Tag Archives: punishment

On through the days uncounted . . .

The Blind Leading The Blind

There’s a song my brother wrote, which I have attached here, that I know has a different meaning for him but I listened to the track the other day and realized that whatever inspiration it gave him, I’m living the thought behind the song.

Tell me why, I want a reason
Just what am I supposed to find?
All through the days uncounted
Like the Blind Leading the Blind

I remember the day he came to our house with the demo – he had put it on a cassette (you know, a cartridge with two tiny reels inside that hold magnetic mylar tape that . . . oh, nevermind. If you don’t know by now you never will) and I was blown away. I mean, he wasn’t even old enough to go into a bar but had written this amazing song that even then I saw as insightful.

But now I truly do feel like I’ve gotten pulled into the inspiration of his song. Successful holiday or two aside, most days I’m making this up as I go. I wait for the day that I shrink some important piece of clothing of my daughter’s. My middle child is failing numerous classes and I can’t seem to get anything to sink into that head of hers.

I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s pretty clear to me I am making this up as I go, and I wander through the forest of inevitable problems that we’re lost in and realize that I’m leading the kids along like a blind man in the dark. It scares me that they are looking to me to be the solid foundation for them and I’m feeling the ground moving underneath me, destabilizing the foundation I’ve tried to pour.

Now Christmas season is coming. Andrea always had specific ideas for how things should go. In the last few years, she’d relented, letting the kids decorate the tree the way they wanted or sitting back and allowing the holiday to come to pass. I have major issues with what’s on the horizon. I LOVE Christmas, always have. Not the presents, not getting things, I was never that way. Sure, as a kid, I loved to get presents and look under the tree on Christmas morning but I just liked the whole season. I loved the snow, the trees, the smell of pine in the house, the lights and tinsel and presents and all of it. When my Dad decorated the house and put up lights the running gag was that planes would land on our lawn instead of the airport because he had so many. I inherited that from him and loved every minute of it.

Andrea hated that. She loved Christmas, but she was a control freak when it came to decorating. What I hated more was that she was always right and it looked so great. She never liked all the lights or the clashing colors. She was a decorator at heart and she wanted simplicity in action, mixed with a touch of color and light. She kept me in check and prevented me from making the landing strip on our lawn. Where she didn’t pull back was with presents. She always paid too much, put us in debt and bought too much stuff, out-doing it for major gifts every year. She wanted to give her kids what she had or more. I’ve said it before, but I just couldn’t tell Andrea “no” and we always ended up paying for Christmas for months later until we had to find a way to pay for it all over again.

Now, my kids are looking at Christmas as a way to get all the stuff they wanted. Sure, they know the reason behind the season, they understand that they should be just as excited – or more so – to give as to receive. But last night we were at the dinner table and I made the mistake of asking what they wanted for Christmas. My oldest, always the conservative kid and not wanting to ask, said little. The other three:

“I want a Nintendo 3DS”
“Me too”
“I want a guitar, and a bike, and a Spyro video game with a different character and a Mario brothers game and a new controller and a laptop and an ipod and . . . ”

I told them all how much it would cost to buy all that stuff.

“But I’ll just ask Santa for it.”

That was the problem. They have these memories of asking for their one big gift and Santa brought it.

“You realize, guys, that Santa brings you what he thinks you need and deserve, not always everything you want.”

They get that, but they don’t “get” that. Last year we didn’t have a lot of money at all, (not that I do now) and they had to come to terms with a lot fewer gifts under the tree and a lot more stress from Dad and Mom. But they thought it was the greatest Christmas ever and for the most part didn’t get everything they wanted.

This year is the same way.

It’s not that I’m complaining, I’m not. I don’t want more money, the kids don’t need more gifts. What I need is self confidence and peace of mind. I stare at the houses in the neighborhood, the lights popping up, the trees erecting in the windows and I realize I’m so far behind. I get to work around 8:30 each day, leaving at 5:30, if I can. Some days it’s later. I get home and dinner has to get on the table. We clean off the kitchen table, put away the leftovers, only to see it’s time to get the kids into the shower and the bedtime routine started. I help them find their PJ’s, their new underwear, and go downstairs while the hour or more process goes and get their “midnight snacks” together – usually Rice Crispies with banana and a little sugar. Once they’re finished, we go upstairs and read a chapter of the latest book we’re reading – this one is “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”. We say prayers, get out the clothes for the next day and put them on the foot of their bed, then I head out, put a load (or two) of laundry in the washer and go downstairs. I make lunches for the next day, make sure I have something ready and on-hand for breakfast, and usually end up having to make something for a sweet snack for the lunches – cookies, brownies, something like that. Switch out the laundry, separate the clothes . . .

