My kids are the most important things in my life. I make no bones about that. If they’re hurt and I need to leave work, I leave. If they’re sad and need to talk I stop what I’m doing and I talk. If they’re frustrated or mad or at each others’ throats I intervene. That’s just . . . parenting.
But since time immemorial I’m sure parents have wondered about the very things I’ve had to contend with this week.
My son, Sam, has a stammer. Not a stutter, I don’t think, but sometimes I feel like he’s trying to talk so fast that he stumbles and stammers and stalls in the middle of the conversation. This is exacerbated by the fact that when he’s at home, wanting the simplest of things, say, a glass of orange juice, he says it so quietly and softly that I have to ask him 3 times to say it – louder. Each time, it’s the same volume. Maybe a bit slower, but same volume. Yet, talk about the latest thing that he saw on Spongebob today? 1500 decibels and 10,000 miles per hour. The whole “inside voice” thing doesn’t sink in.
And before you all give me the “you’re a big house with lots of people he does that so he can be heard,” I call BS. There’s a respect thing that has to happen. When Sam’s talking, I stop the others from interrupting and vice-versa. No matter how loud they get, I can get louder, and like my father, when I raise my voice to that level, they scatter knowing I’ve reached the limit.
Hannah can play guitar and figure out songs by Paramore and Green Day but then complains she doesn’t think she’s good enough to play in the school band. I look at her and say “maybe not, but if you play with them long enough you will be.” I give her the example of my life: I started playing guitar my freshman year in college, learning by ear. I knew the chords, what key I was in, very basic stuff. But give me sheet music – tell me to play a Gsus9 and I’d stare like a wolf in a Tex Avery cartoon. Still, a year later, while playing Zeppelin’s How Many More Times with a wah-wah pedal in my apartment a knock came at my door and a guy asked me to join his band. He liked what he heard. I figured I was not a musician or I was going to be found by the side of the road naked in Tijuana next week, but worth the risk. I didn’t have their experience, but was forced to figure it out because I was now in the band. My advice to Hannah was the same as I’d experienced: you improve by playing live with other musicians, good and bad. Ignore that and you never improve.
Still, she’ll play the same riff 5 million times and focus intently but ask her to do the dishes? Nada. Clean the room? Zilch. The only working threat? Taking the guitar away the morning she had rehearsal with the teacher she admires so much. Then her room’s clean.
Little things confound me: they’ll quietly play dominos on the carpet until I go to the bathroom . . . then they follow me to the door and try to have a conversation with me, through a closed door, while I’m doing something that, quite frankly, isn’t lending itself to everyday conversation. When they go to bed, why does one boy insist on having his head facing the opposite direction of his brother’s? When I’m in the shower, why do they come in, fully dressed, and ask “hey dad, are you up?”
I’m confounded by my daughter trying to protect me from . . . myself, I guess. I meet a friend for a beer – female friend, who is not remotely romantically interested in me and we know each other through my work – and she wants to know why she is meeting me. Not the other way around. A friend stays at the house and plays guitar? “What are her intentions?” My joking response? “Yeah. I’m so irresistible, kiddo. She won’t keep her hands off me.” Never mind both these people are young enough to be my kid. How creepy would I be?
I am confounded that they wonder how we’re short on money and why I haven’t just socked away every cent of the social security they get . . . but then ask why we can’t go get a treat at Starbucks . . . or ask to go to the movies . . . or ask for videogames . . . in the same hour.
But then, at the end of the day, I am confounded with myself when I realize I’ve lost my temper and the day ends . . . and Sam kisses me on the cheek saying “I love you Daaady!” and it’s the perfect volume; Noah sidles up to me and pokes me so I tickle him and his infectious giggle makes us all laugh; Hannah gives me a hug and shows me some new guitar line she’s learned . . . and managed to do her chores; and Abbi sits next to me right before bed and puts her head on my shoulder.
But then . . . that’s just parenting, right?