Tag Archives: babysitting

A Tomboy and a Dad

Hannah at the Who
Hannah at the Who

When my middle child, Hannah, was born, there’s no doubting the fact that she was almost like the son we’d never had.  She was persnickety.  She hated having her hair braided, bowed, cut, or even tampered with in any way shape or form.  Hannah hated being held unless it was by her mother . . . and her mother alone.  It’s funny, too, because when she was hurt she’d run straight to me – and I wasn’t the pharmacist or medical expert in the family – only to return to her mother after she felt better.  The only thing missing was the proverbial sticking out of her tongue at me to signify that I was good for what was necessary and that’s all.

After her mother passed away just about 2 1/2 years ago, Hannah got a lot closer to me.  Don’t get me wrong, as she got older she sat on my lap and hugged me and all that.  Still . . . she fought me at every turn.  The only times she’d calm down – and I’m not kidding – was when I’d hold her as a baby or toddler and sing Desperado by the Eagles to her.  The song and its cadence along with the simplicity, I suppose, just made her relax.  She actually liked it so I sang it whenever she was crying or whenever she asked.  It was a good opportunity to get closer to her in any way I could.

Today, though, the tomboy returned.  I had to take her brothers shopping for suits and ties and everything they needed for a funeral.  I needed a new white dress shirt . . . and I asked Hannah what she needed.

“I already have black pants and a blazer but I can’t find my dress shirt,” she informed me.
“You mean blouse?” I corrected her.
“Sure, Dad, my blouse.  I don’t know what happened to it.  Did you take it, or one of the boys?”

Now the only way I get her clothes is if, by some miracle from above, she puts them in the laundry when they’re actually dirty.  (Sometimes when they’re not and she’s “cleaning” her room)  Then came the blame that it ended up in the boys’ room.  After that, it was just one thing after another.

I found a pretty blouse that made her grouse in the store.
“It had this weird hole in the back,” she informed me.
“You mean it was ripped?”
“No, it had this weird hole, like a circle.”
I stared at her, informing her, as politely as I could, that women’s clothing have things like that.  The back would button shut but there’s a little loop that exists that is also like a decoration.  Not everything is a comfy old t-shirt.

“Okay,” I informed her, “we’ll get this one, a white blouse that would go well under a black blazer with pants.”

Bear in mind that this is for her grandmother’s funeral and she’s giving a reading at the church.

“Your blazer is a nice one, right?  Pants too?”  I got the obligatory eye-roll after I said this.
“Yes, Dad, I have nice stuff.  The sleeves I usually roll up but I will put them down and it looks nice!”  That should have been my first clue.

When we got home I had her try on her outfit.  It was too late to go back out, by the way, and after she came out and showed me . . . she was sloppy to say the least.
“You can’t wear that,” I informed her.  “That would work for school, or a speech tournament, but not a funeral.”  Her blouse was too casual (my fault) and the blazer was like a sweatshirt material.  The pants were the only workable item.
“Yeah, I kinda thought so,” she informed me.
“You know, Hannah, you should probably wear a dress.”
Her eyes already narrowed and she started to formulate her redress of her father.
“I know,” I told her, “that it’s not fair.  Women should wear what they want, guys wear whatever, whole nine yards, but it’s your grandma’s funeral.  You should dress nice.”
“Daaaad!” She said it in her best teenage timbre.  “I’m a tomboy, and no offense, but you’re a guy.  You’re not Mom or Abbi.  You know how hard it is to find a dress with a guy?!”
I stared at her, calmed myself, and then asked: “who helped your sister find her homecoming dress?”
“you.”
“How long do you remember I was married to your Mom?”
“18 years.”
“I started, Hannah, by telling your Mom she looked good in everything.  Then the one time I was wrong she never forgave me.  From that point on I told her if something looked bad.  You’re built almost exactly like your Mom was when she was your age, so I know what stuff looked like on her.  I’m not going to make you wear something that looks bad.”
“I know, but . . . ”
“Hannah, I went to the Emmy awards, and you know what?  I hate ties and stiff shoes and being uncomfortable, just like you, but I wore a tux.  Sometimes it’s good and builds up your confidence if you dress up and look nice.  It certainly helped me.”
“Dad, this is a funeral!”  She had a point.
“I’m not trying to make you sexy, Hannah.  I’m trying to make you presentable for the occasion.  I know this sounds weird coming from your Dad, but a basic, pretty, nice black dress is a staple.  Not a trendy black dress.  Not a sexy black dress.  I mean a nice, standard, Audrey Hepburn, “every girl should have a little black dress” black dress.  I may not be a fashion designer, but I know what looks nice and I know what will look nice on you!”

She looked at me and resigned herself to the fact that tomorrow after work we’re shopping.  Sometimes being the only parent isn’t just victim of others’ stereotypes it’s your own children’s . . . or yours.  I don’t pretend to know if something’s amazing, but I know the basics.  That’s what she needs: a nice, simple, black dress that she can keep and wear when she needs it.

