Tag Archives: bedtime

Not My Cross to Bear . . .

My girls the way I still see them - tiny with their Mom

It’s Not My Cross to Bear by the Allman Brothers Band

As much as I put into writing and kept discussing and chanting the mantra I still stressed and worried about my oldest daughter and her trials and tribulations.  It’s not that one event – in this case the prom – was so worrisome that I had to lose sleep and worry about her.  It’s the prom.  Nobody enjoys it, not really, except maybe the jocks who find a girl that will sleep with them on prom night.  Quite frankly, I’m thrilled that my daughter is old enough and clever enough to know what’s right and wrong.  It’s both sad and scary that I so wanted her to get a date to the prom but worse yet secretly hoped she wouldn’t because of all the pressure that guys bring to the fore in formal events.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t one who pressured anyone.  Partially it was because I’m not that kind of person but mostly it’s because I just wasn’t as confident or mature to even think about it.  Had I obtained that confidence or shown it I might very well have had a much better date – as would my prom date.  But that’s the rub, isn’t it, that I had a date.  My daughter, in her emotional distress and confusion, was convinced that there was no way in hell she would go to the prom since she didn’t have a date and that she’d much prefer to go to see “The Black Keys” rather than the prom.

Then there’s her sister, Hannah, who had a mandate that she have no missed assignments or zeros on her report or she doesn’t get to go to the same said concert.  On top of that, if she fails, all three of them have to move to the public school, going down the street where their sister Abbi goes.  When I saw blank spots on her math chapter check I asked and got a panicked tirade about how things changed and she didn’t know it when we were in Nebraska for the anniversary of my wife’s passing.  She said the teacher changed the assignments and didn’t tell her and that it was all a mistake.  A mistake that’s now more than a month past.
“Why haven’t you asked her about them like I said?”
“Because she scares me!”
“No she doesn’t.”
“Yes she does,” says Hannah, but her eyes betray her.  She’s not scared at all.  She knows she should have taken care of this but didn’t.  I made the deal and I told her I’m sticking by it.
“Today was the day you were supposed to fix this.  You didn’t and by all rights you should stay home and miss the concert.  You get tomorrow.  That’s it.  You’re not scared of your teacher, you’re embarrassed to talk with her.  That’s different, but if you let that embarrassment overtake you you’re not going to get anywhere and all your siblings suffer.  She wants to help you and you disappointed her if you don’t fix it.  That’s why you haven’t talked with her.”

All this swirling around a singular concert with a band that may or may not be around in their distant future.

I like the band.  They’re good, solid musicians with a penchant for actually playing their own instruments and avoiding auto-tune like the plague.  For those two things alone I respect them.  But my line to my daughter even a month or more ago was the fact that even had a date to the prom.  Times were different, yes.  The location was different, yes.  I was an awful date, yes, all of that.  But I still went.  My line to my daughter was that in 10 or 15 years, when she looks back, will she remember the Black Keys because they were Hendrix or Clapton-like in their staying power, or will she remember that she had a chance to go to her first public school formal event and skipped it?

Now, let’s review what got me here, though.  I have tried over and over again to tell myself that I just have to let my kids solve the major issues on their own.  I can’t get her a prom date, homecoming date, or any date.  Can you imagine what would happen if I tried?!  Good God, it’s hard enough to be  a kid without your parent(s) messing with things.

To be honest, this isn’t really about a dance, anyway.  It’s both of us adjusting to what life is going to be like, and for Abbi it’s nothing but change, month after month and year after year.  I was so inept at the age when Prom was the most important thing in your life.  But had I had that confidence would I really have ended up with Andrea as my wife?  Not that I would have found better, there was no better, but would she have responded.  I found her at the exact moment she needed someone who would treat her the way she deserved to be treated – at least that’s what she said.  She found me at the time I needed to be able to shed the weight of the cross I was bearing and come into my own.  She found out she could have fun with someone who wasn’t just wanting to party all day and enjoyed what she had to say.  We worked together so we knew we could not only stand each other’s company we enjoyed it.  We talked about more than college or drinking or who slept with whom in our circles of friends.

