I have a son. He is like a typical boy in a lot of ways. He wants to be a fireman. He wanted to be a policeman until a trip to New York City. He saw members of a SWAT team. He now asks the same question every time he sees a police officer: Are you SWAT?
The Boy sometimes gets into bed with us at night. On nights when we are truly blessed, we will have The Boy and The Oppressed with us. Thankfully, Wife had the wisdom and foresight to buy a king-sized bed.
I woke up in the middle of one night and found myself near the edge of my side. Wife was near the edge on her side with The Boy smack in the middle. This was the perfect scenario for me and I carefully maneuvered over The Boy to sleep next to Wife; something I haven’t been able to do since our little Miracles of Christ graduated from crib to bed.
The Boy woke up as soon as I settled down next to Wife and immediately became aware of the transgression. He got out from under the covers, screamed, “No!” and pulled me back to my side. His springing into action awoke Wife who looked over her shoulder to see what it was that was sounding like a SWAT Raid. The Boy continued to pull me back and inform me where was my side was and that Wife was HIS Mom.
I announced, “I miss my wife!” as The Boy settled back into bed next to Wife and went back to sleep.
I try to help children with their homework. By helping, I mean I will help them find the answer. I refuse to give them the answer, much to the chagrin of The Oppressed and various members of The Gaggle.
There are times when I try to help children find the answer but they don’t want my help. They have the answer and it is right. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them to check their work. I need to find other ways to get them to check their work.
One such incident occurred with The Oppressed. She was doing math homework and was confident she had done her homework without getting a single problem wrong. Part of doing their homework includes me, the taskmaster, checking their homework and (gasp!) making them correct their mistakes. The scars are many. The therapy will be expensive.
I told The Oppressed to go over one specific problem. She wouldn’t. She got all of her answers right and she is good to go.
This is a good time for me to mention The Oppressed has informed me she needs a cell phone to help her deal with the multiple challenges and demands of elementary school.
“Listen,” I say to her. “Are you sure this is the right answer?”
She is sure.
“Okay,” I say. “If all of these answers are right, then I am obviously wrong. If I am wrong, we will stop everything we are doing right now. We will drive to the mall and get you a cell phone.”
Her eyes lit up. She almost dropped her homework.
I continue. “We will get the newest, latest phone they have. We will get the biggest data plan they offer.”
She smiled wide.
“We will download the YouTube app and we will not leave the store until we have created an account for you.”
Christmas had arrived. All of her dreams had manifested. Everything she had possibly wanted was coming true. All in one night.
Alas, eight times eight does not equal 60. She was stuck with playing games on a phone I stopped using six or seven years ago and continues to be deprived.
I find myself repeating certain things to the little Miracles of Christ. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is or what they are doing. It seems different situations or actions bring out the same responses. It doesn’t matter which one is doing it or where we are. I want to share a sample of these nuggets with you. Some are lines from movies I’ve seen. Others are gleaned from anecdotes I’ve heard. Whatever they are, wherever they came from, I want to share them with you because they help me cope in certain situations. I hope they can help you if you find yourself trying to communicate with your children.
What the hell?
For the love of God/Pete/Mike/All that’s good.
You’re sucking my will to live.
I’ll tell you in Spanish: No.
I can’t even.
What made you think that would be a good idea?
I can’t miss you if you don’t leave.
I want to play guitar for Aerosmith. What can I tell you?
One of my favorite places to visit is Plymouth. Wife and I went there on a spur of the moment when we started dating. It’s still one of our favorite places to go and spend a day or two.
Our itinerary has changed since we’ve been blessed with the little Miracles of Christ. It’s been less browsing in wine stores and more hustling through whatever we’re doing so we can be back at the hotel before (perish the thought) the pool closes.
One particular hostage crisis occurred with The Oppressed on a day that was balanced with adult and child activities. The Wife and I decided we would have a small lunch during the day, not too much. We had plans for dinner. Wife and I noticed a French restaurant across the street from where we were staying. There was a menu posted outside. We looked at the menu and then looked at each other. Wife is a Foodie. She loves restaurants, nice restaurants, restaurants where the waitstaff walks up to your table dressed up in a nice suit and, off the top of their head, recites the specials, including where it came from, what it’s cooked in and how it’s presented.