By the evening’s end she had calmed down.  She actually referenced the song up above: Desperado.
“Did you ever play it on the guitar for us,” she asked?  I hadn’t.  I always had one of them in my arms, her, Abbi, the boys . . . no free arms.

Then Hannah informed me she’d learned it.
“I love that song.  I always remember that you sang it to me.  So I learned it.”
We spent the rest of the evening on the floor of the office with her showing me and by the night’s end we were singing it together, playing it, and she was the happy, smiling little girl on my lap again.

She’s a tomboy . . . and I’m still her Dad.

 

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The Closer to Fall

From the day my sons were born I knew our lives would be completely changed.  I didn’t have a crystal ball, I couldn’t see where things were headed.  If I’d known how their lives were going to change so drastically I would have done a lot of things differently.

I've posted before, but my favorite pic of Andrea when we started dating
I’ve posted before, but my favorite pic of Andrea when we started dating

I would have taken a ton more pictures, for one, including forbidding my wife, Andrea from bowing out of the photos.  She always thought, even when she was young and spry, that she was overweight, too curvy . . . I really don’t know what all else. She grew up being told she needed to lose weight even when she was young, working the Flag Corps, five foot 10 and almost all muscle.  She had curves, yes, but that made her gorgeous, I have to admit.

But Andrea gained weight after having kids.  She lost function on part of her face right after the boys were born as a virus invaded her nerve endings and gave her Bells Palsy in 2003.  The thing she was most proud of – and it is more than a little vain – was that her smile was now crooked.  The thing I told her every day was the fact that she smiled with her whole body.  In that picture there you can see she’s got a twinkle in her eyes.  Her hands in her pockets and her body just slightly forward like she’s ready to burst out of her own body . . . that was Andrea at her happiest and smiling.  When she was happy she was brilliant.  When she was sad, the world around her wept.

So . . . fast-forward to 2011.  The woman whose influence on our lives was very strong, almost too strong a lot of the time, and things go more than a little haywire.

Toward the end, when the boys were little and at their most formative, Andrea had gotten sick.  Not something that caused her death, though the after-effects of it, weight gain (I don’t mean 5-10 pounds, a significant amount of weight) and depression were really hard on her.  The result was it was hard on all of us.  She was unable to work.  She was unable to move around because her knees had worn out all the cartilage and even standing up was painful.  She had to take pain killers to function.

But there’s something those detriments to Andrea did that were brilliant for the boys . . . and is hard on them now.  She was home.  She was home a lot, every day, picking them up from school.  Hell, Andrea spent a lot of time at the school, doing wellness checks (Andrea was a Pharmacist and helped with that) flu shots, you name it, she was there.  Mother’s Day tea?  Andrea was there.  She decorated the house, set up their birthday parties, did everything you can think of a little boy from ages 5 to 8 would love to have.  When they came home from school Mom was home.

Then she wasn’t.

My boys and me . . . taken by Hannah before the movies one night.
My boys and me . . . taken by Hannah before the movies one night.

That change, abrupt, corrosive, violent in its sudden impact was hard.  Sam, the youngest of the twins (by, like, 30 seconds) shut down, for weeks.  He sat, quiet, staring.  He had the TV on and stared out the window.  He’s finally come to being far less self-contained than he was.

Noah, the older boy, was really affected.  In the first days he was sweet and philosophical and just heartbreaking in his embracing all of us.  He changed and as much as he’s a strong personality – much like his Mom – he became far less aggressive and far more sweet in the last two years.  He’s also had the hardest time adjusting.  He’s not really dealt with the loss of his mother and it’s heartbreaking to know that he misses her so much but doesn’t want to talk about it.

So when the kids came home early from visiting their grandparents, I can see there’s even been a change in the last few months.  The boys wake up and check on me in my bedroom as I get ready in the morning for work.  I get their breakfast and they keep an eye on me as I make my lunch.  If I put my laptop in the car before heading out the door they’re looking out the window to make sure I haven’t left before they gave me a hug and kiss and say “see you tonight, Dad!”

The boys aren’t clinging, I think subconsciously checking to make sure I am still here.  They want to make sure I know they love me and they are waiting for me.  There’s part of them, maybe one more than another, who wants to make sure I’m coming home tonight.

The closer we get to Fall, the closer to major changes on the horizon, and I think that makes a difference, too.  Their oldest sister is leaving for college.  They’re attending a new school.  In two years of major changes they’re moving to more changes all over again.  I’m not sure if they’ll do great or if things will be harder on them.  All I can do is assure them that when I drop them at school in the morning I’ll do everything I can to make sure they know I’ll be home that night.  If I can’t get there early, dinner will be waiting for them and I’ll be home to tuck them in.

It’s heartbreaking to me to see them that worried.  It’s hard for me to know that there are just some things I can’t give them and that in their hearts there’s a part of them still hopes if they’re strong enough or ask hard enough Mom might come back.  Part of me wishes I could help that . . . part of me knows that might make things a lot worse.

