Today was typical of the sole parent/sole income world in which we all live now. Veteran’s Day is a typical day off for the kids in California’s schools, even ones in private schools get to “observe” Veteran’s Day. I, however, had to work and that leads to one of the stresses of our little world in the last year: childcare.
So this year, without my asking, in an amazing feat of self-sacrifice and benevolence, my oldest daughter took the day off work so she could be home to watch the other three. We’re in that awkward phase of the month where bills came out, so did rent, payments, all of that . . . and we’re still a bit behind. We’re good until the end of the week, when I get paid, but just until then.
So imagine my surprise when I’m at work, in the middle of the 168th row of data I’m entering for an investigative piece and the phone rings from home. Now, I understand that things happen, the phone will ring. Her calling me never upsets me, I’d rather they call than if they don’t. Instead, though I was trying not to laugh when she asked
“Can we go out to dinner tonight? I have those gift cards.”
Bear in mind, every holiday my Mom gives Abbi gift cards so we can take the little ones ti IHOP – they love pancakes. The cards are more than enough, for the most part, but I end up paying off the 10 bucks extra and the tip. It’s a necessary part of having four kids. I’m not complaining, it’s just life. But Abbi wanted to take them all to dinner there and the cards just aren’t going to cover it all.
“Do you have any birthday money left? Because I don’t have enough to pay the balance if we go over.”
“Well, then I can’t. Why?”
“They’re driving me crazy!”
I had to control my laughter, I really did, because at that moment – at that precise second – she sounded just like her Mom, my late wife Andrea. Andrea hated when the kids argued, cried, screamed, or did anything contrary to how she wanted things to be. Now, if you have kids at all, you know that it’s almost a requirement to being a kid that you not do what your parents want. It’s part of childhood that you be pernicious just once in awhile. Andrea inherited that intolerance from her Mom, who had it even worse. Crazier still, the kids all knew it, acted worse, and received enormous bribes to behave . . . which ultimately only lasted about an hour and they were persnickety all over again.
So to hear this from their sister, whose presence and demeanor speak more to their Grandma (my Mom) than their Mom, was just a bit of a funny instance to me.
“Have they done their chores?”
“No. They won’t.”
“Tell them to go to the park.”
“I told them they could they won’t”
“Well make them.”
Here’s where, again, the idea that I’m supposed to parent from 30-odd miles away comes in. Not often do I run into this lately. They don’t often spend all day with their sister, but this was one of those instances. It cracked me up because every time a commercial or movie or TV Show with a baby comes on Abbi turns into every woman I’ve ever known and says “awwwww….look at the baaaaby!”
Don’t get me wrong, I love all my kids. But what my daughter doesn’t understand is that I love them even with the dirty diapers, the projectile vomiting, the 3am wake-up-calls, the temper tantrums and the picky dinner eating. When you get that piece of your soul that combines with theirs you don’t really think about those things. Abbi doesn’t remember that nothing – not breast milk, not formula . . . nothing cheap would stay in her stomach. She projectile vomited, exorcist-like, in the apartment where we lived. We spent $150 a box – my dad’s cost – on pre-digested formula designed for those with stomach cancer. One box was 2-days of formula. We had to add oil for brain development, iron for her blood, and vitamins for health to it. It looked like dirty lemonade. It smelled like it, too. I remember this not because I want to rub it in her face but because I was so worried about her I’d have done anything and paid anything to make sure she survived. It was scary.
So when her siblings pitch a fit she can’t handle the noise . . . and I chuckle.
“Tell them that they have to pull up all the leaves and pile them up. If they want to jump in them, fine, but pile them up and ready them for yard waste. One hour outside at least. If not, I take the computer, game system, everything goes away. Hannah does the dishes after and cleans the kitchen, not just picked up. Same punishments for her. I leave in an hour, it needs to be done by the time I get home.”
I’ve given the solution. Still, though . . . comes “so, uh . . . no dinner, huh?”
“Ummm…no. This Friday, when I’m paid. That or we pay $35 bounced check fees for the $10 I don’t have in the bank.”
But at the end of the day, I came home, saw the kitchen, saw the back yard, and the kids were behaving. All was right with the world. I didn’t have to have another discussion, things worked fine.
But I couldn’t help using the line when she complained about how they’d behaved:
“welcome to my world, kiddo!”