Tag Archives: bedtime

Sugary Sweetness is Sour

The three culprits

Standing On Higher Ground by the Alan Parsons Project from the LP: Gaudi

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.
“Why?”
“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.”
“So?!”
“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?!”
“no.”
“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.

Why Vinyl is Just Better!

New Tedschi Trucks LP on vinyl!

I’m going to just come out and say it, Hipsters be damned and readers who think I’m being a hypocritically arrogant ass can criticize all the want: vinyl is just better.

I know you’re going to tell me I’m nuts.  “CD’s and iPod downloads are just so better!  They can go with you anywhere,  you can take them with you, all of that.”

And you’d be right.

Yes, you can take the equivalent of every CD and LP I own with you on a single iPod, I’m sure.  But that doesn’t make them better.  You have to understand, I’m not talking about audio quality or digital download rates or even the frequency sweep or response of the audio signal.  Vinyl is just better, particularly for me and my family.

When I was a kid, you waited desperately to see if there was a new album coming out from your favorite artist.  I loved Santana, Clapton, the Eagles, BB King, Alan Parsons, Floyd . . . all of it.  Even when cassettes came into fashion I bought vinyl anyway.  You could always make a copy of the LP, you couldn’t easily (or sonically) make a good copy of a cassette tape.

I remember growing up and going into town to the department store and going through the records.  I remember the feel and shape of the sleeves.  Every LP was like a picture wrapped in cellophane.  Layla is one of the most amazing records ever recorded and it’s got one of the most distinctive album covers of all time.  Led Zeppelin III has a spin wheel inside where the crazy, psychedelic items move through windows on the front cover of the album.  Santana’s Abraxas and III were both literal works of art.  Hell . . . Velvet Underground’s LP was done by Andy freaking Warhol!

There’s also the ritual.  An iPod isn’t shared music.  And LP is.  You have to turn off the TV, the extraneous noise, and be careful not to bounce around and skip the needle.  You have to listen.  You gently pull the sleeve out of the cover and clean the record and let the needle do its work.

When I was little, no more than 7 or 8, my Dad brought home new LP’s nearly every week.  He’d walk in and before we even ate dinner he’d take them out of the bag and we’d go through the stereo ritual.  We’d take the album out, clean it, start the turntable and listen.  I remember the very days he came home with Hotel California; Aja; Fly Like an Eagle; Live at the Regal; Time Out; Kind of Blue – the greatest records ever made and I was sharing the experience thousands – millions – did as well.  The disc turned and I read the liner notes and looked at the gate-folds and reveled in the music.

Don’t get me wrong, I walked around the Black Keys concert I attended with my daughter and had to get a beer in order to chemically calm myself from grabbing a razor and a shotgun and forcibly shaving the awful hipsters around me to act like earthly human beings.  That, and the number of guys my age trying to find girls Abbi’s age who were wearing t-shirts cut to show cleavage and shorts that rode up to reveal far too much of their asses.  I don’t like the idea of vinyl because it’s a status symbol.

At our home, vinyl is put on the turntable for dinner.  We use it to relax.  It’s a shared experience.  I have the stereo set up in the living room and we listen.  Each child gets to choose, and while they have the option of grabbing a CD, we’ve only done that a couple times in over a year.  The kids like the idea of using the records, some old, some new, like the Tedeschi Trucks LP you see up there.

It’s a routine we’d never done when my wife was around.  We used the awful sound from the DVD player or used the Jazz channel from the cable box when Thanksgiving or Christmas came around and it grated on me.  Andrea always wanted me to get rid of the stereo but I wouldn’t.  I’m glad I never relented.  I have the same turntable I did through High School and college.  I have the same stereo.

Having been in the recording studio and my brother and I knowing that the analog equipment sounds better than the digital – I understand the appeal.  But for me it’s not just the vinyl.  It’s the memories.

Memories that are old . . . and now the ones we’re creating.  So you can be cleaner, digital, cold and crisp in its sterility and perfection.  It’s the mistakes and off-key notes that make life interesting.

Vinyl is just better.

Ever this day be at my side

The Boys, during our March trip to NE

Isn’t It a Pity (Live)

When I first tucked the boys into bed the week after we lost Andrea I didn’t know what to do about our nighttime routine.  Abbi started us, when she was little, saying the Guardian Angel prayer.  It’s a simple routine: I read a chapter out of a book to the boys and then say our prayers.

But Andrea, when we started doing the typical little kid thing of “God bless Grandma Kathy; Grandpa Jeff; Cousin Holly . . . ” she thought the whole process was taking far too long.  So we threw it all together – bless Mommy, Daddy, Abbi and Hannah and Noah and Sam and then added all my Grandmas and Grandpas, Aunties and Uncles and cousins and friends.  And please help me not to have bad dreams.

But in the first days after losing her I didn’t know what to do.  The first days the routine was likely the same, but I can’t remember how they went for sure.   I remember the day the whole process felt weird to me, though.  I went to the boys’ room, read that chapter, and then said the prayers and for the first time I left “Mommy” out of it.  I thought it just came and went, as odd as it felt, and that was it. But the boys looked at me and told me “We can still keep Mommy in the prayers, Dad, why did you leave her out?”
“I don’t know boys, I guess because she’s not here.”
“Just because she’s not in the house with us doesn’t mean we shouldn’t say it.  We can still say it like she’s here.  She is.”

I was very touched by that.  I was struggling with losing Andrea, I think because I was just so hurt and sad.  But here were these two little seven-year-old kids who were taking things in far more faith than I was.  I kept it in the nighttime routine from that point on.

But the last few weeks I’ve noticed something in the boys.  We’d say the prayers and the boys would do it the same.  We left our home, I quit my job, but the routine and the prayers remained the same.  But I noticed, particularly in Sam, that we would say the prayers, after a 1/2 hour of reading a book.  We’d get through the main prayer and say the part about Mommy and Daddy . . . except Sam isn’t saying Mommy any more.  He lets me say it, but he is notoriously quiet when it comes time to say it.  Noah too.  I haven’t asked them about it, but they are obvious about how they quiet down.  The room goes from three voices to one – mine.  Then they chime back in for “Daddy”.