The closer to Fall the closer to change, but life will keep going.  We will keep writing and developing our story and hopefully it will continue to be happier as the days roll on.

It Works For Us…

I’m almost at the time of year where things go upside-down in my house.

By upside-down, I mean not just for me or that there’s a ton of work, it’s that my kids go to their version of summer camp.  Difference is, it lasts all summer long and I get more benefit out of it than the kids, I think.

Our new house, after we moved in.
Our new house, after we moved in.

Beginning in 2011, out of necessity, my folks picked up all four of my kids and drove them to Nebraska – where I grew up – for the summer.  Now, before you criticize, if you had planned on it, bear in mind that this was not a punishment.  It wasn’t something that was a foregone conclusion, either.  Just over two years ago I was in a frenzy of trying to figure out what I was going to do for the summer.  My oldest daughter, Abbi, was only 16.  My twin sons, Noah and Sam, had just turned 8.  My middle child, Hannah, was 11.

The bigger issue was the fact that those four kids had just lost their mother.  The entire structure, the basic molecular bond of our family was broken.  While she wasn’t the only glue holding together our atoms it didn’t change the fact that somehow they’d been split anyway.  it would have been very easy for our whole family to blow in a burst of energy equivalent to a blast on some Bikini Island atoll.

Instead, thanks to the structure, help, and encouragement of my parents, we got through the first few months.  Eventually summer came, my folks needed to get home to their own lives, and we all came to the realization that I still needed to work.  I was forced to change jobs, lost my house, moved into a rental home and was working out getting my oldest daughter into a different school.  I had no vacation time and my home life was nothing like it had been.

Change.  Lots and lots of radical, unintended change and consequences.  That’s what we faced.

In Nebraska last year. By Hunny Bee Photography's Amy Renz-Manoucheri
In Nebraska last year. By Hunny Bee Photography’s Amy Renz-Manoucheri

But the change was a good change.  Well…not all of it.  I wouldn’t, two years ago, have considered losing my wife a good change.  But the major difficulties we had to face after losing her . . . those ended up being far more positive than we expected.

The kids, in need of structure, routine, and a calm environment got it that first year.  My Mom is the epitome of structure and routine.  That first year the kids and I needed routine.  So for the summer, and last summer as well, my kids got to spend the summer months in a small town.  As a little kid that’s amazing.  They spent tons of time outside.  My Mom had a blow-up pool and bicycles and 3 acres of land to run around in.  They did projects, went to the county museum, and played cowboys and indians outside in the acres of land free of cars, people or rattlesnakes.

It’s brilliant and part of me is a bit jealous they get to do it.  Still, I get to continue working without the minute-by-minute worry the kids are home alone.  It also kept my oldest, Abbi, from having to grow up too soon and act like she is their mother-figure at the age of 16.  That was priceless.

So this year only 3 of the 4 go to Nebraska.  Abbi is working to make some more money for college.  I am working because I took most my time off.  I get to have a couple months with my oldest, like when she was the only child in the house.

Some may criticize and ask how I can let my children go for so long without seeing them.  The difference is, this works for us.  Without doing this, what damage could I be doing to them?  Would they feel alone?  Abandoned? Left to fend for themselves?  I don’t know.  The reality is technology is amazing.  Apple’s FaceTime app lets me see them and tuck them in every night.  Text messages, emails, Facebook, IM . . . all that helps to stay connected.  Is it the physical presence?  No.  Is it worth it to make sure they’re well adjusted?

Yes.

And it works for us.

Haunting Images

The subject of today’s writing I’m not going to post, nor should I, I don’t believe.

I’ve been working on a video project that will post Sunday on my good friend Rene Syler’s Good Enough Mother .  In the process of editing tonight I was foraging through a hard drive for video and pictures I can use to supplement what’s been shot already.  In the process I stumbled on a lot of things.

Abbi as a baby
Abbi as a baby

Some just made me smile.  Where even a year ago I might have teared up and opined the loss of my wife and the kids’ Mom, the picture you see here of our first, my oldest, Abbi, in a hat and holding her Mom’s Organic Chemistry book just made me smile.  It’s a happy, pleasant memory.  I’ve moved to the place, I guess you could say, where the little things that used to make me despair are no longer fodder for my emotional instability.  I don’t lose it with a picture or a song like I did a year ago . . . which seems like an age ago now.

These little reminders show me what I had, and while the closer I edge toward the 26th of March the more affected I am, I didn’t break down like I used to.

But the haunting images that really hit me came in a folder I didn’t remember making nor do I remember having transferred them to my hard drive at all.  In fact, it’s pretty amazing to me that in the days and weeks after Andrea died I didn’t erase the files altogether they are so hard to watch.

