I got home tonight in a fairly decent mood. I was rushing a bit, picking up a guitar from the shop that had needed some fret work done. All the years of playing “Dot,” a bright 7-Up green Clapton Stratocaster on stage took a physical toll on its frets and it was having issues. The music store down the road has a great shop and they did the work and it wasn’t too expensive, so I was happy.
Happy, that is, until I got home.
It started before I even entered the house. The garage door wasn’t even open all the way and I saw the inside door, leading into the dining room hallway, opening. Noah’s small frame was peeking between the crack. He’s begun doing only this because, driving an SUV, you can’t see the little guy once you get a certain distance into the garage. On more than one occasion I have slammed on the brakes worried I might hit him. Many times I see this as his happy, contented greeting that his Dad’s finally home. Not today.
If you have kids, you know what I’m talking about next: There’s a look, a sort of pallor that your kids seem to take on when they are struggling with telling you something. In this case, it was really just the beginning.
He started with tattling on his brother. Now, as shy and abashedly quiet as I was as a kid, you’d think this wouldn’t bother me, but my older brother taught me that at a certain point in your life you stop tattling and act with some honor. I’ve been working with Noah on this for some time; knowing when you should tell – to help or save someone from injury, what have you – and when you should just keep quiet as it’s none of your business. This time it was one of the latter.
“Sam’s up in his room, he’s in trouble,” was the greeting I got. I hadn’t even pulled my laptop case out of the car.
“He said a bad word.”
At this point I saw Abbi’s hand reach around the door and slap him in the back of the head.
“I took care of this, Noah. It’s not any of your business!”
Abbi saw the query on my face and simply said “they’ve all been absolutely NUTS today. I want to kill them all!”
Bear in mind, that I have to force myself not to chuckle or smile when she says these things because at the point I get home, at most, she’s spent 3 hours with the kids. Not all day, 3 hours. Even Monday, Memorial Day, when she was supposed to watch them, she ended up after 3-4 hours at her aunt’s house and didn’t have to really care for them. So to hear this after just a couple hours I have to bite my lip. Just a little.
But getting inside, it was clear: they’d gone absolutely bonkers. In just a couple short hours, every empty storage bin, every blanket, and 90% of their video game boxes were scattered all over the upper landing and open hallway to their bedroom. Sam had lost his mind, he really had. He said some bad word, which must have been particularly atrocious because Abbi wouldn’t even tell me what it was. He was talking at 1,000 miles an hour, which makes his very slight stutter become a pronounced stutter. When Noah tried to say what he’d done, he reached over, while I’m trying to get out of everyone what happened, and punches his brother, with a large amount of force, in the arm. The tears start, the screaming begins, Abbi goes into her room . . . and it’s welcome home, Dad.
“What the hell is wrong with you guys?!
Hannah volunteered the problem: “At EDP today they gave us all lemonade.”
“It was the sort of packaged lemonade.”
“And cookies,” added Noah. I groaned.
“And a blueberry Muffin!” added Sam, seemingly proud of the massive crack-like reaction he’d had to the corn syrup and preservatives.
Bear in mind, by this point, I haven’t even boiled the noodles for dinner. Given my trip to the music store (which I now sincerely regretted) I had bought the pre-packaged tortellini and pesto and was about to boil them. In the middle of finally riding the back end of the wave of insanity Noah comes up and says “I should probably tell you about recess today, Dad.”
I literally dropped the package of ravioli on the counter.
“This other kid cut in front of me in line and I told him he shouldn’t. It was his fault and it just got out of control then.”
I couldn’t help it. I’m not sure if the other stuff hadn’t happened if I’d have reacted any better, but I lost it. I really did, and I’m not proud of it, but I did.
“Now what did you do?!”
“I have a slip you have to sign. It’s not a yellow slip, though! It’s just a note to the teacher.”
“Do you not get what’s going on here?! Do you really not understand that every . . . single . . . slip is just leading to your ultimate goal of being suspended or kicked out?! Did having this kid in front of you really slow down your getting onto the playground?!”
“In fact, you ended up staying out of recess, didn’t you?! For the love of God, Noah, is it really worth it?! Because I don’t get it. Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s OK just to let the guy in front of you. It’s not worth it. Swallow your damn pride, eat the words, and once . . . just once . . . let the other kid be the freaking idiot instead of you huh?!”
It’s hard. The school keeps pushing that Noah’s in trouble because of his Mom dying. The doctors tell me it’s not. In fact, he’s had problems with his temper since kindergarten. I’ve said it before: Andrea had the same problems controlling temper and impulses. She somehow mastered them, but never told me what the hell she did. She doesn’t have to face the legacy of her genetics, I do. And I have no idea what I’m doing, not with this.
I told Noah we’d have to get him back into counselling and he may even have to go to another school, while his sister and brother go to this one. He started to cry.
After I got the noodles out and started to drain them, I sat at the table and went through the mail. Noah sat next to me and looked up at me:
“Dad . . . will those counselors be like the one I had to see at the school?”
I could see his eyes a little watery. I knew why he was worried. In March, after the anniversary of Andrea’s death, the school had “grief counselors” on-hand because another school Mom had passed away. Without asking or permission from me, they sent Noah and Sam to the counselor who, upon recounting by the boys, made them recall, over and over again, how their Mom died, when she died, what they went through, why the felt that way . . . even today they’re nowhere near as recovered as they had been before the so-called counseling. Noah was fearful I was going to put him through all that again.
“No, buddy. Those counselors didn’t do this right. None of this is about your Mom, I know that.”
It’s not, either. Every time someone talks to Noah they ask him if he misses his Mom . . . then asks if he’s upset and that’s why he acted out. What’s he going to say? “No, I don’t miss her, yes I like acting out?”
Hannah kept trying through the rest of the night to say silly or goofy things. I was short, snappy, and suddenly exhausted from it all. We made it to the regular nightly routine, but I’m not sure I really did them much good for the night. The sugar and sweetners and corn syrup made Sam absolutely insane. Hannah snapped and continued to yell at both her brothers, and Abbi couldn’t handle it and was getting shorter with them than I was – she is her mother’s daughter.
So often we project what we think is or should be happening or being felt by kids. They’re smarter than we give them credit for, they really are. Noah has a temper he wants to control but needs the tools. But rather than helping him with them, so many want simple answers. He’s sad and grieving, so that must be it. And the others, I just don’t think the rest of the world gets it. 99% of people are able to eat all this stuff with no problems. They just don’t see that mine can’t. Give it to them . . . and then you get the evening I just had.
It may be sugary sweetness, but it just turns the whole day sour.