I get it.  Sam’s been very afraid of being left alone.  Noah worries about what happened.  They don’t know what to think about the fact that their mother is gone.  I can see the way they think in the fears that they’ve had rise to the surface.  Sam has a very large fear of being abandoned . . . of being left behind.  Noah worries when we’re not all together.  The boys are worried about what I have thought about myself.  They feel like their Mom left them behind.  Yes, she’s here, in their hearts, but they’re 9 years old now.  They don’t feel that’s enough some days.  I play with them, I hug them, I do all I can, but I’m not their Mom.

They don’t act angry, nor are they acting out.  But I understand.  There are days that I feel the same.  There are days they wonder why they weren’t enough for her to stay around.  They wonder why she had to leave.  They wonder why she died and other kids got to keep their Moms.  All I can say to them is that sometimes the world just doesn’t make sense.  There’s no reason why a resistant strain of pneumonia had to attack her and nobody else.  I can’t explain why her kidneys had to fail and her body attacked itself when they tried to do dialysis on her.  I don’t know why she had to leave and it hurts and confuses me as much as I am sure it does them.

So I don’t correct them or ask, not now.  They tell me whenever they need something or have questions.  For now it’s their little way of showing their anger at their Mom, I know that, for leaving them.  I don’t blame them a bit, it’s not like they can tell her, and as loyal as they were in the beginning, they are likely feeling the way I have been lately.  They miss her, they hate that she’s gone, and they’re mad but don’t want to be mad.  So at the end of the day, they get back at her without hurting her too badly.  But they’re mad and don’t want me to know it.

If they need to tell me, they’ll tell me, but for now I don’t say anything.

But I take solace in knowing that regardless of what they need or how they feel, I will try my hardest to make sure that they know of anyone, I’ll be at their side.

When Summer Comes

My extended family…in our last NE trip

Summertime Blues (Live) by the Who from the LP Live at Leeds

In my poor planning and idiotic reliance on a tax refund, I hadn’t realized that I’m only weeks away from the end of the school year.  Less than a week and Abbi’s out, moving onto Senior year . . . just like that.  Hannah will head to her final year of middle school.  I let it slip by, ignored the dates, and my father hit me with the question he’d asked over and over again: “when do the kids get out of school?”

The girls were the first to visit their grandparents.  It started the year we moved to Sacramento.  My folks missed the kids horribly and wanted to spend time with them.  When my folks wanted the time to get longer and longer it weighed heavier and heavier on my wife.  She didn’t like being away from the kids.  I think part of her really didn’t like my parents having any influence over her kids, which I believed then – and firmly believe now – was a foolish thing.  My Mom is definitely a take-charge kind of woman and my Dad has his opinions.  They might very well take over and run things if you let them . . . but that’s the key: if you let them.

The longest the kids ever stayed with my folks when Andrea was alive was a month.  Andrea hated it.  Even 2 weeks was too much for her.  You have to understand as well that when we got to California she had a very unrealistic view that her Mom would take care of the kids while she worked . . . and I think she believed her Mom would take care of her when she got home.  The hardest thing in the world is to grow up and see the weaknesses and flaws in your parents.  To you, particularly in those most formative years, they are indestructible.  Andrea always fought them but secretly wanted her Mom to take care of her.  The worst thing in the world was when she realized, as an adult, that her Mom was neither willing nor able to do that work – not when she was a kid, and really not now when we had our kids.

Look, I know this sounds harsh and I’m not trying to be mean.  Four kids . . . it’s a hard number to wrap your head around.  I even told Andrea she had no expectation – nor no right – to try and make her Mom take care of bother her and the kids.  I had raised a red flag saying that the agreement her Mom would watch our kids would never come to a good end.  I had seen the reality by how many times Andrea had been disappointed in our marriage with too high expectations and I expressed my worries to both her and her parents.  I was assured they were unfounded.  In the end, they weren’t.  It led to major bouts of depression and anxiety on my wife’s part.  It also led to my having to try and calm down both Andrea AND her Mom on some days, something I was not equipped to handle.

Now, I’m faced with doing the very thing my wife hated: sending my kids away for the summer.  My dilemma isn’t whether or not they can handle it, though I have that worry.  It’s whether or not they’re bored or hurt by having to be there.  That . . . and I’m not sure can handle it.

I was in a fog when I got back to work last year.  When I changed jobs (by necessity, not choice) I probably should have taken even more time off.  When July came last year, I took a pilgrimage over 1 weekend . . . on my birthday . . . to avoid being here.  Now I hit my 2nd summer and I’m not sure what I’ll do alone in the house.

I know I could go to Nebraska and visit the kids, and I will, but it’s not the whole summer.  I could surely work my behind off, hang out downtown, do a bunch of things, but it’s not changing the fact that I’m faced with the fact that I have 2 and a half months where I’m left to face the fact that my house is empty.  It’s like looking at my future and realizing that it’s where I’m heading in the next 9 years.  I don’t know what I’m going to do from here.  I love my job, but do I love it here in California enough to stay after the kids leave?  Will I continue to be an investigative journalist?

I know it’s not easy to face these questions, and I shouldn’t.  But I’ve come to realize that I’m only just now, in this last few weeks, looking more than a day ahead.  I got through last year, last summer, all of it by looking only at each day . . . trudging through the morning, the afternoon, getting through to the night, and then starting it all over again.  It became routine.  But the routine isn’t effective when it’s having to change constantly.  I will have 5 more years with Hannah and then it’s me and the boys.  After that, what?

