I held off a really, really long time and had never used the six words I used tonight:
“Your mother’s not here any more.”
I went almost two years without ever having said that – either in sadness or anger – to any of my kids. But tonight, whether it was a good idea or not, I said them.
Obviously, you need some context for this whole thing. November is one of the biggest ratings periods for people who work in television. I know, they talk about those “people meters” – things that count what a select group of people are watching minute by minute. The reality is, though, that the stations all across the country still use ratings in four months out of the year – February, May, July and November – to count how many people are watching and to set the ad rates for the year.
So as an investigative journalist, obviously November is a biggie. As a result, I work occasional long hours, and this week has been no exception to that. I worked late tonight, telling Abbi – my now 18-year-old daughter – what to make the kids for dinner (leftovers) and working to ensure our story aired properly. All day I’d had what is called a “cluster headache.” It’s like a migraine, most common in men, and excruciating. For me, it starts on one side of the forehead or the other and then trickles down behind the eye. It’s not a horrific, throbbing pain, it’s like an icepick is stabbed into your forehead and twisted around.
So I had this pain all day. I worked late. I talked with his siblings. Then I came home, head splitting open, buzzing, exhausted . . . and Noah walks up in the first 30 seconds I’m home and tells me “I got a yellow card again today.”
That yellow card . . . it’s a discipline card, telling me he’s done something particularly bad today. This comes a day after a note in his lunchbox telling me he got mad at the teacher and broke his pencil. This after his pitching a fit in the classroom and tipping over his desk. I’ve had this discussion with other parents and other adults as to what is going on and how to handle it. The teachers ask what sets him off? I can honestly say some days it’s one thing . . . other days it’s something else. I have no one constant other than the fact that he likes being the center of attention. He likes getting his way.
The other day, when I got the note in Noah’s lunchbox, my oldest daughter was there and saw my shoulders drop. Like her mother – in a different way – she wouldn’t let up so I told her what was bothering me.
“Your brother is just like your Mom . . . Andrea had no control over her impulses. At least at home. She was able to handle what she did but damn her, she never told me how she did it!”
Abbi looked at me, rather sheepishly, and said “well, no, Dad. She didn’t. She got so angry at you and me a lot. I don’t think she did.”
I realized after that I had to explain to Abbi. Andrea, you see, wasn’t the angry, shouting person like Noah . . . in public. She was, though, at home. When people at work or school or wherever drove her crazy, she came home and took it out on me or the kids. When she didn’t get her way – like if her birthday went haywire – there was no reasoning with her.
“I loved your Mom for a million different reasons,” I told Abbi, “but I have to be honest . . . when she did that (and she did it a lot) she drove me bat-sh*t crazy!”
That made Abbi laugh.
“But to be honest, Abbi, I’d be fine if I could get Noah to do that. I’m not married to him, I can tell him to shout all he wants but to do it in his room and not shout at me. I don’t get that, I get notes because he can’t control his impulses!”
When he told me tonight about his yellow card, I broke into angry, hurt, headache-fueled lecturing.
“You just don’t get what you’ve done here, do you?”
Noah looked, and his eyes were watering.
“You realize that if they kick you out of this school I have to take all of you out…I can’t have four kids in three different schools. When you get in trouble . . . when you got suspended for a day I had to leave work for a day during ratings. That’s something that affects my work, which pays for the house, your game boy, your food, your school!”
That’s when the tears started to come.
“It’s not all about you, Noah. I know you like to get your way. I know you may not like all the people around you…hell I don’t like everyone around me but you have to deal with them. Sometimes your boss is someone you don’t like and you still . . . have . . . to behave! I have had to work a lot of hours and I know I haven’t been home, but really?! Again?!”
That’s when I said it.
“I know I haven’t been home, and I know you might miss your Mommy, Noah but your Mom’s not here any more!”
I hated saying it as it came out of my mouth, but I didn’t stop.
“She’s not here to help you deal with this, Noah, she’s not here to help any more. You’ve got a Daddy who loves you, a brother and two sisters who love you and a life that’s, on the whole, not to awful. God knows I wish your Mommy wasn’t gone, but she is. She stopped walking our road, Noah. We have to keep moving forward, hard as it is. You have to walk with us or we all fall behind.”
It’s a hard thing to know you’re failing your son and you don’t know what to do to fix it. I regretted having that conversation, but we’d never had it before and it needed to be said. People tend to be too sympathetic because she’s gone. They tend to give him too much of a pass because she’s gone. It’s been almost two years, and while I don’t blame him for missing her it’s just not an excuse any of us can use all the time.
We are living. It’s actually living well, which I know is hard since at times it’s better than it was when she was around. But I also have come to embrace the fact that there are a lot of really good things that we wouldn’t be doing had she stuck around. I wouldn’t be writing new music. I wouldn’t be in this house. Relationships I have wouldn’t be so strong – ones that I wouldn’t have seen two years ago. I wouldn’t be in such a great job. I wouldn’t be writing.
I told Noah he lost privileges . . . no game boy, no computer use, no games . . . all gone until I say he gets them back. He complied.
I ended telling Noah I loved him, and he said he knew. He loved me too, and gave me a hug. We have a therapist ready for him, but the first appointment for this doctor can’t happen until after Thanksgiving. It’s not because he’s a problem . . . it’s because I know my limitations and I know I’m just not getting him what he needs. That’s the hardest part. He followed me into the kitchen . . . I still hadn’t even taken off my jacket yet . . . and he meekly said “Daddy, my sock monkey has a hole in him…” and he couldn’t finish his interrogative.
I looked at him, as he wiped the tears coming off his face, and told him “I’ll fix him, Noah. Just because you got in trouble doesn’t mean I wouldn’t fix this . . .you know that.”
He walked up and gave me a hug. Santa gave him this because I call him my little monkey. It fits him. Fixing his sock monkey seemed apt, since we need to help fix my monkey as well. I take solace knowing we’ll both get some help soon, I hope.
Then I sat down to do some minor monkey surgery.