You get the picture of my day. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything more than get the kids from today to tomorrow and then the next. I’m not saying my only reason for mourning Andrea is that she helped with the daily grind of chores, but she did. She also helped me figure out how to decorate for the holidays and knew what they kids wanted for Christmas, what to ask Santa for so they got their one big gift but didn’t get an overload of stuff so that I can’t follow up next year. I’m so lost in the trees I can’t see the forest any more.

My children are amazing. I have to admit that. They laugh, they smile, they tell stories, all of it without Andrea here to help them. People look at me and say that I must be doing something right or they wouldn’t be doing this well. I look at them and realize that they’re not doing well in school or are getting into fights or are obsessed with video games or just get quiet and spend most of the night in their room.

At the end of the day I feel like I have to stick to the routine – sticking to the same time, the same things every night will make them happy and feel stable. But walking through the day in that routine when their guide, the Dad who’s taking them through the woods, has no map and isn’t sure where he’s going feels so wrong. I feel some days like I’m lying to them, acting like I know what I’m doing but really I’m just as lost as they are. My son, Sam, looked at me last night after prayers as I was tucking him into his bed and – with the twinkle I remember in Andrea’s eyes, he says: “I love you daaaaady!”

I love you too, buddy.

“You’re the best Daddy ever, you know.”
“Well, there are a lot of Daddies in the world, kiddo.”
“I know that. You’re still the best.”
“I appreciate that, Samwise. I love you, little man.”
“I don’t care how many other dads there are. You read to us, take care of us, even chase us around and tickle us and laugh with us. You’re the best.”

You see, like my brother’s song, “it’s a waste of time to keep on looking back but it’s a pain I can’t resist.” I keep thinking and wondering how they’re able to cope so well when I’m still glancing over my shoulder.

But I keep blindly stumbling along hoping I’m getting it right but never really knowing. Why?

I couldn’t bear it if I looked at my kids . . . at Sam . . . and saw that he didn’t feel that way any more.

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My son, in his normal state, smiling and happy

Don’t Let Me Slide

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Hannah, my middle daughter with her twin bros.

It takes a lot for me to really lose it. I realize reading my entries here may not actually back me up on this, but the reality is I write here because I don’t really talk about those things, the emotions, the heartbreak, the pain.

The anger.

I tend to let things hit me, the darts puncturing me with each pass, taking the little pricks on my skin as they hit. It really does take a lot to get me particularly angry. So it really surprised me when I lost it tonight in just a few seconds.

Technically, I guess, it was longer than that. This has been building since before Andrea passed away. My middle daughter, Hannah, has more than just a focus problem. At the end of the last school year, right before Andrea died and in the month or two after she had neglected her school work. I’m the first to admit, I screwed up on this. I have four kids. Watching the kids, cooking, doing the wash, cleaning the house, working, all that puts me at Midnight each night before I can actually begin to get past the minutia of the day. Sometimes even later than that. So I missed the reports and the indications that she’d just skipped a load of homework. She didn’t get problems wrong, she just didn’t turn it in. There were even points when she did the work and never handed it to the teacher. She passed, but barely.

The school year started off promising. Then I got a note from her math teacher stating that she had 6 missing assignments. The problem is, at this age and grade level they don’t give you all the assignments. There’s no syllabus, no daily list of homework, nothing like that. I was at Hannah’s mercy, so when I asked if the work was done, if she’d turned it in or even did the work, the girl looked me square in the eye and said “yes”.

I think I should take a moment here to let you know a couple things. First, I am not obsessed with the kids’ grades. If they get an A I am thrilled! But if they get a C while trying their best my biggest concern is that they understand the material and know what they did wrong. If they get that then I’m perfectly happy that they have learned something. That is the main purpose of their education. So simply skipping the work and avoiding it in the hopes I won’t find out is the silliest, most inane thing considering that I get the progress reports and an email from the teachers!

When it came to a head, her grades slipping to the point where she is failing math, her teacher set up a conference. I met at 7 in the morning, dragging her brothers with us to pay for even more EDP charges, and sat while the math teacher, who I now admire greatly, tried to get to the bottom of why this isn’t getting done. We never did, but managed to at least put a plan in place that gives me her homework assignments every day and requires Hannah to get the teachers’ signatures each day before she can leave school.