It’s hardest because, the weeks that the kids would spend in Nebraska I always wanted to take advantage of.  I wanted to grab Andrea and head to LA or to London or anywhere . . . I wanted to find some of that spark again, the thing that had us so amazed with each other, unable to stop holding hands or kissing in public, damn the stares.  But she wouldn’t do it.  She was obsessed with the fact the kids weren’t here, wouldn’t travel, and counted the days until they were back.

I now face those summer days alone.  I don’t have a choice.  I can’t work if they’re home alone and it’s not fair to my oldest to keep them home and make her watch them . . . that, and I’m not sure she’d do it right.  It’s easy to be coddling and attentive when you’re babysitting.  It’s easier to ignore the arguments and head to your room when it’s your siblings. To survive and pay for everything these kids need I have to work and keep them watched and cared for.  My parents volunteer to do it.  I also love the influence they have and the feeling that my childhood home, to these kids . . . is home.

It’s the one thing that gets me through the summer.  Where they are far away, they are so happy and cared for.  I’m happy they have such an amazing summer ahead of them.

And perhaps I’m a little jealous.

Who’s the Boss . . .

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

My day started to end exactly how it had begun: with my frustrated madness coming out of every pore of my body.  My children don’t normally get on my nerves to the point of my getting so pent up that I bark at them, but the last couple days have led to that very behavior.  I do know that I’ve been under stress for our financial and behavioral situations, but that doesn’t mean I can’t tell which plight is influencing my behavior. 

Tonight should have been relatively simple.  I made extra cookies – Snickerdoodles – that the kids could eat and stave them over until we got to dinner, which is usually roughly 7pm or 7:30.  I’ve had to forego the “Midnight Snacks” their Grandma started because we’re just eating too late and the amount of cereal, milk and bananas has run out.  I can’t make a grocery run until Friday night.  Still, I thought I had it covered.  Enough cornbread muffins and other treats to last.  I’d, of course, have been silly to think that was the case.  I walked in the door and the bag of muffins was empty but for 3.  The cookies were all gone.  It was like I’d left a voracious Muppet (copyright 1967 Henson, Inc. Giving credit where due) had entered the house and inhaled what food wasn’t uncooked and lying unsuspectedly on the counter top.

I tried my best to stay calm, I really did, but when they had a specific amount they were supposed to limit as their intake – not because I’m being tight, but because I don’t want them eating that many empty, sugar-filled calories – I get just so damn frustrated.  It’s like their Mom’s impulse control has infected them all in the last week or two.  But I calmed, made more cookies (God bless the Sunbeam corporation for their mixer . . . it’s been a godsend since I bought it) and got the routine going.  Tonight was a perfect example of using what we had but eating what my wife would never have fathomed attempting to eat.  I actually made it for her once, and she just turned her nose up at it.  For me, it was like going back to my childhood whenmyMom was trying to make ends meet on a low budget.  Take some hamburger patties, add some onion, spices, fry them up, mix up a gravy with Mushroom soup and such, and have a side of rice and green beans.  That was our dinner.  The kids ate it, though Noah turned his nose up at the fact that the patties were soaked in “sauce”.

But here’s where my line to my kids has never waivered: you want to eat, you eat what’s given to you.  If you’re hungry, you’ll eat it.  I mean, my brother’s favorite food, as well as my Dad’s, was “cabbage rolls”.  A spiced beef and rice mixture rolled in cabbage leaves and baked in the oven.  I hated it, gagged on it, but I ate it just the same . . . until I was old enough to make something else.  “You don’t like it, make your own dinner,” was always my Mom’s mantra, and I finally did on those cabbage roll nights.  My kids are too lazy, it seems, to realize that if they don’t like it there’s usually some alternative they could make themselves.  But this isn’t bad food.  It’s not even that unhealthy, it’s low-fat versions of all the stuff and should not clog our arteries.

After that, though, came the nighttime routine.  My kids needed to brush their teeth, get shower, all of it.  I’ve gotten them into using their own shower, not mine, just because they’re old enough to do that.  That, and I’m tired of . . . again . . . their having to come two hours later into my bathroom and clean up the clothes and crap they’ve left everywhere.  Also, those glass-walled shower stalls get so freaking moldy one shower is enough for the thing.  While they’ve moved to their shared bathroom it doesn’t mean their behavior has changed. 

In the middle of the whole thing, I’ve pushed the kids to make sure that they put their clothes for the next day together.  Their belts are to remain with their backpacks downstairs because, quite frankly, I got sick of looking for belts every . . . single . . . morning!  tonight, one of the 4 belts they use “just disappeared, Dad!”  I made them both look.  Every 5 minutes they came to me saying they couldn’t find it.  Finally I said “if I get up and find this damn thing in under 2 minutes you’re both going to get it!” 

They said there’s absolutely, positively, no way they could find one, never.  I headed up the stairs and – lo and behold  – found one under a pair of the boys’ dirty pants, right where I told them they’d likely find it.  The inevitable fight over whose fault is was ensued.  When I informed them it was both their faults for the messy room the protests started, like Occupy Torrazzo had begun.  I less than politely and at full volume stopped the argument. 

Then came Hannah’s turn.  I swear, it was like a full moon had occurred . . . until I realized the sugar they’d eaten today.  They all denied that they ate all the muffins and cookies.  I knew there was no way that was true so they all had to get moving.  But upstairs, I hear Hannah bossing the boys around.
“You left all your clothes on the floor of the bathroom, boys, do you know how annoying that is?!”
I couldn’t resist chiming in.  “Now you know how it feels, Hannah.”
“But you guys can’t do that I trip over them!”
It was like I wasn’t even there.  “Hannah, you only last week started putting your dirty clothes in the laundry basket . . . the same laundry basket that’s just 3 feet away from your bedroom!  You have no room to talk!”
But Hannah was having none of it.  She started lecturing her brothers, who know they only are 3 years apart from their sister.  They weren’t taking the verbal browbeating. 
“You do it too, Hannah!”
Hannah started bossing them.  Telling them they had to go pick them up, telling them to listen to her.  She’s acting like she’s older, so she’s in charge, which isn’t the case; particularly when I’m at home. 
“Knock it off you three of I’m going to punish you all!”