Andrea went into the hospital on a Tuesday morning.  That night the kids made Get Well cards that the hospital unceremoniously dumped into a trash bag with Andrea’s dirty clothes and shoes and all after she died.  When I picked up the stuff to remove the old clothes those cards were in the bottom and they were so hard to see, so pleading in their tone that I couldn’t look at them.  I had to have my Mom deal with them.

Last night, though, I found videos.  I only vaguely remember making them.  The second night . . . Wednesday night . . . things were the same as Tuesday, we thought.  I told the kids I’d spend the day in the hospital again.  They asked if they could give her a message since they weren’t allowed in.  (She had pneumonia, her leg had been infected, which turned into cellulitis and because of that they were only  allowing a few people in because they didn’t know what was infecting her leg.)

That night, you have to understand, is when it all went to hell.  At 2am they called and told me she’d gone into respiratory arrest.  I barreled down to the hospital and spent the entire next day talking myself hoarse because she was in an induced sleep.  In an effort to ease the sore throat I played the videos to my wife.

Last night it was like a train screaming down the track at me.  Like I was hypnotized by the cyclops light of the diesel engine as it trundled toward me with hulking speed.  I looked as Hannah asked her riddles and told her how much she loved her.  Sam was awkward and said he loved her.  I urged him to give her a kiss and he blew her a kiss.

Then came Noah’s.

Noah, you see, still has the hardest time dealing with the grief.  He acts out without knowing why.  It’s a trauma he’s faced but doesn’t know why it’s affecting him.  Put in that context, seeing his face on the computer screen was the worst thing I’ve faced in the last year.  His eyes were already watery.
“I love you mommy . . . . sooo very much.”
He wipes his eyes with the interior of his elbow.
“I miss you more and more every minute of every day, Mommy.  Please get better.”
Then he finally can’t hold it in and starts to cry.

You can hear me try to encourage him.  I tell him to give Mommy a kiss and he rushes up and gives the camera a real kiss.  then he ducks away, sad, tearful, and I turn off the camera.

It’s not the video.  It’s not even the content or context, I don’t suppose.  It’s that in that particular moment, right there, I can see the fear and the panic and the sadness before the worst had even happened.  I can watch that and know to myself that less than three days later I came home and confirmed the worry and panic I saw in his eyes.  It’s not what he says, when kids are sad or pleading, sometimes it’s cute. This isn’t cute.  This is horribly painful to watch and I couldn’t stop.

I shut it off.  I could have erased it, I suppose, but I didn’t.  I shuffled the files back into the little hard drive attic from which it came and shut down the computer.  I knew I wouldn’t get any more editing done tonight.

I kissed him and Sam good night again on my way to bed, before sitting here to write.  As a Dad, I want more than anything to make that go away for him.  That’s what hurts.  It’s not my loss, or that Andrea’s gone, it’s that I could see the foretelling of the next two years in the 30 seconds on the screen.

But tonight he’s okay.  He’s safe.  He’s hugging his sock monkey and the owl Abbi made for him.  He’s got a dream catcher on the bed to stop his nightmares and our copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that we’re reading and I silently tell him “good-night, you hoopy frood” and touch his head.

The difference is now I can go to bed and be okay.  We’ve been through that already.  I just need to remind myself…remind all of us…that regardless of the images and memories that might occasionally haunt us . . .

The best is still coming.

The Tiniest of Observations

The kids, at the movies
The kids, at the movies

I’ve had to learn to be a lot more observant.

You wouldn’t think that’s hard, considering the fact that I am a journalist and work in a visual medium.  After all, you can argue that’s part of my job.  It should be inherent, learned through osmosis, even.

I never had to apply those observations to home before.  I mean, sure, I noticed things my wife and kids liked and made mental notes to delightfully surprise them with gifts.  I knew when my wife was upset, I wasn’t totally oblivious.  But today, nearly two years after my wife has passed away, I have to be more than a little cautious.

This may sound strange, but as my oldest daughter’s bathroom is the shared downstairs bathroom, I can tell when “that time of the month” has hit.  It’s not just the scarlet traces on the underside of the toilet lid or the applicators in the garbage can.  When I hear her at the medicine cupboard in the kitchen (I keep it all there . . . safer and I control who gets what.  Remember that, bathrooms are a little too private sometimes for parental medicines) I can tell she needs Naproxen for cramps.  My middle . . . who has a totally different week and inherited her mother’s unfortunate PMS swings shares a bathroom with her brothers.  Same thing.  I see the maxi pad wrapper on the floor.  Two feet from the waste basket.  Next to the empty box, which she then claims she didn’t use all of and steals her sister’s feminine products.

Yeah.  I have to be observant.

I turn the boys around and send them right back upstairs in the mornings when I can tell they didn’t brush their teeth.  I can see when they’ve had some bought, sugary cereal or treat because I have to peel them off the ceiling.  Even if they claim they’re fine and had no such treats.  Sure.  You’re just normally acting this way.

