Trust is not an easy commodity in my house. I have a massive ability to hold a grudge. I’ve tried, for the great former colleagues and few close friends of mine, to watch news at my old station. I can’t do it. I feel my blood pressure rise and the ability to watch the news completely goes away. It’s not like the days when I had a healthy competition with the other stations, like I did in Dallas. No, it’s more the hot-blooded, angry, “monumental intolerance for stupidity” and grudge I hold against how I was treated that I decided was all of it. I have members of Andrea’s family I hold a grudge against, whether it’s totally warranted in others’ minds or not.
Then there’s the ability to forgive. My children have a large capacity for this. They don’t when someone lies to them, particularly someone they care about. The one thing they seem to have gotten from their mother. Andrea, when she was alive, wouldn’t forgive, even me, for the smallest transgression. Even if it was to save her from any amount of distress or embarrassment.
I’ve said all along there would be hiccups and minor things that would happen in our lives. We’ve had a lot of little things, small incidents, the worst that I’ve had is pretty serious: a one-day suspension because my son. Noah, one of the twins, has had a hard time controlling his temper. I thought that would be the only thing and hopefully the worst thing that I had to deal with after losing my wife.
Then came Saturday.
I had held off on so many things due to my poor planning and finances that I had a head full of shaggy hair and an empty pantry because I’ve used so much of our flour, sugar, broth, all of it. All the meats were completely used up. I had a window of only a few hours to get my hair cut and then go on a mammoth run to the grocery store to restock all the wares of our pantry. I did just that. The only thing I had to worry about was that Hannah, my middle daughter, had to meet with her best friend to complete a school project they’d been working on for weeks. On my way out the door at roughly 1pm I told my oldest, Abbi, through her door that her brother, Noah, was going with me. Just the two of us with Hannah, Sam and Abbi at home. About halfway through the trip I realized there was no way I was going to be able to get Hannah to her friend’s house.
I texted Abbi and told her that I needed her to drive Hannah. I was only about 1/4 of the way through the grocery store and there was no way I was going to be able to get through the checkout and get home in time to take her, even if I’d cut the trip short and headed straight to the stand now. I worked through the majority of the food I could buy at Food4Less. (It’s owned by Nugget, one of the best grocery stores in the country. On top of that, it’s one of the cheapest stores in my area, particularly for name-brand stuff.) I spent as much time, going aisle by aisle, in anticipation of as much of our empty pantry as I could.
I am going to sound a little strange here as I normally tell you how I treat and love my children all equally – but differently. None of the kids are the same.
– Abbi is perky, has that similar mind to mine in terms of taste and is like her mother, reliable to the point of extreme. Do something too wrong and she thinks about it forever.
– Hannah is a flake. It’s pure and simple. I love her to death, I’m a middle child myself, and I get her. She remembers every word of Avatar the cartoon and cannot clean her room to save her soul. She’s like an extreme girl-version of me. I wish she wasn’t.
– The boys . . . Sam is a flirt, built like a wrestler, and a pure marshmallow. He’s so sweet he gets neglected by the others a lot of the time. He’s loving, cute, and the protector of our family.
– Noah has impulse control, is so loving, and wants to be the center of attention. He’s unfortunately absorbed so many of the worst qualities of all of us, but is the sweetest little love so you forgive them.
Sam has a horrific fear of being left or abandoned.
So imagine my terrible surprise when the phone rang yesterday. I was on the way home, the back of the car filled with groceries. It was Abbi.
Now, ever since Abbi was a little baby, the moment I saw her lying on her mother’s tummy, I could tell when something was wrong. That first day . . . the first few hours . . . I knew the nurses had screwed up. The baby’s supposed to be allowed to eat fairly quickly. After they cleaned her up, bundled her up, got her to her Mom and everything, I could see her opening her mouth, trying desperately, instinctively, to find food. The nurses wouldn’t let us and kept trying to get us to the next, smaller room. I raised holy hell until they got us bottles of formula and she came straight to it. When it turned out she was allergic to some protein in everything – from formula, to soy, to everything else, I could sense it when she hurt or was sad. When she was little, too. There’s a tone – a panic – in her voice when it’s really bad. I hear a little of her Mom in that response.