I wasl already moving from the kitchen, where I’d just put cookies in the oven, to the staircase when the screaming started.  A wail like I hadn’t heard in awhile from Sam.  Tears were being shed.  The world according to Hannah was being enforced, a little too violently.
“What the hell happened?!”
Noah, the town crier, informed me “Hannah hit Sam . . . hard . . . on the head!”
It was like I was living Bill Cosby’s “Himself” monologue.

Hannah, what did I say to you not 2 minutes ago?!
“That I was doing the same thing last week.”
“And whose job is it to punish you kids if you do something wrong?”
“But Dad, they . . . ”
“Hannah, before you finish that sentence, turn around and look in your bedroom’s doorway.  I dare you to tell me what is clean and what is dirty on that floor . . . a floor a full 3 feet away from the laundry basket.”
She just looked at her shoes.
“Who . . . is the Dad in this house, Hannah?”
“You are.”
“Did I not just tell them to clean it up, inform them they had to do it every night, and then remind you that you had to leave this alone because you do the same thing?”
“Yes.”
“So what do you do now?”
“I’m sorry, Sam.”

Hannah wants so badly to act like she’s responsible and in charge.  But I have to constantly inform her that it’s not just being there and bossing her siblings around that’s being responsible.  If she can’t turn in her homework every day, there’s no way I can honestly trust her to take care of her brothers.  It’s a fact of her anatomy.  I wish it wasn’t.  Even though it was a perfunctory apology, it was made.   After the boys had showered and I had read to them, I was on my way down to finish lunches and clean up the kitchen.  I heard, even though she didn’t think I had, Hannah creep into the boys’ room.
“I’m really sorry, Sam.  I shouldn’t have hit you.  It wasn’t right, Dad had already taken care of it.  I will try not to do it again, Sam.  Will you forgive me?”
After he nodded his assent, I saw him reach up from his bed and give her a hug.

Just when I thought things were impossible, she turns around and does this.  It’s times like this I come to realize there may just be hope for us.  Just maybe.  Though I do write this after washing the dinner pans . . . pans conveniently left by Hannah on the stove because, you know, “they’re icky.” 

One small victory at a time.

The First Biggest Event

On Our Concert Weeend

Without You by Manoucheri from the LP The Blind Leading the Blind

The first year was a year of firsts.  After Andrea, my beautiful, amazing wife passed away, every typical family holiday and event was a difficult first. The first hour without her; the first day; first week, month . . . Then came the holidays.  We had birthdays.  Every single thing that was normally taken for granted was something that we braced for and then endured.

But none of those days or events were the sort of monumental, milestone memories that you have.  I mean, sure, every birthday is memorable.  You take photos, videotape them, all the things made even easier by the use of cameras on our cell phones.  I haven’t forgotten or ignored those events, I have videos and photos of all of them.  I’ve written and shared them here – as much a diary of our days since losing her as they are a healing and helping exercise.

But this weekend was the kind of eventful and memorable set of days that mark a milestone in any life, not just in the lives of those who have lost, like we have.  It started with just me and my oldest daughter.

Abbi’s life began with music.  When Andrea got pregnant with her I was still a performing musician.  I ran a jam session every week with two great friends in a trio.  Andrea, with Abbi in the womb, would come to the bar and watch us play.  She didn’t drink, no smoking in the area she was in, she would just come and hear us play.  Early in Abbi’s life we went to all kinds of concerts.  At the age of 2 she was a a massive blues festival with Neville Brothers and BB King.  At the age of 4 she pleaded to see the Brian Setzer Orchestra live.  At five we saw BB King and Abbi met him backstage.  He called her “princess” and gave her the pin on his lapel.

So I took Abbi to Oakland’s Oracle Coliseum to see the Black Keys play on Saturday.  While I started my own Twitter hashtag stating #2manyhipsters throughout the evening, I was happy to be having a night out with my daughter.  We watched the show, and my daughter nearly gagged on the horrific smell of some idiot hipster’s own blend of weed there in the coliseum.  We watched the show and then made our way into San Francisco so that we could spend the night at Fisherman’s Wharf in a really nice hotel in the refurbished Del Monte cannery.  The hotel was a four-star place, and though I’ve stayed at these kinds of places before, I hadn’t stopped to think about the fact that Abbi, and even the other three kids, haven’t stayed at a fancy place before, not to this extent, and not while they were old enough to remember.

Abbi felt rich.  She felt taken care of.  I spent far more money than I should have but we had an enjoyable night and we slept well.  The next morning we ate outside and then had ice cream as we walked along the wharf and then on the beach.  I hadn’t realized when I booked the night that it would be a great night, something she’d always remember.  It was the start to an eventful day for her.

As we got back home, I’d set up with a family friend to get her hair done.  I helped her to call the cosmetics place and they did her makeup for her.  After I’d picked up the kids from their Aunt’s house, I took them home and Abbi got home.  She wanted to get into the dress we’d worked so hard to buy, tailor, and frustratingly deal with that we didn’t even really have time to realize what had come.  We’d reached the night of her Junior Prom.  Here it was, that first, biggest event.  It’s not like I’m that kind of sentimental, Hallmark card kind of guy.  But this isnt’ a birthday or a silly little Fourth of July picnic or something.  This is one of the milestones that Moms usually judge their kids by.  In a moment of panic we looked for fashion tape to try and attach the dress to her upper chest so that it wouldn’t fall and we realized that in the move the same said tape had disappeared somehow.  After an unsuccessful trip to Target we sat there trying to figure out what to do.  Abbi thought about Scotch tape when I realized that we had larger band-aids in the medicine cabinet.