When I met Andrea I still had all that weight I was carrying around.  I’ve posted this before, but she was planning on moving away from Omaha.  She didn’t see anything to keep her there and she wasn’t sure there was a life for her there.  I started dating her at that moment because, let’s face it, the risk was low.  I might get hurt, but the repercussions were minimal since she’d be moving if it didn’t work out.  But the oppressive weight that held me back from everything went away.  I was so worried I’d lose what I had with her if I didn’t take that risk, worry about being embarrassed, that I asked her out – damn the consequences, no reward without risk.

But I shouldered weight my daughter didn’t want or expect me to because her life has had to change and will change so much.  We couldn’t keep her in her private school because I’d lost Andrea and the income she would have brought.  I moved her to a public school after a life filled with private, Catholic education.  She moved into dating and boyfriends with no Mom to hold her and tell her she knows and understands the pressures of being a girl in a world filled with guys with only one thing on their mind.  So when she’s upset she can’t get a date and the guy she hoped would ask, even thought they’re just good friends is with a girl he’s had a crush on, I’m crushed myself, shouldering weight she doesn’t seem too crushed by herself.  I worry about the fact that she has her senior year, will get through it, and then has to decide on college and it all changes, blowing into a whole new world for her all over again.  This girl who had to deal with changing her life, her home, her school and her social circles now has to do it all over again in less than another year.  She’s strong, smart, quirky, and fun and my biggest worry is that she thinks that has to change with the changes in her life.

But then she told me how she’s joining a big group of people and going on her own.  She’ll get to dance with a bunch of guys and she’ll look beautiful in this amazing dress that we’re getting tailored.  Even though I quietly kept my ignorance of the advice to myself, worrying about the fact I couldn’t fix her problems, they got fixed.  She did it on her own, just like my dear friend told me.  I can’t fix it all, and I shouldn’t even if I can.  Sometimes my kids have to fix their own problems. I understand the fear of going to a dance alone, though some of my favorites were when I did.  I danced with people I wouldn’t have been able to with a date.  I faced embarrassment even though my daughter doesn’t want to.  It’s important and she needs to do it or it will overtake her later in life.  But they’re all things they have to face, not me.  I want so much to go in there and just meddle and do it for them.

But I can’t.  They must, and through that, I live on, and I’ll be strong, because It’s just not my cross to bear.

Not the Man They Think . . . or Should Be

I’ve had a number of conversations with people lately that I guess shouldn’t surprise me, but then I guess I’m also not someone who looks at the world in the same way as others.  It’s not like this weekend helped my demeanor much, either.

Stress isn’t something that I thrive on, but it usually takes an inordinate amount to make me change in personality.  This weekend was one of those times.  My wife, Andrea, used to say I was the person you wanted in that situation.  She was always a bit flabbergasted by the fact that I hadn’t gone into some sort of medical field.  My father and brother, after all, are pharmacists.  “You’d have been a great ER doctor,” was her line.  “You just never get flustered under pressure.”

The scenarios changed, of course.  The guy who takes over the platoon when his sergeant gets killed in the war.  The guy in the alien invasion who knows how to get out of a situation when we’re being attacked.

But let’s be honest, I never really agreed.  It’s not that I’m good at these things, it’s that she’d seen me succeed in a few high-pressure situations and was impressed.  It’s that she didn’t handle the pressure well and was floored I wasn’t falling apart when she was.  But Andrea had a tendency to see the problems and, rather than attacking the problem at one point and moving forward, saw the vastness of the problem and just shut down.  I tended to hear my Mother’s voice in the back of my head saying “start in the corner and work your way out.”  Panic never succeeds in doing anything but creating more panic.