But it’s the emotional signs and triggers that I have to watch.  It’s not social media.  Only my oldest is allowed an account there right now.  It’s the signs and signals that I can see.  It’s how the light in the room dims just a few candlewatts as one of them walks into our sphere.  It’s how my oldest switches from the bubbly, smiley, snuggly little girl to being quiet and terse.  My son, Noah, gets nervous and twitchy when things go differently.

Noah has been that way the last few days.

I know why, mainly because I’ve been noticeably absent on occasion.  I was out of town last weekend and they were all in their oldest sister’s care.  She’s 18, every bit the adult, and worth her weight in gold.  This weekend, they’re staying with their aunt, who cares for their grandma who is terminally ill.  They love going there, but the boys are strangely nervous.  Abbi and I have a college visit and we’re gone . . . just one day . . . but gong nonetheless.

Absence, however little, is hard on them.  They all weigh that their sister is leaving for college in the Fall.  They worry about the changes in our household.  What if Dad changes?  What if our family dynamic changes?

My reaction is to be . . . the same.  Normal.  Well . . . normal is a relative term for us, I get that.  But still, normal for us.  Traveling on a whim, running crazy, messy house, silly cartoon voiced moments that swirl around us like notes in an old Disney movie.  That’s what I do.

I could easily ignore those observations, come home, and just be home acting the part of exhausted and over-worked Dad.  That benefits nobody.  If I wait until they have lost it and go crazy, it’s been too long.

It’s the tiniest of observations that keep us moving forward.

Sam I Am

This isn’t a Seuss style post, though I’d like that the most.
It’s about my son Sam, my youngest little man.
He never speaks out,
Hardly ever shouts
Usually quiet and still as a post.

Last night was a first
While his Dad quenched his thirst
Sam and the choir did sing.
An amazing small voice
From the back row by choice
Throughout the room did ring.

Okay . . . I’m done I can’t find a way to carry on the Dr. Seuss theme for the entire post.

Sam...smack in the middle, back row.
Sam…smack in the middle, back row.

This is, of course, a post about my son, Sam.  Late in the week last week I was told he was supposed to sing at a parents’ meeting at their school along with the choir, guitarists, band, violinists, etc.  When I had to leave work early to pick up the other kids (long story) and get them home, fed, and left to their own devices (another long story) and head back to see Sam perform and attend the meeting.

What’s the old line?  The squeaky wheel gets the grease, right?  That’s not Sam.  Samuel, my youngest twin (by like – 15 seconds) is like his sister Hannah in that he always has a smile on his face.  That’s a big feat for him lately.  He lost his Mom, and he was insanely close to her.  He lost his Grandpa, and though he doesn’t want to admit it, that affected him, too. After losing Andrea, Sam shut down, and I mean, went upstairs, hid, and wouldn’t come out except to eat and talk when he needed to.  That’s all.

But he changed.  Occasionally he’d come to the banister of the staircase and should “Hey Dad?”
“Yeah, Samwise?”
“Love you!”

That always made me smile.  Yes, I know that was still grief he needs to deal with, and some fears that he’s coming to terms with.  I’ve gleaned all that knowledge in the last couple years.  But it still melted my heart a little, and mine had gotten a little cold.  He’s moved to coming up and hugging me at random times, which is just as good in my book.  He’s smiling . . . a lot.

So when Sam wanted, halfway through the year, to re-join the choir I couldn’t tell him “no.”  I’m a musician, I like that he wants to be there.  I also think the kid has near perfect pitch – better than mine even.  When tonight came up, even thought it meant a mad-dash scramble, I was eager to be there.

And there Sam was . . . voice ringing out, and once in awhile looking over the head of the little girl in front of him to check if someone was there to watch him.  About a minute in he noticed I was there, front and center, and his eyes, face, and smile lit up.  He sang louder.

The Choir
The Choir

He was happy.

We’ve had a rough few weeks in the household, and it would be easy to fall into despair.  I wish I could say I had the chance to sink into it myself, but when your kids are hurt worse . . . you put your face to the wind and weather the storm.  This storm was far less grating than the one two years ago.

And in the end . . . I got that smile . . . and an excited, verbose recitation on the way home from my son, Sam.

And I loved every minute of it.

The Consternation of Hormones

I have two hormonal kids in my house.

Well, it’s going to be four in the not-so-distant future.

My girls...by Amy Renz Manoucheri's Hunny Bee Photography
My girls…by Amy Renz Manoucheri’s Hunny Bee Photography

The two girls, ages 18 and 13, are the first to walk down the road of acne, hormones, the opposite sex, and . . . well for them, menstruation.  None of these things breeds a calm and easygoing environment in my household.

I should preface this with the fact that it’s not like I am not used to the hormonal changes in my house.  My wife, God rest her soul, was one of the most insane PMS-ing women in the world.  I mean . . . those cartoons where the woman during her cycle turns into the head of Godzilla with the body of a velociraptor . . . that was Andrea.  I learned very early in our relationship that the one week a month was one where I was never going to make her happy and that everything was my fault.