I did surgery on the band-aids there on the kitchen table.  I cut the sticky, cloth-backed section off and left only the adhesive plastic bandage that was close enough to the color of her skin that it would apply.  We got the dress to stay, the shoes on her feet, and out the door about 15 minutes behind schedule.

Abbi and I on prom night…as she readied to head out

She looked gorgeous.

I wasn’t worried, the same girl who said she’d never get into drugs or weed or anything because – much like her Mom – the smell would gag her and kill her senses before the drugs did, was now the most amazingly gorgeous girl I had seen since her Mom.  She was happy, smiling, excited the dress fit . . . and she was grown up.  I didn’t ever think about where things went from here.  I didn’t know how we were going to get here.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it?  It was supposed to be “we” getting here.  Us.  I don’t have that.  The weekend was very hard for me on a couple fronts.  Without realizing it, I’d forgotten the fact that this weekend, on the wharf, was not much unlike the time I’d spent with Andrea here.  I was with my daughter but the ghost of my past kept haunting me.  The sand and the chill in the air reminded me that I’d pushed Andrea to walk on the beach, just because I wanted her to be a little chilled so she’d sidle up next to me and try to get warm.  The Ghiradelli plant there so that I’d buy chocolate that she’d refuse . . . and then take bites of what I’d bought.  The fancy hotel, something I’d splurged and spent all my money on to try and impress her only to realize that she didn’t care or notice the room.  We spent the entire time out on the sand and holding each other.

Now I watched my daughter drive off to the prom and realized that, even though I’m surrounded by people and family who wanted to see pictures and share in the event, it’s still just me.  I have reached the milestone that “we” were supposed to reach.  When I saw this day coming in the horrifically distant future years ago I saw it happening and being able to sit down with Andrea and talk about how we’d gotten here.  Now I talk and it’s a monologue, not a conversation.  I know this is supposed to be hard.  It’s not supposed to get easier watching your kids grow up and get lives of their own.

To take my mind off things I first took my other three kids to the movies, “Pirates!” by the Wallace and Gromit folks.  Then we all went to the Avengers today.  All in an attempt to keep this.

The things I hold dear and grip are the memories I’m getting just as much.  Sure, surrounded by annoying hipsters I wanted nothing more than to grab a razor and a shotgun and start threatening lethal grooming, but that was overshadowed by the fact that my little girl – that 5-year-old who was so enamored with the King of the Blues that night 12 years ago, still wanted to share this with me.

This is the first biggest event, though I hadn’t realized it until it had hit full force.  Now I wish I’d given it its due.

But I have the memories, and so does she . . . so do the other three.  That makes all the difference in the world.

Of Lemon Bars and Lunches

One of our weekend experiments - now that we have a clean house!

I had an epiphany the other day – one I’ve spoken of before, but more definite than ever this time.  Our home has been a mess, and I do mean a gigantic, garbage-strewn, dirty clothes, clean-clothes-mountain mess the likes of which I haven’t seen in my time as a parent.  I realize that there are certain things that I will have to adjust to doing before we hit our stride, but it’s frustrating that a year into our new story that things can’t seem to stay on track.  My middle daughter, after trying on her new shirt asks if she can take off the tags.  When I say “yes” she pulls it off and literally drops it on the floor, in the middle of the living room, with no thought whatsoever as to how completely ridiculous it is that she’d use the floor as a garbage can.  That was Saturday.

Sunday, as the weekend’s events weighed on me, my back hurting (still really bad, as a matter of fact) I realized that the only way to avoid the massive weekend from hell every single weekend was to ensure that the work gets done every day.  If Hannah doesn’t do the dishes I verbally assault her until she does.  If the laundry isn’t put away I lambast my sons until they do it.  If the food isn’t warmed up for dinner I criticize my daughter for texting with friends in her bedroom and not watching her siblings.  More importantly, though, I came to the conclusion that no matter how tired, beat down, or mentally fried I am, I need to do these things anyway to ensure that we have time over the weekends to do more than clean and catch up on what we didn’t do during the week.

That doesn’t mean my kids get out of their chores.  What it does mean is that if they don’t do them the punishments come when I do them in the evening.  TV, computer, video games, all of them disappear.  I allow reading, that’s it.

The attempt is to try and gain some semblance of what I had growing up.  I know that it’s not ever going to be the same.  I’m not an at-home Dad, though I wish I was.  I don’t have a lot of time when I get home before the kids have to get the bedtime routine going, but at least it’s that: a routine.  Dinner at the table, an hour or more together, showers, midnight snacks, brushing of teeth and then reading a bit before bed.  All of it part of a routine that helps them feel stable and cared for.

So after this last weekend, when I had to have lost 5 or 10 pounds just in pure sweat, we got a good portion of the house picked up and cleaned.  I got the kitchen cleaned.  I made sure that everything was picked up.  I have a weekend of craziness, with Abbi’s prom and the concert both girls were supposed to attend now an Abbi/Daddy night.  As much as I’m sure she is loving that we get to do this together, I know that she also was disappointed that her sister isn’t going along with us.

I know this sounds like I’m being self-effacing and complaining but I’m not.  I came to the realization that life has to be put first, everything else second.  I don’t necessarily like that, but when I get home and the hallway from the garage and the main room are clean I don’t stress out first thing in the door.  I also needed to come to terms with the fact that my selfish nature couldn’t take over when I need to just do the family duties.

Tonight was no exception.  I made the lunches, while my son asked me why I took the time to make them all if it was so much work?  But like my mother, I know I can control the nutrition and the items in the lunch boxes.  I made homemade lemon bars for the first time, realizing there’s a reason they say “DO NOT OVERCOOK” in the recipe but hoping they taste OK anyway.  Why?  Because I realize that my kids are better off with the desserts and items I cook myself, not the sugar and preservative-filled pre-made desserts in the stores.  I bought a new Sunbeam stand mixer so that I can make things quicker and easier.  My sons, if they eat the ready-made foods go nuts – bouncing off the walls, spiderman, arachnid, peel them off the ceiling crazy.