So when I get approached by people and told “I don’t know how you do it, that’s so amazing” when they hear about my caring for four children, I am a bit short.  It might be because I’m so overwhelmed by the fact that I’m acting as two parents.  Most likely, though, is the fact that the expectations of me were so low that they’re surprised I’ve done more than that.  It’s an amazing thing to see the tendencies of some people to think there’s little or no way any guy could care for a kid on his own, let alone four of them.

My response to them in general is “what did you expect?”  And what did they?  They’re my kids, I don’t want them to fail, I want them to do better than I did, and at this point, that shouldn’t be too hard!  These four kids need someone who will watch over them, care for them, be an example for them.  I’m not sure I’m the best one, but I’m not going to ignore them or fall apart and just let them lie by the side of life’s road like a cup of pop I’ve tossed from the car.  I didn’t act that way when my wife was still here.  Why would I act that way now?

Noah faced his suspension on Friday thinking things were going to be business as usual.  Unfortunately, we found out his sister’s wisdom teeth had been bone impacted, were putting pressure on the other teeth (that cost me an arm and a leg to get braces) and were pushing them askew.  They had to be removed, and it was so bad now, they had to be removed quickly.  So Noah sat in a dentist’s office and read books.  When we got home, his sister loopy from the anesthesia, he sat on the couch and read.  When his siblings got home from school, he sat in the office and read books while they played video games and went outside.  This was supposed to teach him a lesson.  Not sure if it did.

That night, Friday, Abbi couldn’t lie down without it hurting.  I told her I’d stay on the couch with her that night.
“You don’t have to,” she said, but I could hear the apprehension in her voice.”
“I know I don’t have to, I said I would,” was my response.

That’s part of the key – the example I’m hoping to give.  I don’t have to  stay on the couch, hurt my back, get a new cluster of headaches from the lack of sleep.  But I said I would.  My father’s line: you’re only as good as your word.  It’s true.  The next night, she wasn’t much better and I did the same thing.

I got a comment saying “you’re the best Dad” when I mentioned she couldn’t sleep and I stayed there with her.

But I’m not.

This weekend I had to take care of Abbi, there was no choice.  She spends so much time taking care of her siblings that I wanted to make sure she was taken care of.  But the attention that they normally get – deserved or not – led to much more mayhem.  Where “the best Dad” would have juggled it, I lost it.  When Noah – who faced a suspension from school – decided to refuse his brother the ability to watch him play a video game on his little Nintendo Game Boy.  Noah had watched Sam play all morning the day before, now he was being persnickety.  I mentioned this and that he should let his brother watch so he closed the game boy and acted like he wouldn’t play.  I told him to stop and he opened it just enough so he could peek in a play but no more.

I rarely get angry to the point that I punish in anger.  Saturday I did it.  I ripped the game boy out of his hands.  When I told him this was the behavior – the attitude – that got him suspended, he gave me that look . . . the disdainful, “I know better and you cant’ get through to me” look and rolled his eyes at me.  He lost the game but nothing was getting through to him and I am bowled away that nothing is.

My wife was always mortified when the kids had behavior problems, partially because she thought they reflected poorly on us.  I’m hurt by them because it shows a fundamental failure of some sort, something that I couldn’t accomplish.  It’s not because they lost their mother, they have other reasons.  We’ve moved beyond the loss of their Mom.  It’s been a year.  They miss her – hell, miss her – but I have to live in the world.  She gets to be forever young, forever beautiful, forever brilliant and fun because that’s what we have in our hearts.  We push the bad portions down and celebrate the good.  But she gets to live on with us as a greater version of herself.

I, however, get to see the limitations of my skills and the dysfunction in my parenting when my kids misbehave to such a massive degree.  Sure, at a certain point, they’re 9-years-old or 12 or 17.  But sometimes, just when you think you can breathe, they can’t control their temper; they can’t stop acting like they deserve more; they do something so above and beyond what’s acceptable you cannot believe it.

Those are the times I look at them and realize it’s not their limitations, it’s mine.  I’m not brilliant or great or even mediocre.  I’m not the man my wife or people around me think I am . . . Many times I’m not even the man I should be.

Abbi and Noah, coming back from the dentist