Wife and I pretty much knew what we were going to order. We noticed it pleased God that this restaurant should offer some dishes the Miracles of Christ would enjoy. Perfect. It was going to be another trip to Plymouth capped off with a night at a restaurant we hadn’t yet tried. I could taste the Grand Marnier right there.
We headed downtown for our days activities and The Oppressed saw Domino’s. The look on her face said it all.
“Can we go to Domino’s?”
“No. We decided where we’re going.”
“I want to go to Domino’s”
“We’ll be back here another time. We can do Domino’s then.”
“But I don’t want to go to that place.”
The barrage had started. Wife and I didn’t expect this attack but it wasn’t the first. We met the initial charge with redirection. From there, we recalled the items on the menu and told her of all the offerings from the bill of fare. Things she herself loved. Things she had been constantly asking for. Things you couldn’t get at a pizza shop and we could get pizza anytime back home, and we have. We don’t have a restaurant like this where we live. This is our chance.
Wife and I offered a Thanksgiving Cornucopia of reasons why our wisdom had led us to this restaurant just as God had led the Pilgrims to Plymouth centuries ago. After a day of travelling and sightseeing, we would enjoy a feast of plenty and give thanks for the bounty the nice people in nice suits would be placing before us.
The oppressed wasn’t having it. She continued to batter us like that first winter of 1620-21. I was noticing the shelter of our reasons that protected us from the harsh winds and punishing weather of an elementary school-child and her demand for a pizza she had seen on TV were overpowering our plans for dinner. My vision of enjoying an appetizer and then a drink with my wife despite pestering children was going up in a flambé. The elements were punishing.
That evening, we sat down to a large pizza served with buffalo wings, paired with a variety of soft drinks served by the cup.
I try to help out children whenever I can. However, there are times when I feel it is necessary for one to put on their big boy/girl pants from time to time and figure things out for themselves. I can point them in the right direction but ultimately they need to do the work themselves.
One such incident occurred rather inconspicuously when one of the Gaggle was tasked with a job. This child set off to tackle their responsibility and promptly returned to me with the finished result. I stopped what I was doing to see what was being shown. I don’t exactly remember what it was but I remember being impressed at the work and I said, “Stellar.”
The Gaggle was confused. “What?” they asked.
I repeated, “Stellar.”
“What does that mean?”
“Look it up,” I replied.
Let me stop here to give you a little backstory. When I was in elementary school and we didn’t know what something meant or how you spell it, we would ask our teacher. Our teacher would direct us to the numerous dictionaries thoughtfully stacked along the side and back of the room. There were plenty of dictionaries to go around so no problem if one or more of the students were trying to spell or define something. I have since become a better speller, reader, and writer for this and thought I was just helping someone be a better student.
They looked at me with a slight expression of fear in their face.
“Look it up,” I repeated.
“In a dictionary?” they asked me.
“Yeah,” I nodded. “In a dictionary.
I led the Gaggle to a bookcase and introduced them to the numerous dictionaries that have accumulated over time. I don’t know how we came to have so many but there they were, ready and waiting for whoever needed help. I selected one for them. “Here you go,” I said. “Let me know when you find it.”
I gave the Gaggle a few minutes before checking on them.
“Did you find it?” I asked.
“Where are you?”
“Page 116,” they answered
I tried again. “What letter are you on?”
“You’re a little ways off,” I told them. Try further in the dictionary.
I heard sniffling. I heard whimpering. I returned to the room where the Gaggle was enduring their torture. “What’s wrong?” I asked them.
The Gaggle cried, “I don’t know how to use this. You just give me this and I’m supposed to figure it out.” The gaggle continued to cry and I waited for them to stop and catch their breath. I wanted to make sure they heard me.
“What letter are you on again?”
“B,” they answered.
“What does ‘stellar’ start with?” I asked.
“Okay,” I replied. “I’ll give you a hint: the alphabet hasn’t changed in about 1100 years.”
I saw a light go on in the Gaggle’s head. He looked up for a second then back down at the dictionary. He flipped through the pages, found the letter, found the word, and gave me (and himself) the definition. I gave him a hug for surviving such an ordeal.