Then the last week hit. I have done a lot of stuff at work, not staying insanely late, but doing enough that I get home really tired each night. Dinner still had to get made, and I’d gotten behind, missing the planned menu and slipping on the routine. As a result, I was so focused on getting everyone fed and caught up on the house work that had gotten so out of control I missed looking at her planner for two days. The worst two days I could have missed looking at her planner. So tonight, when I asked what her homework was, the response was “I just had to study for tests”.

“Where’s your planner? I need to see it.”

“Oh . . . ” and that’s where I knew something was wrong. I looked and noticed a chapter check had been due. When I asked where it was, I got:

“Oh, yeah . . . ” and she handed me a bright pink slip with a note from her math teacher. She’s failing the class. She’s not bringing her planner to get it signed. She’s avoiding it all.

I lost it.

I don’t mean I lost my temper, I mean I was fuming, foaming at the mouth, screaming at the top of my lungs lost it. Call it the pressure of the week, call it the horrible embarrassment, call it complete and utter frustration, but I lost it. When she started to cry I told her to knock it off, she’d already been given that chance. I didn’t yell at her, I screamed at her. When I asked why she wasn’t doing her school work all she said was “I don’t know”.

Even in that state I told her it was unacceptable.

WHY?!”

“On the days I was sick I got so behind I just didn’t know how to catch up and . . . ”

I interrupted her. “When I got home, what were you doing?!”

“Watching TV.”

“And did you do the spelling check that’s here in your planner?!”

“Oh.”

“Did you do ANY of the work that’s due this week?!”

“No.”

I’m not proud of what happened next. In fact, I’m just horrified by it. I started to lose my voice I was screaming so loud.

“You’re lazy, Hannah! You won’t do your homework, I can’t even get you to do 1 load of dishes each night! You sit on your ass on the couch, watch TV, even if it’s a freaking infomercial, and ignore me when I ask you to do things. You sit, you eat, and you do NOTHING!”

I also told her, since she’s failing more than one class that if they hold her back she’s leaving the Catholic school. I’m not paying for that if she’s wasting the education she’s supposed to be getting.

I must have been more than a little scary because the other 3 kids, including my 17-year-old disappeared.

I grounded her. No TV, no computer, no iPod, no Wii, no games, nothing. She cannot go out to the playground during EDP. She is to do her homework and – even if the teachers won’t give her points for it – turn in the back work that she’s missing. When she’s done with that she can go to her room and read. (My thinking in my rage that maybe she’d be so annoyed by how filthy her room is she’d clean it, since she’ll have to spend so much time in there.) It’s a month, or until she gets passing grades. I doubt that will overtake the month.

I’m horrified by how I acted, but as a parent I can’t tell her that. She’s got to face her punishments. But when I finished with her, handing her a pencil, paper and her school books at the kitchen table, dinner cooking in the oven, I stomped upstairs, slammed the door and sat on the foot of my bed with my face in my hands. It is the first point since the days after Andrea passed away that I am scared I can’t do this. Andrea could handle Hannah, she could always relate and find a way to get through to her. Nothing I do works. She loves me, and I love her more than anything in the world, but I’m failing her somehow and I don’t know how else to do it.

When Hannah was very little, around 5 years old, she came down with obsessive fears. Andrea’s big concern was her grades – at Kindergarten, mind you – were slipping. I wasn’t worried about that. I was worried that this tiny little girl, a petite little thing, had started growing these inordinate fears. She couldn’t voice them all and the way she responded was to eat – constantly. I started punishing her, taking the snacks away, stopping Andrea from buying treats at the store. Hannah started getting snacks at the neighbors, hiding in the pantry, literally eating out of boxes of Cheez-It’s while we weren’t looking. When we took her for a checkup her cholesterol was higher than mine – and mine is BAD! I wasn’t worried about focus problems, I was worried that this little girl who clashed with me, fought with me, then gave me hugs and always had a smile on her face was going to break. Then, we put her on medication. After Andrea passed away, she grew out of it. Even while taking the medication she stopped doing homework. Even when her Mom was here.

Worse yet, Hannah was worried that when she got older, had kids, that she was going to die. That at some point her Mom and Dad were going to pass away. That something horrible was going to happen. She couldn’t sleep at night. When her uncle would visit and sleep in the room where she was, she would get up all night long and ask him if he was OK or ask to turn the light on. She wasn’t just having nightmares, she was terrified.