I spent so much time just trudging through life that I wasn’t taking care of life.  Now I realize that it’s the most important thing.  The more I take care of the better off we’ll be.  We can drive to Big Tree Park.  We can take a few days off and head to San Diego or the Grand Canyon.  It seems like such a simple, easy thing, but it’s harder than you think.  When I have to take care of everything we forgot over the week on the weekend, you can’t really do more than cook and clean.

Now, though I wish all the kids were coming along, I’m going to Oakland for a concert with my daughter and spending the night overlooking Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.  We’ll eat breakfast on the beach.  It could have been me and my girls, but I had to stand by my punishment and not let her come along.  It’s like the overcooked lemon bar or the homemade lunch.  It may be a high price, but paying it will have far bigger benefits later on.

Until You Remember . . .

The acceptance letter, though I'm not sure how we ended up with it.
Until You Remember from Revelator by the Tedeschi Trucks Band

I used to be a man in control.  It was my job, my life, my memories . . . and most of all, my emotions.  I mean, I had my hard times.  Marriage isn’t always easy, I knew that.  Nothing as amazing and worthwhile as Andrea, my late wife, was easy.  My marriage was amazing, fun, playful, stressful, difficult, all of it.  When I would see photos, the pictures of our honeymoon, dating, marriage, all of it were memories that we would occasionally talk about and go through and at the time we’d be really happy.  It made me miss the amazing, great times, and I’d reminisce with her.

But now that control is something I seem to have a harder time holding onto.  Today was a strange day for that reason.  My sons woke up being more than a little obstreperous.  One would poke at the other and then at their sisters.  On top of that I had to clean up the house, something that seems to get to me over and over again.  The week seems to build up the mess, stress, and downright temper and just build up until Saturday and Sunday and start all over again.  Today was the peak of it all, I had to clean up the house room by room.  My middle daughter continues to fight doing her chores and screaming and hollering at me about the fact that I hadn’t let her go to this Friday’s concert.

Part of the needs of the day included eliminating a bunch of paperwork from years past.  I’d been more than a bit upset, and this was no small amount of anger.  My back hurt, my legs were sore, I was sweating something fierce, and I was wanting nothing more than to tear the kids a new one every time they started at each other – none of them realizing that I had to do my weekend work and their chores as well.  Before I started looking through the papers I had already started yelling at the kids.  Hannah was asking me constantly to go outside or make S’mores or start a fire in our fire pit.  I wasn’t very happy about the fact that they wanted nothing better than to go out or do more things on the weekend with me and I’ve got to vacuum, wash clothes, do the dishes Hannah didn’t, all of it.

I ended up having to tell her and her 3 siblings that we’d get to do so many more things on the weekends if they would all do their assigned chores.  As it is is now, I do what I can until near falling down from exhaustion during the week and then we get to the weekend and I’m having to catch up to zero, not get ahead of the things that should have been fixed before the week was over.  I even told the kids that: we’d do far more things every weekend if I wasn’t just running around doing their chores and my own at the same time.

Then in the middle of all of it, I started shredding all the old tax returns that were more than ten years old in some instances.  In the middle of it was a file I hadn’t realized we had.  In it was a ton of stuff from Andrea’s high school and college years.  A picture of her getting her diploma from high school.  In the middle of all of it was a letter of acceptance from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.  It’s just a silly letter, I know it.  But I find this piece of paper in the middle of talking with my daughter about where she’s going to college and where she wants to live, what she wants to do with her life, all of it.  I look at the letter and realize that she was a heartbeat away from going to UCLA for her freshman year – or worse, just before our dating to American University on the East Coast.  This stupid letter, something I nearly shredded with all the student loan paperwork and everything, etc.  This letter was the major stroke in her life that brought her to me.  I know that’s a lot of emotion and memory to place on a sheet of paper, but it’s not really something I can help.

I’ve describe the memories to other people as a wave – a washing over of just a confusing conglomeration of emotions that hits me and I feel and do things I never thought I’d feel.  I smile while feeling the roughest of emotions that burn in the pit of my chest.  I hurt and love her at the same time.  It’s not the best of things to have when you’re already burning with anger and frustration over my kids.  The result is my being depressed and angry at the same time.  My kids ask if I’m going to build a fire and make treats – something I didn’t ever say I would do – and I start to go off on them, maybe more than they even deserve.  It’s not nice, it’s definitely not pleasant, and I wish I could say it’s the first time I’ve done it but I’d be wrong.

That damn piece of paper – I know it was the piece of paper that completely changed all our lives.  But what if it hadn’t happened?  What if we’d not met would she still be here?  The world would still be bright.  The beautiful, fun woman would still be out there somewhere, maybe, and I could have sought her out and found her, maybe all over again, maybe for the first time.  I know I can’t change that and it could easily have been exactly the same.  This could have been a fixed point in time, something unable to change, a thing that’s destined to happen, that cannot be forced to change.  So many things are good as a result of it: I have the kids, the biggest thing; I have a great job that I would never have had if I hadn’t gotten the confidence to do this from her.

I realized this weekend, too, that I have to just buck up and do all this.  It’s not raising the kids that’s stressful or bothersome to me.  For me, raising the kids is the easy part.  No, the behavior problems aren’t easy or fun.  The fights are frustrating.  The laziness kills me.  But at the end of the day, my Mom cleaned up and pushed us harder and harder to clean up and do our chores.  I can’t just let it happen.  I have to do it and make them do it with me.  I have to offer up consequences and follow through on them.

I see the paper and I think if she remembered it in her time.  I wonder if she thought that a simple letter from an admissions department set up the rest of her life – a life that was far too short.

I wonder if she remembered what brought us to here.  I was sad about where things were . . . until things like that letter come up . . . until I remember that she was mine.  It’s not something I can change, and I’m not sure if I could if I wanted to.