I have an unspoken understanding with the little Miracles of Christ (The Oppressed, The Boy, and The Gaggle. I call them “Miracles of Christ” because it’s a miracle they’re alive with all they’ve endured). I take their dirty clothes out of their room. I wash the clothes, dry them, fold them and take the clothes to their respective room and leave them on their bed. They take their clothes and put them away.
To you and me, this would seem like a fair deal or better than fair. they leave their clothes in their room and, when they come back, there are clean clothes waiting for them. All they have to do is find the drawer the clothes belong in and put them in that drawer. The Oppressed is furious to find her clothes on her bed as opposed to properly put away and refuses to do so. The clothes will either pile up on her bed or be crammed into a drawer. I don’t mean clothes separated and put into a drawer. I mean shirts, pants, underwear, everything folded and stacked will be put into the same drawer. the Oppressed is busy; too busy to be bothered with the tedious chore of separating clothes and putting them into the proper drawer. That is my job. The stress of her life doesn’t allow for such minutiae.
Sometimes I will find folded clothes at the bottom of hampers and baskets. The children swear they have no idea how this happens and proceed to blame the cat. Incidentally, the cat is the same one who turns on the lights after a child dutifully turns the lights off upon exiting a bedroom or bathroom.
The servitude forced upon the children is compounded by the atrocities committed upon them in the morning. When time to get dressed for school, The Oppressed will announce to the entire house that she has nothing to wear. She has looked everywhere, including the mountain of clean clothes on her bed and the random stash of clothes in any drawer. This interferes with her morning, with her entire day and my dereliction of duty will only make her day that much more difficult. If I would just put her clothes in the proper place, she would be able to go about her day.
“Where are your clothes supposed to go?” I ask.
Still waiting for an answer.
The Boy can’t be bothered to put his clothes where they need to go, either. He has a loft bed (translation: a bed fort) and his clothes will end up on the loft, that is, if Kitty hasn’t taken his clothes and stashed them in his laundry bucket. It will be time to get ready for school and he doesn’t have a thing to wear. He needs clean clothes.
From the start of first grade until the end of eighth grade I walked to school. It wasn’t uphill and I wasn’t barefoot (my feet are delicate) but it was nice. Crossing guards helped me negotiate intersections and I would run into friends along the way. It was a good time.
My own children are in school now and they are dropped off and picked up instead of walking. One factor in this is that my town, like other communities on Massachusetts’ South Shore hasn’t embraced sidewalks. Once you get away from downtown there’s the road and nothing else.
The Oppressed had early dismissal one glorious day and I thought it would be a great idea if I met her at school and we walked home together. As long as she stays with me and stays on the inside, we will be fine. She will be safe and we will get a little time to talk about school and how everything has been.
I left The Boy with a neighbor. I didn’t think he could make the trek. I walked to school and waited for the bell to ring. The Oppressed saw me and we started to walk through the schoolyard.
“Where did you park?” she asked me.
“I didn’t. I walked.”
“We’re going to walk. It’s nice out and I want to get some exercise.”
The Oppressed started to look around. “Can I see if I can get a ride? I can’t walk that far.”
“You’ll be fine,” I assured her.
That wasn’t good enough. She pulled away from me and looked around to see if there was anyone around who would rescue her from her cruel fate. This included shouting out at vehicles that drove by. She said she was being kidnapped. Her father didn’t love her and her life was so hard. Every other kid had parents that loved her. Why didn’t she?
We continued onward. The Oppressed continued to look for someone that would take pity on her condition. A police cruiser drove by, prompting another cry of, “Child Abuse!” The cruiser didn’t even slow down.
She wasn’t having it. No one was hearing her. She stopped and informed me she would not go any further and demanded a taxi or a piggy-back. She wasn’t getting either. She was furious and started jumping down.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“You’re making me walk and I have a broken leg!” she started as she continued to jump on both legs. When that didn’t work, she laid down on the ground and said she would get up only when I picked her up, a taxi came, or her mother came along to drive her home. Neither of those happened and she finally got up and trudged home saying her father doesn’t love her and she can’t enjoy life. We made it home. I got The Boy and we proceeded with the Homework Wars.
One of my dreams came true when I got to coach my kids’ baseball teams. I have two years of coaching under my belt. Both kids have played baseball for two years and The Oppressed is fine if she never sees another baseball field again.
Youth baseball is a learning experience. The kids learn the basics of the game, like not running to first base with the bat in your hand (everyone had that down by midseason). You also have to remind them of the rules from time to time in a gentle manner, like when your second baseman has a meltdown in the middle of the infield when someone is standing on her base (true story). Again, you have to remind them of the rules from time to time.
The Boy seemed to like baseball. He is asking if he can play again and if I can coach his team. I’m hoping I can. The Oppressed has informed me she hates baseball and everything about it. I think I have the only kid in North America who hates batting. She is never doing it again and she is working to have the act of batting banned for all eternity.
This year, I think I am going to emphasize the concept of taking turns. That way, I won’t have three kids standing on first base wondering what the other two are doing there. I’m also going to teach baserunning and how to do it. Or, more accurately, to run to first base instead of standing in the batter’s box thinking you’re David Ortiz as you admire your majestic pop-fly barely clearing the infield dirt.
I think it’s also important to teach the importance of defense and use the glove your parents gave you. Otherwise, we’ll have another kid want to quit when the ball hits them in the chest while their hands (and said glove) are down at their sides.
One player needed a drink of water every other batter. When that didn’t work, he needed the bathroom. Must have been all that water.
I read a story about Red Sox players doing a shot of whiskey before a game. I wonder if the coaches ever needed it.
Wife needed to travel to Pennsylvania during a long weekend. I, being the history buff, was excited to know we would be relatively close to Valley Forge. I had never been and my favorite excuse for visiting somewhere is: “It’s there.”
The cherubs (The Oppressed and The Boy) and I dropped Wife off and continued to a local place for breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and when you’re going to spend your morning walking around, it’s that much more important.
We filled up on the local fare and proceeded on to Valley Forge. I was excited. Not only was I going to a place that had made me curious for years, but I was also doing this with my children, one of whom would be learning about the American Revolution soon enough in school.
The cherubs’ enthusiasm waned before we got to the second cabin on the land. The Oppressed wanted to know when we would be leaving and The Boy wanted to know what time it was. He was fairly certain the hotel pool was open by then and he didn’t want to miss it.
I was hoping to make it to the top of the hill where we would see the house where George Washington stayed while the soldiers built the cabins in the ice and snow. The Oppressed was done. She had gone far enough and she was hungry. She demanded more food. I reminded her there were people who were here during the winter with nothing on their feet in the middle of winter. She said I was lying and, if I was telling the truth, they were luckier than she was for not enduring such harsh treatment as her.
The last straw was when she saw a car driving up the hill to the destination I was hoping to reach. She was furious at me for making her walk all this time when we could have driven. She immediately laid down and informed me she wasn’t going anywhere until I agreed to take them back to the hotel so they could swim.
My name is Greg. I’m from Massachusetts and have been a househusband for over nine years. I am a parent and a foster parent You’ll learn more about the cast of characters as we go along, especially the little darlings that have since transformed me from a gentle, live-and-let-live individual into a single malt scotch and craft beer connoisseur.
The Cast of Characters
Me. A college-educated, well-read individual who has turned into a hardened veteran of “The Homework Wars”. Hostage negotiator who frequently deals with hunger-strikes as a result of limited menus and a refusal to cook multiple dishes at mealtimes.
Wife. Mother of “The Boy” and “The Oppressed”. Claims to work in Corporate America but I and a few others seem to think she works for a secretly-funded black-ops branch of the federal government due to long stretches of not being reached and impromptu travel.
The Oppressed. My daughter. Believes I am conspiring with her teacher to make her life miserable and blames me for her not, “enjoying life”. Anti-homework crusader and tireless advocate for oppressed children everywhere.
The Boy. My son. Proudly announces he will work 10 jobs when he grows up. These jobs include building houses and playing a role in a local S.W.A.T. unit. Considerately stacks five or six books in front of his bed for me to read every night.
The Gaggle. Any one or more foster child(ren) that enter and leave our home.
Kitty. Our cat. She likes to think I am her personal climbing post and Wife is her own bed. Kitty enjoys running around in circles at random times during the day and stalking/pouncing on anything that moves. If you ask Wife, she’s already used up seven or eight or her nine lives.