I write a lot about the problems and the little things that seem to trouble me and my kids through the last eleven months. It’s not hard to do, there are so many things we’ve had to endure and come to terms with, there really are.
Keeping up with everything is really one of the most difficult parts. With my middle daughter, Hannah, seemingly unable or unwilling to come to the realization that not doing her chores – unloading and loading the dishwasher and cleaning the pans – results in none of us having any silverware or plates to use for breakfast the next morning I begin to get more than a little despondent. Add to that the fact that she tends to throw whatever she has on the floor, be it the wrapper from a toy or the dirty socks that even Mephistopholes himself would turn his nose at, and I find myself shouting at them all “oh my GOD we live in a hoarder’s house!!!!”
I’ve made no secret about the anger issues that my son, Noah has faced. It’s not something he started when his Mom passed away, he had this before then. Now he just has to face me and me alone for those issues and I don’t take them lightly. I don’t hit him, there’s no spanking at 8 years old, not unless it’s something insanely severe or horrific, and I have never, ever, “beaten” them, no belt, no backhand, no closed fist. I prefer my Mom’s method, where the punishment is far more creative than it is physical. Slam the door and cause things to fall off the shelf? I take the door off the hinges and lean it on the wall directly in line of sight of your bed so you have no privacy. Refuse to pick up all the toys and dolls? I take you to the Salvation Army Hospital and have you give that same doll to a little girl who doesn’t have a doll and tell her you know she will take better care of her toys.
These are the frustrating, angry things that cause my blood pressure to increase and the eyebrows to furrow and I look like a caricature out of Bill Cosby Himself. What I rarely talk about, because they’re not as many as the frustrations, I’m sure, are the things that are actually better, improving, and happy in the last 11 months. Well, no so much “things” as “thing”.
When Andrea was around she had two of our kids glued to her legs, it seems. Hannah and Sam. Hannah always would come up and cuddle me, hug me, have conversations, whole nine yards. She tended to love my older brother the moment she saw him, much to the consternation of my wife, who could never figure out my older brother.
But then there was Sam. Sam is the calmest, sweetest, strongest kid that inside has the heart of a marshmallow. When his Mom passed away he closed down, and I mean shut down to the point that the light – that amazing twinkling spark he inherited from his mother – that glow faded from his eyes. Sam didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know how to process the fact that the woman he related to the most, the one female influence that told him it was OK to flirt, even as a 7-year-old and laughed at him and told him why schmoozing the cute high school girl behind the counter at Home Depot was cute but wasn’t going to lead to anything more than her smiling – and he was fine with that – was gone now. It’s like he had no idea what to do, the person he’d put up on a pedestal had fallen.
It took months for him to let the glow turn to a dim ember. He was so very quiet and he watched the TV a lot, but not because he wanted to watch the TV, I could have walked into the room and shut it off and he would have never noticed. He needed the time alone, the time to process and the time to change what he was thinking about the world around him.
Here’s where things get better. I always knew what to do with Noah. Abbi, my oldest, and I were always sort of mentally connected for a myriad of reasons. Hannah is the sweetest person on the planet and as frustrated as she makes me, she’s still the same little girl that she was a year ago. But Sam . . . Sam was a bird of a different color. Sam has that cute, husky jock build. He’ll be a heartbreaker as a teenager and I’ll have to watch him. But there’s something deeper, inside, that flicker in his eyes that he only would let out a little bit at a time in the last eleven months is released once in awhile. He trusts me now. It’s not that he didn’t trust me before, but there was always Mom. Mom was there to help, to get him something, to hug him, the person he’d opened his heart to and shown that flame inside him.
In the last few months Sam has opened that part of him to me again. He starts each day walking up and giving me a hug. He’s always certain to wait before he shuts the door at the car line and tells me “I love you, Daddy.” Better still, my day improves because before he even leaves the car he will lean up to the front seat and say “Love you, Daddy, see you tonight!”
He kisses me on the cheek and looks to make sure I drive away OK before running off to his classroom. This may seem a small thing to you, but to me it’s a big deal. It’s not that he didn’t trust me, but it became very clear that now he trusted me a lot. It’s hard when the person you look to for everything is gone, I get that. He wanted to make sure of the biggest thing – that I was going to be there. Not that I’d disappoint him, not that I’d be too strict, it was more basic. He needed to make sure when he needs me I’ll be there. So he checks to make sure.
For me, though, that kiss every morning means he can move forward. He can trust someone else. Yeah, I know, he’s a boy, a kid, but he isn’t afraid to say he loves his Dad and wants to make sure his family is OK. I’m the same way. It took almost a full year, but he can start moving forward, a kiss to build a dream on, so to speak. It is just a nice after-effect for me that I get to share the affections with him.