Dickensian Thoughts

My girls

Eyes of Silver by the Doobie Brothers from “What Were Once Vices are Now Habits”

My two daughters are now in the mode where their choice of movie is less Wallace and Gromit and more Love Actually.  It’s not a massive problem, I don’t dislike RomComs, they serve their purpose and give hope to two little girls.

Before I met my wife, I used to think that they were silly, without purpose.  I didn’t find love, didn’t find anyone who would treat me well, none of it.  I thought the possibility of that was more than a little far-fetched.  I was, quite simply, the “other guy” of the romantic comedy.  I was the allergy-ridden ex-boyfriend of Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle.  I was the nerdy guy that ended up not getting the girl.

But I got my romantic comedy.  It ended up with the wrong ending, but I got it nonetheless.  I met the woman far out of my league.  She met a guy she thought would treat her like someone should be treated.  I had been told by more than a few people that the crazy, silly things that happened throughout our relationships could have been perfect rom-com fodder.  From getting blown off because it would take too long for Andrea to put her makeup on . . . to proposing to her at the airport before she got on a plane to be out of town for a week.  The fact we shouldn’t have ended up together at all could make interesting and funny material.

But we’re not a Hollywood story.  To start, real life was happening in-between the Ephron-isms that followed us around.  We had serious problems at major points in our marriage.  My wife got insanely jealous at one point and it created a serious problem for us, made all more awful by the fact that I just hadn’t realized that it was bothering her.  I was so bewildered by the fact anyone would have thought I was that worthwhile that I didn’t take it seriously.  But that’s the problem: my poor self-reflection also accidentally told her I thought she was settling when she married me.  She never thought that.  I always did.

But the whole rom-com point here is the fact that I am faced with having bigger discussions with these amazing girls of mine.  It’s very hard to balance because I did have that kind of amazing storybook buildup and dating life.  My kids saw us married, knew we had already fallen in love, heard the stories of our dating from our own mouths and the glassy-eyed, foggy-memoried tales from our friends and family.  The tale is more than the truth.  What my kids don’t hear about is the clinical depression their Mom faced; the lack of intimacy that grew because as the years wore on the date rape their Mom had endured ate away at her and at us as time wore on.  It wore on, got worse and so did the arguments.  It’s not a pretty chapter of our lives and I wish I could erase it, but it’s there, burned into the flesh of my brain.

I want my girls to have the Fairy Tale.  I want them to get the right guy, not settle.  They’re worth pampering and primping and loving.

Finally I’d come to the conclusion that I had to lay the cards on the table, at least with my oldest.  The reality, I’ve told her this evening, is that her mother and I were friends long before we were married.  It’s here we buck the Hollywood trend.  The atypical script says “I don’t want to ruin what we have – I don’t want to ruin our friendship!”  It’s wrong.  Love can’t cover it all.  If it did, Eric Clapton and Patty Boyd would still be married – the fairytale ending to Layla.  But even when I was not dating Andrea, I wanted to tell her when things went right and have her comfort me when things went wrong.  When she had a hard time I wanted to fix it.  When she got stood up I wanted to kick the guy in the teeth.  Love is amazing and beautiful.  Friendship is permanent and fun and connected.

We were watching a television version of a Dickens story – the Mystery of Edwin Drood.  It’s typical Dickensian melodrama, and it will come as no surprise to those who know me I am quoting Dickens.  I love the language and the structure in the man’s writing.  I own a 1900 copy of A Christmas Carol.    I have read Great Expectations a number of times.  In “Drood” the woman – magnet to the affections of the wrong kind of man – asks her guardian what it’s like to finally find true love.  “True love,” says the man to his ward . . . “is always returned.”

It’s a simple line but so true.  What I want for all four kids isn’t the romantic comedy.  I want they to love and find that, without reservation or hesitation, it’s returned with no price paid.  Love is easy.  True love is something that is given and received.

It’s hard when you’re 12 or 17 to see the Hollywood version and then hear your Dad tell you that that good looking guy who gets everything is likely never going to be “the one” but the decent looking guy who makes you laugh and holds you when things go wrong – he’s the guy.  I’m their Dad, and after this last year, I doubt anyone will ever be good enough for them in my eyes.  But I do think they deserve to be happy and loved.  I just want them to realize and recognize it when it comes.

It’s amazing that after more than a hundred years Charles Dickens can spark such a philosophical discussion.  But when my daughters see the romantic comedy and the instant attraction I want them to realize that it’s not always the guy you lock eyes with across the room.  Sometimes it’s they guy who wipes your eyes when it doesn’t go well.

Andrea had stormy blue-grey eyes that were like the sky after a thunderstorm.  Abbi’s are eyes of silver.  All three of my girls – my late wife, Andrea, Abbi – the oldest and Hannah- my middle – smile with those eyes.  The silver pouring into your soul.  Both kids think that guys aren’t there who will understand them.  But my Dad found a woman who laughed with him and understood how he thought.  So did I, for awhile.  It’s not impossible, it’s just a bit Dickensian.

A Question of Balance

It’s been stormy in my house.  No, it’s not the rain outside, though that was there, but the events of the last couple weeks have weighed on me and just beat me down.  I’m not hitting my stride and falling off balance.

I have been very big in talking about discipline and stating for the record that I have to have follow-through on my demands.  I don’t just say these things, I believe and try to practice them.  Like most normal parents, though, I understand that the frustration, patience and emotional steel needed to endure the punishments is more necessary from the parent than from the child.  My kids are particularly difficult examples.

