way now?
Noah faced his suspension on Friday thinking things were going to be business as usual. Unfortunately, we found out his sister’s wisdom teeth had been bone impacted, were putting pressure on the other teeth (that cost me an arm and a leg to get braces) and were pushing them askew. They had to be removed, and it was so bad now, they had to be removed quickly. So Noah sat in a dentist’s office and read books. When we got home, his sister loopy from the anesthesia, he sat on the couch and read. When his siblings got home from school, he sat in the office and read books while they played video games and went outside. This was supposed to teach him a lesson. Not sure if it did.
That night, Friday, Abbi couldn’t lie down without it hurting. I told her I’d stay on the couch with her that night.
“You don’t have to,” she said, but I could hear the apprehension in her voice.”
“I know I don’t have to, I said I would,” was my response.
That’s part of the key – the example I’m hoping to give. I don’t have to stay on the couch, hurt my back, get a new cluster of headaches from the lack of sleep. But I said I would. My father’s line: you’re only as good as your word. It’s true. The next night, she wasn’t much better and I did the same thing.
I got a comment saying “you’re the best Dad” when I mentioned she couldn’t sleep and I stayed there with her.
But I’m not.
This weekend I had to take care of Abbi, there was no choice. She spends so much time taking care of her siblings that I wanted to make sure she was taken care of. But the attention that they normally get – deserved or not – led to much more mayhem. Where “the best Dad” would have juggled it, I lost it. When Noah – who faced a suspension from school – decided to refuse his brother the ability to watch him play a video game on his little Nintendo Game Boy. Noah had watched Sam play all morning the day before, now he was being persnickety. I mentioned this and that he should let his brother watch so he closed the game boy and acted like he wouldn’t play. I told him to stop and he opened it just enough so he could peek in a play but no more.
I rarely get angry to the point that I punish in anger. Saturday I did it. I ripped the game boy out of his hands. When I told him this was the behavior – the attitude – that got him suspended, he gave me that look . . . the disdainful, “I know better and you cant’ get through to me” look and rolled his eyes at me. He lost the game but nothing was getting through to him and I am bowled away that nothing is.
My wife was always mortified when the kids had behavior problems, partially because she thought they reflected poorly on us. I’m hurt by them because it shows a fundamental failure of some sort, something that I couldn’t accomplish. It’s not because they lost their mother, they have other reasons. We’ve moved beyond the loss of their Mom. It’s been a year. They miss her – hell, I miss her – but I have to live in the world. She gets to be forever young, forever beautiful, forever brilliant and fun because that’s what we have in our hearts. We push the bad portions down and celebrate the good. But she gets to live on with us as a greater version of herself.
I, however, get to see the limitations of my skills and the dysfunction in my parenting when my kids misbehave to such a massive degree. Sure, at a certain point, they’re 9-years-old or 12 or 17. But sometimes, just when you think you can breathe, they can’t control their temper; they can’t stop acting like they deserve more; they do something so above and beyond what’s acceptable you cannot believe it.
Those are the times I look at them and realize it’s not their limitations, it’s mine. I’m not brilliant or great or even mediocre. I’m not the man my wife or people around me think I am . . . Many times I’m not even the man I should be.
Abbi and Noah, coming back from the dentist