Abbi called me and before she even spoke, over the phone, I knew.
“I’m going to kill Hannah!”
I was more than a little confused. “What’s wrong?”
“She didn’t tell me Sam was home . . . that she wasn’t with you.”
I knew what was coming before it even came out of Abbi’s mouth.
“Poor Sam. I guess we got out the garage, down the road, and he knew we’d left. He followed the car, running down the street . . . and we were gone. The neighbors saw him and apparently calmed him down. He was home when I got there.”
I rely very heavily on Abbi. Very heavily. She picks up the kids from school. She is supposed to watch them until I get home and I even get her to start heating the food for dinner when things are running behind. So when she fails spectacularly it’s hard on me. Hannah would get it, sure, but it’s so rare that Abbi fails at this level I was more disappointed than angry. I’ve worried this might happen, but relied on her similarities to her mother and thought it couldn’t happen. But she loves to avoid us by going into her room, her own little space. That’s fine when I’m home, not when I’m away.
“I told you Noah was going with me, Abbi, not Sam.”
“I though you said both boys.”
“No, Abbi, I said Noah. I even said it twice so you knew. I said Hannah and Sam were home!”
“Well…I didn’t hear that.”
Maybe she didn’t. That’s my failure, I should have looked her in the eye and made her repeat it.
“Hannah was there next to Sam watching TV! Why didn’t she say something?!” Abbi spit out, finally.
“Well, she’ll get her talking to, Abbi, but you have to watch. You were in charge. Whenever I get in the car, what do I say?”
“Do we have everybody?”
“Exactly. I’m not being funny. I look back, do a head count, everything. Lord, Abbi, of all the kids to have this happen…Sam?!”
“Oh my God, poor Sam. Oh, I feel so awful…”
As I said, Sam is afraid of being abandoned. He protects our family and looks to our home and wants us all together. He reacted to his mother’s loss by trying to make sure he doesn’t lose anyone again. He knows we’re OK, and we work on his fear. It’s no paralyzing, it’s just normal for what we’ve been through. So for him to be the one playing McCauley Culkin for 15 minutes . . . not good.
I got home, and Sam was there . . . a bit pale, but smiling. Like always. He was his normal, calm self. He looked at me and just said he was OK. No big deal. He proudly walked up and said “see what I put on the fridge Dad?” It was a list of all the phone numbers. Mine. My work phone. Abbi’s. His Aunt’s . . . Grandma and Grandpa . . . and our friends who might help pick them up when I’m in a bind.
“This cannot happen again,” was my line. “Not ever.” When his sister got home, we had a very long and serious discussion.
“Did you forget something in your hurry to get out the door, Hannah?”
She has this habit when she’s done something wrong and knows it, looking down but her eyes looking up at you.
“Sam . . . ”
Yeah, Sam. He was right next to you, Hannah. Playing video games together you went down the stairs, through the empty garage, and got into Abbi’s car . . . WITHOUT HIM! He went chasing you down the street and had to get comforted by neighbors who we don’t even know. Do you want CPS to come to the house? Because, I can guarantee, they’re not a very good state agency. They’ll start fiddling with things and our lives will never be the same if they think we can’t handle this.”
It was an extreme example to make, but had to be done.
Now I force Abbi to be out in the main rooms with the kids when I’m not home. Even I don’t go in another room with the door shut when I’m home. There’s just too much could happen. I sleep with my bedroom door open. I also tell her she has to ask if they have everyone when they go out the door and into the car, looking back to check.
I know I say this all the time, something I push into my kids . . . and your thoughts as well.
“We’re better together than we are apart,” is my motto. I mean that, and I want to ensure that the kids get it.
“If we’re not looking out for each other, who will?”
Sam looked at me and said “It’s OK, Dad. I know what to do. I’ll make sure I call you and wait if it happens again.”
I looked at Sam and told him he didn’t have to worry. It wouldn’t happen again.
“How do you know that, Dad?”
“Because, Sam,” was my line, “because I’ve talked with everyone and told them it simply can’t”
“That’s right,” said Abbi, “it will never happen again. Because we’re better together than we are apart.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.