Our home situation isn’t the only reason.  I’m not big on letting myself or the kids use the example of losing my wife, Andrea, as the reason for misbehavior or acting out.  Still, the fact remains that as hard as it is for me to care for four kids on my own I can only imagine what it must be to be one of those four children with one less parent.  Whatever faults Andrea may have had, she absolutely loved and adored our kids.  Sometimes it was to my detriment.  Andrea didn’t like disciplining them, in fact she was horrible at it until the last few years of her life.  I grew to be a bit resentful of her, this amazing and beautiful woman, because she’d get frustrated with their behavior, call me at work – where I could do absolutely NO good – and have me be the heavy.  When that didn’t work I had to mete out the punishments when I walked in the door.  The kids grew to flinch and dread my walking in the door.  I never thought it was fair that she was able to have fun and get frustrated yet I had to be the one to dole out those criticisms, usher them to the dinner table, get them showered and cleaned, then force bedtime while their Mom would say “can’t they stay up just a little?  We haven’t had more than an hour or two together as a family” and she becomes the white knight while I’m the black.

Let me reiterate – I hated that scenario.  I saw my children, whom I loved so much, avoiding spending time with me and literally asking “so, Dad, when do you go to work?”  Not as a question but a hope that they get rid of me for the rest of the day.  I finally had to have a talk with Andrea that it wasn’t healthy that she got to be so loved and they were starting to despise me.  Finally, she agreed and started taking the punishments into her hands and I got to come home without being the punisher.  I tucked them in, said prayers, and read to them, like every other night, and we started to finally hit our stride.

So when they lost their Mom I lost the balance all over again.  As a result, I have to look at punishments and what’s egregious and what’s simply worth letting slide.

With my middle daughter, Hannah, it’s hard.  The boys I can take away privileges, games, TV, etc., and they respond.  Noah has a harder time, but stay home all day and do nothing but read the books you have, not new ones or library books, and you get bored very fast and don’t want to visit that world again.  When he got suspended for a day after kicking another boy I wanted to make sure the punishment sunk in.  He loves being helpful, so when they suggested it be in-school kind of suspension it made no sense.  Noah likes to clean up and help the teachers and be the class’ helper.  I understand how it feels to be a bit of an outsider, the one who doesn’t fit the grain of the wood.  he’s the knot in the pine desk, not the smooth grain that tries to go around it.  So when he was suspended, he had to stay home and we scheduled his sister’s oral surgery so he’d have no attention, no help, no focus.  Just books and a couch cushion to sit on.  Not sure if it worked, but it’s all I can muster.

Hannah, to continue the point, doesn’t respond to it.  When she hadn’t done her chores and I took away the privileges she was good for about 3 days and then went back.  Take them away again and she could care less.  She gets up, puts away 2 plates, then slinks off upstairs to her room or hides in the office so I can’t see her.  As I’m doing laundry or making lunches I can’t tell if she’s doing her homework . . . until I get the reports showing she hasn’t turned it in again.  Her latest stint is because I took them out of school for the anniversary of Andrea’s death – at leas that’s her explanation.  In case you haven’t seen, we’re not past a month beyond that anniversary.  Even I would have a hard time justifying changing the grades back if we’re now a month beyond.  Hannah claims the assignments were changed while we were gone and didn’t know, which may be, but then she never tried to find out.  I gave her a deadline and told her the one thing she desperately wanted – to see the Black Keys in concert with her sister and I next Friday – was the goal.  No missed assignments; no zeros and she goes, spends the night with us, and then all is right with the world.

Last night was it.  I even – violating my own credo – gave her a 1-day extension.  She’s joined a school play, had a lot on her plate, and told her that she had to talk to the teacher today.  
“She scares me,” was the excuse.
“No she doesn’t, if she was mean she wouldn’t care and wouldn’t be working with you to fix this.  She’d just give you and “F”, which you very well might deserve!”
“But she scares me.”
“You’re not scared, you’re embarrassed and don’t want to admit to her or me you don’t want to face this.  Bigger issues, Hannah, you cannot fail 7th grade!”

That’s the deal we made.  Fix it, concert’s a go.  Not fix it you’re staying with your Aunt along with your brothers.  On top of that, if she fails 7th grade, she’s moving to the public school.  I informed her already that I won’t pay for the same grade twice.

Tonight after picking her and Sam up from play practice her mouth ran a million miles an hour.
I didn’t have time to talk with her and the class was busy and we didn’t have study time and the next bell had rung and I didn’t see her and I don’t know if she was still there and the whole thing was hard and there’s no possible way I could have talked with her during class and we had a quiz and . . . ”
“. . . I had to memorize my lines for the play.”

That’s  when I lost it.
“The play!!!  You should have blown off the play.  You should have been late for rehearsal.  You should have been late to your next class or stayed outside her classroom before going to rehearsal so you could fix this.  That was the deal.  The play isn’t what’s important, Hannah.  You need to see your priorities here!”

I knew what was coming next: “so I can’t go to the concert??”
“What do you think?!”

She started to get huffy on the car ride home.
“Don’t get mad at me, Hannah, I didn’t do this.  I gave you a day more than I should have!”
“I know,” was her answer, “I know.  I did this, it’s my fault.”

I reminded her that taking 3rd grade again probably wouldn’t have affected her, but if she fails 7th . . . she may not even get into college.  I stared at her with my mouth agape.

Her sister was depressed.  She was secretly happy she might get a night with her Dad – the night before the prom – but she also wanted Hannah to come.  They had this connection together and they could relate.  Like sisters, not like older sister caring for her siblings.

But nothing was getting through.  I had spoken with Hannah’s aunt and said “she’s got a hail Mary I’m allowing her today to try and fix it.”  My response when I got home was to text her saying “well . . . Hannah fumbled.”

I wanted this.  I wanted the night with my girls.  I wanted to see a show – maybe not my favorite, but who cares? – and eat dinner, go to the hotel, then come home and watch my little girl transform into a grown up for prom.  I wanted to see my little girls together again and then one of them had to ruin it.

The balance was broken again.  It’s so far off-kilter at this point I’m not sure I can bring it back, but this is the only way.  I cave in now nothing will ever sink in.

Like I said, punishment is often harder on the parents.