Who’s the Boss . . .

My boys and me . . . taken by Hannah before the movies one night.

My day started to end exactly how it had begun: with my frustrated madness coming out of every pore of my body.  My children don’t normally get on my nerves to the point of my getting so pent up that I bark at them, but the last couple days have led to that very behavior.  I do know that I’ve been under stress for our financial and behavioral situations, but that doesn’t mean I can’t tell which plight is influencing my behavior. 

Tonight should have been relatively simple.  I made extra cookies – Snickerdoodles – that the kids could eat and stave them over until we got to dinner, which is usually roughly 7pm or 7:30.  I’ve had to forego the “Midnight Snacks” their Grandma started because we’re just eating too late and the amount of cereal, milk and bananas has run out.  I can’t make a grocery run until Friday night.  Still, I thought I had it covered.  Enough cornbread muffins and other treats to last.  I’d, of course, have been silly to think that was the case.  I walked in the door and the bag of muffins was empty but for 3.  The cookies were all gone.  It was like I’d left a voracious Muppet (copyright 1967 Henson, Inc. Giving credit where due) had entered the house and inhaled what food wasn’t uncooked and lying unsuspectedly on the counter top.

I tried my best to stay calm, I really did, but when they had a specific amount they were supposed to limit as their intake – not because I’m being tight, but because I don’t want them eating that many empty, sugar-filled calories – I get just so damn frustrated.  It’s like their Mom’s impulse control has infected them all in the last week or two.  But I calmed, made more cookies (God bless the Sunbeam corporation for their mixer . . . it’s been a godsend since I bought it) and got the routine going.  Tonight was a perfect example of using what we had but eating what my wife would never have fathomed attempting to eat.  I actually made it for her once, and she just turned her nose up at it.  For me, it was like going back to my childhood whenmyMom was trying to make ends meet on a low budget.  Take some hamburger patties, add some onion, spices, fry them up, mix up a gravy with Mushroom soup and such, and have a side of rice and green beans.  That was our dinner.  The kids ate it, though Noah turned his nose up at the fact that the patties were soaked in “sauce”.

But here’s where my line to my kids has never waivered: you want to eat, you eat what’s given to you.  If you’re hungry, you’ll eat it.  I mean, my brother’s favorite food, as well as my Dad’s, was “cabbage rolls”.  A spiced beef and rice mixture rolled in cabbage leaves and baked in the oven.  I hated it, gagged on it, but I ate it just the same . . . until I was old enough to make something else.  “You don’t like it, make your own dinner,” was always my Mom’s mantra, and I finally did on those cabbage roll nights.  My kids are too lazy, it seems, to realize that if they don’t like it there’s usually some alternative they could make themselves.  But this isn’t bad food.  It’s not even that unhealthy, it’s low-fat versions of all the stuff and should not clog our arteries.

After that, though, came the nighttime routine.  My kids needed to brush their teeth, get shower, all of it.  I’ve gotten them into using their own shower, not mine, just because they’re old enough to do that.  That, and I’m tired of . . . again . . . their having to come two hours later into my bathroom and clean up the clothes and crap they’ve left everywhere.  Also, those glass-walled shower stalls get so freaking moldy one shower is enough for the thing.  While they’ve moved to their shared bathroom it doesn’t mean their behavior has changed. 

In the middle of the whole thing, I’ve pushed the kids to make sure that they put their clothes for the next day together.  Their belts are to remain with their backpacks downstairs because, quite frankly, I got sick of looking for belts every . . . single . . . morning!  tonight, one of the 4 belts they use “just disappeared, Dad!”  I made them both look.  Every 5 minutes they came to me saying they couldn’t find it.  Finally I said “if I get up and find this damn thing in under 2 minutes you’re both going to get it!” 

They said there’s absolutely, positively, no way they could find one, never.  I headed up the stairs and – lo and behold  – found one under a pair of the boys’ dirty pants, right where I told them they’d likely find it.  The inevitable fight over whose fault is was ensued.  When I informed them it was both their faults for the messy room the protests started, like Occupy Torrazzo had begun.  I less than politely and at full volume stopped the argument. 

Then came Hannah’s turn.  I swear, it was like a full moon had occurred . . . until I realized the sugar they’d eaten today.  They all denied that they ate all the muffins and cookies.  I knew there was no way that was true so they all had to get moving.  But upstairs, I hear Hannah bossing the boys around.
“You left all your clothes on the floor of the bathroom, boys, do you know how annoying that is?!”
I couldn’t resist chiming in.  “Now you know how it feels, Hannah.”
“But you guys can’t do that I trip over them!”
It was like I wasn’t even there.  “Hannah, you only last week started putting your dirty clothes in the laundry basket . . . the same laundry basket that’s just 3 feet away from your bedroom!  You have no room to talk!”
But Hannah was having none of it.  She started lecturing her brothers, who know they only are 3 years apart from their sister.  They weren’t taking the verbal browbeating. 
“You do it too, Hannah!”
Hannah started bossing them.  Telling them they had to go pick them up, telling them to listen to her.  She’s acting like she’s older, so she’s in charge, which isn’t the case; particularly when I’m at home. 
“Knock it off you three of I’m going to punish you all!”

I wasl already moving from the kitchen, where I’d just put cookies in the oven, to the staircase when the screaming started.  A wail like I hadn’t heard in awhile from Sam.  Tears were being shed.  The world according to Hannah was being enforced, a little too violently.
“What the hell happened?!”
Noah, the town crier, informed me “Hannah hit Sam . . . hard . . . on the head!”
It was like I was living Bill Cosby’s “Himself” monologue.

Hannah, what did I say to you not 2 minutes ago?!
“That I was doing the same thing last week.”
“And whose job is it to punish you kids if you do something wrong?”
“But Dad, they . . . ”
“Hannah, before you finish that sentence, turn around and look in your bedroom’s doorway.  I dare you to tell me what is clean and what is dirty on that floor . . . a floor a full 3 feet away from the laundry basket.”
She just looked at her shoes.
“Who . . . is the Dad in this house, Hannah?”
“You are.”
“Did I not just tell them to clean it up, inform them they had to do it every night, and then remind you that you had to leave this alone because you do the same thing?”
“Yes.”
“So what do you do now?”
“I’m sorry, Sam.”

Hannah wants so badly to act like she’s responsible and in charge.  But I have to constantly inform her that it’s not just being there and bossing her siblings around that’s being responsible.  If she can’t turn in her homework every day, there’s no way I can honestly trust her to take care of her brothers.  It’s a fact of her anatomy.  I wish it wasn’t.  Even though it was a perfunctory apology, it was made.   After the boys had showered and I had read to them, I was on my way down to finish lunches and clean up the kitchen.  I heard, even though she didn’t think I had, Hannah creep into the boys’ room.
“I’m really sorry, Sam.  I shouldn’t have hit you.  It wasn’t right, Dad had already taken care of it.  I will try not to do it again, Sam.  Will you forgive me?”
After he nodded his assent, I saw him reach up from his bed and give her a hug.

Just when I thought things were impossible, she turns around and does this.  It’s times like this I come to realize there may just be hope for us.  Just maybe.  Though I do write this after washing the dinner pans . . . pans conveniently left by Hannah on the stove because, you know, “they’re icky.” 

One small victory at a time.

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