And perhaps extend beyond that point, in the interest of setting a stern example intended not to be forgotten anytime soon.
I love my boys, of course. And as I’ve mentioned previously in the context of “why am I writing?” I suspect nothing is more important, rewarding, and life-affirming than being a (good) parent.
But there are days, I readily confess, where I resort, desperately, to judging my own tyranny at home by comparing myself to “The Bird” in Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken.” A calm washes over me as I watch the school bus pull away with my two tormentees on board (faces pressed against the glass to take a final breath-fogged peek at their morning’s tormentor). In that moment, I begin the assessment: “OK, that was awful, not to be repeated, I do not feel good about any aspect of myself, I just might be a terrible parent, perhaps the worst that has ever inhabited this or any other planet, how did I get this way?, how did it come to this?, should I dash home to destroy any potential evidence should the authorities come knocking on my door at long last?”
In these moments, I reach for the first of my two yardsticks (maybe “litmus tests” is better) in these dark moments — “The Bird.”
If you’ve read the book, you know what a stereotypically sadistic, miserable S.O.B., out and out bad guy “The Bird” is. (If you haven’t read the book, you should, if only to make yourself feel better as a human.) The Bird’s behavior is particularly appalling given the protagonist Louis Zamperini’s incredible courage and resilience. Louis apparently was a Master Lemonade Maker. 🙂 Anyhow, without boring the “Unbroken” unitiated with the gory details, suffice to say that The Bird is one bad dude, capable of unimaginable atrocities.
Which brings me to my crazed antics of this very morning. As regular readers of The Lemonade Chronicles may recall, Wednesdays are the mornings when I deal with the Kraken and the Land of Unbrushed teeth, solo. While my wife Hilary trots out to and back from the Golden Gate Bridge in the midst of a glorious sunrise, lungs filled with pungent sea air, in a “The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music” experience. Back at home, I channel The Bird.
It starts out innocently enough. First things first, I’m spot-on schedule with the 15-minute dog walk. Actually an exercise in the physics of jamming something too big (and stinky) into something too small (and too thin). Anyhow, I’m over that by 6:45am, and on to the next thing: Getting some sort of healthy breakfast on the table for the boys in about 3 minutes. No microwave, still, so I boil some water, then ready some oatmeal. Banana slices, blueberries, and cranberries sprinkled on top, with a touch of lowfat organic milk. (Supposedly the only kind of milk that is worth a damn.) Stirred up with the hot-but-not-too-hot water, and set out delicately on hemp placemats with napkin-ringed linen napkins. So far, I am clearly a great dad, perhaps the best that ever lived, here or on any other planet, and The Bird hasn’t even made an entrance. How could he?
Then it all starts to unravel. The “gradual wakening” approach comes first. Gently opened bedroom doors, shades pulled up (quietly) to expose just the faintest bit of natural light, clicking on blue-lampshaded lights with dim (and eco-friendly bulbs), and a caring peck on each head. Wailea dutifully trots in to each room, her nails comfortingly click-clacking rhythmically on the boys hardwood floors, before she bounds in to the bed of each, in order, giving them some Norman Rockwellian licks. I saunter back out to the kitchen, pull up my iPhone’s KQED app to live stream the morning news on our Apple Airplay-connected kitchen speaker (mentally clearing my throat, poised to dish out some high-minded brain stimulation on the President’s “State of the Union” Address), and await my boys’ sleepy-eyed adulation.
But there is no adulation. Some faint groaning off in the distance. I glance at the clock. But there is no clock because there is no microwave. Only a gaping maw of aluminum framing and some wires. This is unsettling, but not insurmountable. I grab the blue plastic Igloo icepack from the freezer, playfully touching it to bare backs and bellies. This elicits begrudging giggles from one, mumbled curse words (I think) from the other. The imaginary clock on the imaginary microwave has by now reconfigured its green digital numbers–at least in my head–to tell me that I’m running out of time and getting off schedule. Taunting my futile attempt to be a good dad.
So I pull out the big guns, though, honestly, still not gritting my teeth, nor bugging my eyes, nor bulging the veins in my neck. At least not yet. I’m still calm and in control. I fill up halfway one of our remnant, plastic Giants cups (maybe the one commemorating one or another of Barry Bonds’ long-forgotten home runs?) with cold water. I then pad back into Max’s room, peel back the striped cover a bit, and…dump it on his head. The same tactic is deployed in Everett’s room. With that, Max responds as I expected, bounding out of bed surprised but enthused by the stimulus, wide awake. He is on track, with the program, and now officially in the flow of what needs to be done before 7:43am.
Everett, on the other hand, is a different story. I may have mentioned before that he is a stubborn one. And these Wednesday mornings, I fear, have become a fruitless attempt on my part to plumb the depths of his stubbornness. And I can’t find the damned bottom of it. Everett relocates to the living room, blanket over his head, uttering a stream of “I’m not going to school,” “How could you do that?,” “There’s NO WAY I’m going to eat oatmeal,” “No we CAN’T take a taxi to school and pay for it out of our own savings,” etc. You get the picture. I am panicked that my true lack of control here has been revealed. So I scan my low-balance memory banks for something that might capture Everett’s attention, something that a 2nd grader will respond to (I don’t care if it’s a positive or negative response at this point, I just need a response, and fast, because 7:43am is only 10 minutes away). Something truly gross, perhaps?
In a flash of brilliance (that now seems like temporary insanity), I announce in a matter-of-fact tone that the “water treatment” actually wasn’t water at all. In reality, it was a scoop of toilet water from the guest bathroom toilet. I add, in full-on teaching mode now, “You know, the one where the toilet water is always yellow because you guys refuse to flush that no matter how many times I’ve asked?” Man, I am proud of myself right then: A look of horror and disgust washes across their faces, particularly Everett’s, as he begrudgingly slides into his seat at the breakfast table.
Sure, if your “Mission” is to do whatever it takes to get your kids to bend to your will and fall in line in a compressed timeframe. Probably not, though, if your “Mission” is to build long-lasting, loving relationships with the only two human beings that will carry your last name forward, long after you’re gone. And I’m not sure I want this particular chapter shared with my great-great grand kids. It probably doesn’t reflect well on their great-great grandfather. Then again, it could be worse. I could have been The Bird.
NOTE: For those paying close attention, I only mentioned one of my yardsticks/litmus tests above. The second is George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” monologue. More specifically, how many of them I am able to avoid giving currency during a flash of anger, stomping around the house trying to get my boys up and out. Today’s tally — Six left unspoken. Not bad. But tomorrow’s another day.
Thanks for reading.