Then tonight I scare her even worse. It’s important you know I didn’t touch her, not even a little. I would never do that in anger, but angry I was. I didn’t know what else to do. Andrea could talk with Hannah. Andrea KNEW how to deal with her. They were two peas in a pod. I tried being calm, kindly, sweet, acting as close to her Mom as I could, but the girl lies to my face and doesn’t do the work! I could only keep the cap on the bottle so long. Like her mother, she knows just what buttons to push that trigger my anger’s detonation – this time to the point I was like a hydrogen bomb on the Bikini Atolls.

So I sat on the edge of that bed, digging my fingernails into my scalp. Shouting for Andrea to help me, knowing full well she wasn’t there. The tears were welling up in my eyes, both in anger and in fear and sadness. I wrote notes to her EDP teacher and math teacher explaining what we’re doing. I am looking through everything. I will add another hour or two to my evening’s routine. It’s not that I am upset I have to do it, it’s that I’m scared I can’t do it.

I sat there not sure what to do. I wiped my eyes and heard the bedroom door creak open.

“Dad, are you OK?” It was Sam, one of the twins.

“What do you need Sam?”

“Nothing. Love you.”

It was like he opened the steam valve a little and I started to calm.

“I love you too, Samwise.”

But like his mother, it’s never that easy. They can’t let me slide.

“Um. The oven’s beeping. Is dinner ready yet?”

All I could do was chuckle, get up and tell him I’d be down in a second. I had to laugh. If I didn’t , all I’d do is sit in the room and cry, and there’s just too much to do. If I let that slide, we all slide off the cliffs of insanity.

 

Tonight I Feel Broken in Two

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Noah in a fond, happy moment. Far different from our evening's tribulations.

Years ago, when our oldest, Abbi, was just a kid, I had to do one of the most intense and terrible punishments I have ever devised.

Abbi, you see, was terrible at picking up after herself and keeping her room or the living room clean. This was particularly difficult for Andrea and I considering the fact that this was just a tiny, 2-bedroom house in Omaha. The worst thing in the whole world: Barbie hairbrushes. Those things are like a tiny plastic bed of nails placed strategically so that when you walked through the hallway or the living room in the dark of night so you can step on them and embed the hot pink day-glo plastic into the arch of your foot. I cannot tell you the number of muffled screams escaping my throat during the years we lived in our little 2-bedroom near the Country Club area of town.

The particular punishment centered around those very dolls. We were moving from Omaha, NE to Dallas, Texas where I had already begun work as a producer and photographer for the CBS network owned television station there. We were packing up the bright yellow Ryder truck parked on 50th street, awaiting the house full of items. Abbi had left all the said Barbies lying on the floor. She had been told on more than one occasion that she had to pick them up . . . long before we were to move. Now we were being held up by the fact that she wouldn’t pick up the dolls.

I had already threatened throwing them out, putting them away, grounding her, and last resort that we’d give the dolls away. She didn’t believe that was an option. She was wrong.

The day we were moving, I’d had it. She’d been told more than once that she had to pick them up and put them in a bag so that they could be packed in the truck for the move to Tejas. She didn’t do it, fueling my anger through the day. By the time we had to start mopping up the move I looked at Abbi and told her to tell me which Barbie was her favorite. She grabbed one and I told her to get in my truck. We drove from our house a couple miles down the road to the Salvation Army Hospital, a place that housed kids who for whatever reason did not have insurance and were getting help for long-term diseases. Abbi cried, horribly, the entire way to the place. I nearly caved in twice. It wasn’t even a long drive to the hospital but it was the longest trip I’d ever taken.

I made Abbi walk up to the receptionist in the hospital lobby, handing the doll to her.

“My Daddy says I am not able to take care of my toys so I’m giving this to you so you can give it to a little girl who doesn’t have a doll. Hopefully she can take better care of it than I can.”

She stopped crying on the way home. As difficult a punishment as this was to dish out, it was brilliant in its simplicity. She’d been through a Jesuit preschool and a Catholic kindergarten. They had learned about charity and giving. How do you get angry with your dad’s punishment if you know damn well that a little kid who has never had a doll will love getting this – your favorite. Abbi hated the punishment, but she never forgot it. From that point on, every time I said I was going to punish any of the other kids Abbi immediately told them to listen to me because I would make good on my promise. It was the gift that kept on giving.

Tonight, though, I hate myself for the punishment I had to dish out.

Noah, one of the twins, has been having problems at the school’s Extended Day Program, EDP. He, for God knows what reason, has an issue with another set of twins – kindergarten students. They both followed him around the room quite often, my theory because they both wanted to be with an older kid and because Noah was somebody who reacted when bothered. Noah is reactionary, but he’s never good at holding back his temper. He shouldn’t have picked on little kids.

Worse yet, he made the claim that he wouldn’t get in trouble. His mom died. People felt sorry for him. He was playing everyone, and it really bothered me. Worse yet, I’d had a talk with him the night before about having to be better at the EDP room. It isn’t semantics. He HAS to be good there, I don’t have another choice. I even told him that if we lost EDP, with no other options, it would have a ripple effect (not those particular words, give me some credit for being able to talk at an 8-year-old’s level) on all of us. What happens if I have to ask to leave at 2:30pm each day? Will I be able to keep my job? All these things were truly racing through my head.

Then he acts even worse. He gets in a fight with one of these kids today, pinning him to the ground after yelling at him.

I did what a lot of parents would do. Noah wrote a letter to each of the twins that he’d mistreated. Then I told him he had to write a letter to both the EDP teachers and the kindergartners’ dad. It was in the middle of the last letter – to the teachers – that I got the burst of inspiration. It was horrible, and I had no idea that it would break me in two.

He finished the last letter, finishing it up, drawing a little picture of a jack-0-lantern and a ghost on the bottom, I guess because he thought it would be nice for the teachers, and wrote their names on the envelope. He was about to get up and leave and I stopped him.

One more.

Write a letter to your Mommy.

The look on his face wasn’t angry or sad. It was scared. His eyes went red and the tears started to fall down his little cheeks. You have no idea just how hard it was for me, watching him write to his mother and apologize for using her death as a way to get out of trouble. The bottom of the letter, the blue line of the notebook paper smearing under the salty drops, one by one, hitting the bottom of the page. I looked away not wanting him to see me as torn up as he was.

“I’m sorry, Mommy. I said I would be good at school because you had died, but I lied.”

I hadn’t asked him to write that. He did it on his own. All I said was to write what he would have told Andrea if she was sitting there. I know what was going through his mind. The one thing Andrea wouldn’t abide, not ever, was lying. Not from the kids. Not from me. You could get away with bloody murder, but lie to her and you would have a hard time getting back into her graces. Her anger over lies is equaled only by my ability to hold a grudge.

Then he wrote more, and I lost it.

“I miss you Mommy.”

The bottom of the page had been hit by so many tears it was sticking to the table by now.

You have to understand, I know what he went through, I was going through it there with him. When he couldn’t think, I told him just to think about Mommy, sitting there, right in her normal spot at the table and looking at us.

“What would she say to you, Noah?”

He shook his head not knowing.

“Would she say I love you, little moo? You have to do better, you know that right?”

He nodded his agreement.

Then he added that he loved her so much.

I put my hand on his shoulder, standing behind him, telling him he didn’t have to write any more if he didn’t want to. He didn’t. I had him put the letter in an envelope and put “Mommy”, which he misspelled (in the letter too) Momy.

Then I did something that just ripped what little semblance of control away from my emotions and was the last piece that pushed him over the edge, too. I told him that we’d get up early tomorrow, go to the cemetery, and give Mommy his letter.

After he’d calmed down, I told him to go upstairs and change into pajamas and I’d come up and read. Then I went to a part of the house where the kids wouldn’t see me and just broke down.

I had to do it. I know that. I knew life wouldn’t be perfect, not any better than when Andrea was here, it couldn’t be. I guess I had hoped it just wouldn’t be this hard. It hasn’t. Not for a long time. I don’t know why this affected me so deeply, maybe because we both could just see her there but couldn’t talk to her, touch her, even just say we’re sorry . . . for everything that has been pulling at us since she left. It’s horrible to have a one-way conversation and only guess from old memories that are slowly slipping away what her reaction will be.

Don’t take this the wrong way. Punishing the kids when they are clearly wrong isn’t the issue here. The issue is that they have to face this. I write every day because after the chaos of the day diminishes – after the kids go to bed – I have nobody to face the stresses of the day with. Hell, I’m not sure I’ll ever want to have that again, but regardless I feel like I need to tell somebody above the age of 16 what is going on. More important, though, I realize the kids have to face this without their Mom. You’re supposed to make life for your kids better. Right now, I can only see myself propping them up so they don’t fall, no more, no less. It may get better, but it’s so unfair, so painful to watch them face that “Momy” is gone and they have to face knowing they don’t have her to enjoy their little moments of life with. I wrote a lyric for a new song not long ago – it just wasn’t supposed to be this way. It’s even more evident in this episode.

I had such high hopes for the day. Never realized that instead I’d see the stars fall from the sky. Tonight I feel broken in two.