Abbi, my oldest, is fairly even-keeled.  Now, she still has her moments, but they’re more or less minor and she understands if she’s being unreasonable.  Her 13-year-old sister Hannah, however, doesn’t fall into that category.  Hannah inherited her mother’s hormonal . . . well, imbalance for lack of a better phrase.  It’s funny, she’s built like her mother, looks like my side of the family, and has traits from both sides.  She’s truly a unique mixture from the DNA commingling of our gene pools.

But I have tolerance to a degree.  I was not the most pleasant of teenagers and my mother dealt with the fact that there were three boys, all with different hormones and all with different ideas of what things should be like.  I don’t blame my kids for the outburst or eye roll or other things that some parents punish for without reason.  However, tolerance needs to be earned, to a degree, as well.  Hannah is about to take on a load more responsibility.  In less than a year she’ll be watching her brothers and she has to act like she’s responsible.  This after getting yet another email this evening from a teacher saying she has assignments missing.

Here’s where the hormones come in.  I ask why I get the email and I get “Geez . . . I don’t know, why didn’s she say anything?!”
“Why would she, Hannah?”
“Because she complimented me on getting my grades back up.”
“Yes, but . . . it’s not her homework, Hannah, it’s yours!”
“But Daaaaadddd!  Why wouldn’t she just tell me?!”
“Ummm . . . she is.  By sending me an email.  Not her job to look after your homework, Hannah.”
Here’s where the eye roll came in.  It’s also where I informed her that if she didn’t fix it . . . the guitar goes away again.  That stopped the eyerolling.  It became sort of eye popping, but she realized I follow through on my punishments and smartly let it drop.

The Boys, during our March trip to NE
The Boys, during our March trip to NE

But I worry.  Sam has started getting acne and he’s only almost ten.  He’s the flirty, sociable, funny kid.  Noah is just starting to see that changes in skin tone from soft kid-like, to growing more.  So in the midst of that I see more hormones invading the home.

So I wait . . . and worry for the hormonal wasteland of pubescent angst to start hitting in full force.  I used to joke that – before we found out we were having twin boys – we’d end up with four girls and they’d all have their period on a separate week of the month.
“Why do you think that?” my wife used to ask.
“Because God has a sense of humor,” I used to joke.

But the joke’s still on me.  Don’t need menstrual cycles or girls with hormones . . . boys have their own issues.  Now I have to think how I’m going to contend with that.

Turns out . . . I was right.  Four kids, all in the house with hormones giving me constant consternation.
God does, it turns out, have a sense of humor.

Seriously?! Still?!

I got home tonight and I couldn’t help it.  I lost it.

Yes, I know that’s the 3rd or 4th time this week, and some might argue that “this seems more your problem than your kids.'”  But they’d be wrong.

You see, the one thing . . . the singular . . . solitary . . . thing I’d asked my middle daughter to do when I walked out the door this morning and got in the car to take her and her brothers to school was to do her chores.

My recap for you is this:

I dole out chores to each of the kids.  It’s not like they’re parenting each other or anything, but I’m one guy.  I cook, I get the groceries, I do the laundry, I vacuum, I end up cleaning all the bathrooms each week, I plan the meals, I get to drama club shows, I see Christmas plays, I go to events and such.  I also have a job where I work 40 hours a week at minimum.  The result is that the kids have to do something around the house or we’re in a world of hurt.  So here’s the breakdown:

Abbi and Me

Abbi: pick up the kids and watch them.  Homework has to be completed at the Extended Day Program as well as at home if there’s still some left when she gets them.  Then she ensures the house doesn’t burn down or anything.

My girls...Hannah on the left
My girls…Hannah on the left

Hannah: Dishes/kitchen cleanup.  That’s it.  One job.  It’s a daily job, to be sure, but it’s one job.  I had it as a kid, so did both my brothers.  Not rocket surgery.

Noah and Sam doing one chore

Noah and Sam: fold and put away the laundry.  That’s everybody’s, not just theirs.  On top of that, dirty clothes need to go in the hamper if they’re lying around.

Shouldn’t be hard, right?  I mean if I cook the meals how hard is it for them to clean up?

Apparently as difficult as translating the Rosetta Stone.

So let me explain why I lost it so badly.  I told my daughter, Hannah, on the way down the stairs this morning that the dishes had to be done.  There were, literally, no plates, bowls, spoons or forks to eat with this morning.  None.  I told her that if we didn’t have them done not only did we have nothing to eat off there was nothing to cook on either.

So fast-forward to about 6pm.  We’re in the break between storm #1 and storm #2 of a 3-storm frenzy here in Sacramento.  A so-called “Pineapple Express” is on its way and we’re about to get plastered.  It’s not even raining or windy and the drivers here have lost their minds.  Either too slow and rubber-necking (which drives me bat-sh*t crazy!) the wrecks on the opposite side of the freeway or weaving because they’re on their cell phones.  My normally 40-minute commute in a car (normally I take the train, but it was raining) took me 1 1/2 hours.

So I stop at Target, get – as a treat for the girls – soup, including Panera’s Broccoli-Cheddar for a warm comfort-food meal. Don’t do it often, but got that and Disney-fied Phineus and Pherb chicken noodle for the boys.  I had split pea.

But walking in the door I hear “X-Factor” on the television upstairs and the kitchen is actually worse off than when I left.  I opened the dishwasher and it’s full of the same dishes from 2 days ago!  I lost it.  I put the bags down and trying to be calm I sat on the couch and turned on the television and sat there.

Hannah came down the stairs . . . after about 20 minutes . . . and was excited to tell me something.  I interrupted her.

“You have any idea how pissed I am right now?!”
“Why?”
“Look to your right.  What do you see in the kitchen?”
“Dirty dishes.”
“What was the one thing . . . the one thing I asked you to do tonight!”
“Clean the kitchen.”

The boys walked in . . . “what’s for dinner?”
“Nothing.”
“Nothing?!”
“Nope . . . I have no way to cook it.  No pans.  No spoons.  No bowls.  No dishes . . . no dinner. If they’re not done by bedtime no dinner tonight.  Sorry.”

See . . . even if she’d run the dishwasher there was at least an hour wait and it was almost 8pm already.

She went in and washed three pans . . . five bowls . . . and all the spoons.  By hand.

After we all ate and sated ourselves I informed them that, again, there’s no dessert.  No pans, no utensils . . . no dessert.  Heads hanging they did their bedtime routines and got ready.  As Hannah started to head up with us I stopped her:
“Get back down there and do the dishes!”
oh.”
“yeah…oh.”

She did them . . . to the extent that the dishwasher – already full – was run.  She snuck to bed and left another massive mess on the counter.

My balancing act here, though, is that I have to make the lunches and such.  While I wouldn’t have starved my kids, I can’t skimp on their lunches because there are too many people who would make a fuss and be nosy and just a pain in my behind if I didn’t give them a full lunch.  So I made a small pan of brownies and that was it.

Their older sister, you see, had tons of homework and didn’t know how to juggle the responsibilities . . . along with her own part-time job.  Tonight, though, I’m sicking her on them.

If the kitchen is still a mess . . . I might just go to the movies . . . alone . . . and let them fend for themselves.

The things I used to do…

Things That I Used to Do by Muddy Waters

The way I’m raising my kids is slightly different than the way my parents raised me.  Well, let’s face it, the way I’m raising my kids is a lot different than how I was raised.

That’s not a criticism of my parents, in fact I’d kill to be able to give my kids the upbringing that I had.  I just can’t do it.  Life got in the way of the best laid plans, I suppose you could say.

Here’s what’s different: I was raised by my father and mother, both, and they did a really good job.  Sure, I do things a bit differently, I’m a different person with similar genetic makeup.  Some things are the same.  I say things once in awhile and my oldest daughter says things like: “god, you sound like Grandpa” and I kind of like that.  I admire my father, he’s the greatest man I know.  I also admire my mother, who had to be one of the strongest women I’ve ever met to raise three strong-willed and sarcastic sons.

My Mom is a nurse.  She never got her certification, she got married and stayed home to take care of us.  I never looked at her as less of a person or less capable as anyone else because she was whip-smart, stern, and could be the most loving person I’d ever met.  I know, because I tended to, as a little kid, need more care and attention because I was very sick.  There was no way she could have worked, if she wanted to, because I was in and out of the hospital.  Every person who tries to tell me or my kids that a woman – who is like my Mom, anyway – who stays home either isn’t working or is contributing less to our society angers me more when they make those crass statements.

I would kill to be able to stay home.  Not because I’m lazy but because there are too many things with too little time to do them all.  When my wife was around we had basketball games, school plays, Boy Scouts, all of that.  Extracurricular activities were like any other family.  I volunteered at school – a lot – and so did my wife.

When I was a kid I did all that, too.  My Mom had dinner ready, there was no scramble, at least that we were aware of, and we always got to things on-time.  My older brother didn’t always come to our events, but I didn’t expect him to, either.  My Mom was home and we ate early on nights we had a play or what have you and we got home and the routine seemed to hold.  My Dad, in his busiest years, still managed to meet us at the school plays and games.  Basketball games . . . he drove us to those himself.  My Mom drove us to state music contests on the other side of the state.  All that was available.

I don’t have that routine the way she did.  There’s no other person there to help and everything’s a mad scramble.  Tonight was a perfect example of that.  I was texting Abbi, my oldest, on what temperature to put a small ham in the oven.  I had leftover rice for the side.  I raced home, but traffic was a nightmare.  There’s no other person to wrangle the kids, so Abbi had already left for her drama department’s “Improv Night.”  I got home at 6:30pm and cut the ham, laid out the plates on the table, and raced out the door.  I got to the school right about 6:59pm.  Two hours later, my ribs appropriately tickled and I gave my daughter a hug and told her she made me laugh.  It made her smile.

So, yeah, if I’d been smart I’d have cornered the market on lottery tickets (I didn’t, it was raining and I had no time) and prayed that I get a portion of that Powerball tomorrow.  Instead, though, I powered through.  My three kids ate.  I would eat later.  It’s not a punishment and it’s not that I’m complaining.  I’ve missed meals.  I’ve skipped several in a day, in fact, only to realize at midnight I was starving.  I thought to myself on the way to that theater that I might have messed things up a bit.  I’m only one person, after all.

But when I opened the door and walked in the theater, there, peeking around other actors, was Abbi.  She was content, but when she saw me walk in her face lit up, and her eyes sparkled.  That snuggly little bear of mine – now a woman I suppose – was happy.  I remembered that look, that feeling, when I’d peek through the curtain and see my Mom and Dad sitting in the audience.  They never missed a show.

I don’t raise my kids the same way.  Still, I got a few things right.

Abbi doing improv

Silence speaks volumes

I left Friday night in the hands of my now 18-year-old daughter.  It’s amazing the things that happen when that date hits.  The Social Security Administration tells me her checks have to come directly to her bank account.  That’s not something that bothers me at all, the money’s always been used for her anyway.  Not fancy gadgets or trips or anything…we eat, pay the allowable part of rent, all that with the kids’ checks.  We have to reach a point where we’re able to survive without out it next year anyway.

At 18 I don’t have to sign notes for the school . . . at 18 she can decide to be on-camera or join groups or what have you.

The advantage is that I trust my daughter.  I know much of the details of her life without her even realizing it, I suppose.  If she did I’m not certain it would surprise her that awful much.

I’ve tried very hard to raise independent, smart, and outspoken daughters.  Not the kind who would give in to anyone – let alone a guy – just because it’s easy.  Ones who wouldn’t end up feeling awkward if they’re not comfortable doing what the crowd does.  Ones who don’t like the idea of being so plastered or stoned because it’s not “enhancing” their lives, it’s really numbing them and killing those amazing synapses in their heads.  Ones that won’t give in to some guy who says he needs to have sex with them for their relationship to be worthwhile.

At the same time, though, my daughter has told me in no uncertain terms that “you’re just not the typical guy, Dad.”  I don’t know that the statement was made as a compliment at the time.  Basically, my disdain for using other people doesn’t translate to the real world well.  It’s one of the reasons I have a close cadre of real friends and the rest . . . well, they’re more colleagues or acquaintances.  I’d help them if asked, and I’m friends with them.  But those closest . . . if they called and needed help, even at a moment’s notice, I’d jump on a plane or boat or bungee cord to get to them if they needed help.

But this weekend Abbi wanted her birthday to carry over to a party with her friends.  We couldn’t pull off the party.  Abbi made no decisions on what to do.  My finances were limited.  Nothing was working the way she wanted.  Ultimately, in my search through events we found an event in Cupertino, CA – three hours away.  The men from the show “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” were performing the show live . . . and DeAnza College in the Bay Area.  Sure, I thought it sounded fun.  These four 18-year-old girls, though, they are drama kids.  They were enamored with the idea of seeing an improv show.

So I left this in Abbi’s hands.  She had to split the cost since I’d already bought her a dress and still have to fix her phone which she dropped in the sink while apparently doing her hair and texting at the same time.  (She’s been without a phone for more than a month, by the way.  While I hate having to fix it, having her without it is killing me in terms of how to keep everyone in line and in contact)  She had to figure out how to get her siblings, drive them to her aunt’s house an hour away; get home and pick up her friends; drive to my shop in Sacramento; then hit the road.

She managed it.  Her aunt watched the other three for the night.  I got to drive . . . with four teenage girls for three hours each way to Cupertino and back.

I got about 10 words in, I think.

I don’t mind, though.

You’d be amazed the things you leave by being the fly on the wall in that kind of environment.  Sure, I know they weren’t ever going to say more than they wanted.  I’m the adult in there, after all.  But still . . . I know which guys are “players” and which ones are nice.  I know who they each think are cute and who they have crushes on.  No, none of them said it explicitly, but I’m a journalist.  Tone of voice speaks volumes.

So does silence.

I learned a lot on that car ride.  More than anything, it was to fight the urge to be a guy.  When I heard conversations, or thought my daughter was going over-the-top in her comments or they had a heated discussion about how their classes were going (or not going) I wanted so badly to say something.  Guys, you see, want to fix everything.

But I had to put myself in the position of understanding this wasn’t my conversation, not really.  What good would it do, anyway?  Did I honestly think the same conversation hadn’t been held a dozen times or more before?

So yes . . . I kept silent.  It wasn’t hard, I don’t know there were any pauses in the conversation.

But still . . . I’m a Dad.  I made sure there were a few embarrassing stories of Abbi’s childhood thrown in for good measure.

Like the time she climbed on the roof on Thanksgiving day. . . Oh . . .but that’s a story for another time.