Tuesday, March 4, 2014

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My Kids and I are Frenemies Part III

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We drove home, and things seemed to be okay. The kids got along most of the way, and Mel was optimistic about her computer getting fixed. We arrived home after 8:30, which was late for our kids, so it was a scramble to get them ready for bed. I got them in pajamas, and Mel brushed their teeth. By 9:00PM, they were ready to be tucked in. Most nights getting Tristan and Norah ready for bed felt like we were dressing a pair of hyperactive cats, so this was surprisingly fast.
It was one hour past their usual bedtime. And somewhere in all the scramble to get the kids ready for bed, Tristan broke out the iPad. This is one of those dreaded things that happens late at night. I knew that if I took the iPad away, he was going to shit himself. He was going to throw a huge fit, and we would be right back where we were on the ride to Best Buy. But I also knew that if I let him stay up much longer, he wouldn’t want to get up in the morning, and once he did, he would drag his little feet, and bitch and moan about getting ready, and then probably get in trouble for doing something asinine at school.
I don’t know what it is about Tristan and sleep, but if he doesn’t get enough, he turns into a hyperactive spaz the next day, running around and not listening, taking off his clothing at inappropriate times and in inappropriate places, whipping his shirt in the air like a drunk at a party. But on the flip side, if he gets too much, he has the same reaction. It’s maddening. 

Once again I was faced with being an authority figure rather than a friend. I hoped Mel would put him to bed, but she was too clever for that, and had already started tucking in Norah. I told Tristan to put the game away, and, once again, he told me he was in the middle of a level.
I told him that it was late. I told him that no one said he could play the iPad. I asked him politely. I tried to reason with him. But nothing worked. More or less, he was already hypnotized by the game. He just gazed at it, his eyes focused, mind lost somewhere between the real world and the world of Angry Birds.
Finally, I got angry and I snapped my fingers. I yelled at him, something I really hate doing, but it felt like it was the only way to get his attention. I yanked the iPad from him, and sent him to bed.
He started to cry. “But I just wanted to play for a minute!”
He stomped into his room and slammed the door. And much like I get with Mel when she is angry with me, it was everything I could do to not go into his room and chat with him. I felt anxious and worried, like I always do when one of my kids is angry with me, and wanted those feelings to go away fast. I sat at the kitchen table for some time, wondering where I stood. Wondering if he was going to hate me forever. Wondering if we were ever going to be friends again. And I know this all sounds dramatic, but I think about it every time I get into an argument with my kids. I wonder if it is the straw that will break the camel’s back. I wonder if he is going to now, suddenly, hate me much like I hated my father. And I wonder if that is what much of this comes down to. My farther was not strict. He was a drunk. He was neglectful. He ignored me. And there was a moment, right about sixth grade, that something snapped in me, and I finally decided that I didn’t like him. I still wanted him in my life, but part of me changed. It was a coming-of-age moment that flipped from yellow to red like a stoplight. I fear this will one day happen with my kids.
After about ten minutes, I went into Tristan’s room. The light was still on, and he was wrapped in a blanket from head to toe. I tried to tickle him, and he grunted at me, angrily. I tried to give him a hug and he pushed me away. Eventually, I pulled the blanket away from his face to try and reason with him, and he swung at me. He tried to hit me right in the face with his little fist that only two years earlier could barely wrap around my index finger.
We stared at each other for some time, both red faced. In Tristan’s eyes I could see nothing but anger. And I have to say that this angered me more than I expected. I don’t recall ever taking a swing at my father. In fact, I don’t think I had the audacity to do so. What Tristan did was completely unexpected, but not as unexpected as what happened next.  
Tristan stood on the bed. He was wearing nothing but Skylanders underwear, his body was pale and stout and small, much like mine was at his age. Then he winded up and tried to hit me again. He kept swinging at me until I grabbed his fists, both with one hand, and held them to his chest. 

I was angry for a moment, but soon started laughing as I watched Tristan try to wiggle free. I didn’t laugh because I had power over him. I laughed because I had to to keep from letting my anger overtake me. Plus he looked very cute, with his red face as he struggled to get free. Then he said in a half grunt, “I could beat you if you’d let me go.”
And as I watched him struggle, I realized how little he was. I realized that he was a boy and I had a lot of power over him. I held Tristan’s hands until he calmed down.
“Tristan, I want you to listen to me.” I said. “I am your Dad and I am bigger and stronger than you. Someday you will be bigger and stronger than me, but that isn’t today. You need to realize that I love you, but I can’t have you hitting me. I don’t want you to ever do this again. Don’t pick a fight with me because you won’t win. I am going to let you go. And then I am going to tuck you in and give you a kiss.”
Tristan looked up at me. Then he nodded.

I went to bed wondering what brought on Tristan’s reaction. What made him feel that way? Why he tried to hit me. I wondered if we were going to be better in the morning. Eventually, I fell asleep. Tristan woke me around 2AM. He was standing next to my bed. He told me he was scared, and I wondered if it was because of what happened before bed.
“Can I sleep next to you?” he asked.
I made room for him and he tucked in next to me. And as he snuggled his back against my chest, I started to realize that perhaps it wasn’t a battle between being Tristan’s friend and his father. But perhaps it was a hierarchy. Perhaps I needed to realize that I was a father a first and a friend second.
Right before I fell asleep again he said, “I’m sorry for hitting at you.”
“I love you,” I said. “Now go to sleep.”

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley