Sunday, May 20, 2012


My parents came over for dinner Saturday night and all day long Charlie was wired with excitement. So it was almost comically predictable when he flamed out in a most spectacular fashion five minutes into the meal.

He and Wes were sitting at the little plastic outdoor kids' table on the patio while the rest of us gathered around on chairs and benches.  He took one bite of his dinner and exclaimed "Oh MAN, this is SO GOOD!"  What a nice evening this was turning out to be!  But by bite five-ish, he and Wes had a shoving match with the table.  Shove-shove-shove, until Ryan put his foot in the way and warned him to knock it off.

Then he shoved it good and hard and sent his and Wes's plates sliding into his lap.

So I took the table away.  He and Wes sat on the patio barely nibbling at their food while the rest of us enjoyed the great (if I do say so myself) meal.  And then Charlie kicked an extra plate nearby his foot on the patio.

"Don't kick that, Buddy.  Pick it up and put it over there."

So he kicked it good and hard.  It slid across the porch and into the grass.

I got up close to his face and said "If you don't shape up you will be in your room for the rest of dinner."

He responded "THIS IS SO STUPID!"

Now.  My parents were sitting right there.  So instead of slinging him over my shoulders like a baby calf, I calmly put down my fork, picked him up, and carried him up to his bed.

"You stay here.  I will be back to check on you in a long time."

And I went back outside.  MINUTES later I was inside getting dessert ready when I heard a huge thump.  When I went up to investigate, I found him under his bed, mattress on the floor, and bunky board standing up at a crazy angle.  He was still pushing on it with his feet when he noticed me.

"Fix it." I said with eerie calm.  "Fix it, RIGHT NOW."

And then I went downstairs.

He appeared on the porch minutes later.

"Is the bed put back together?" I asked.

"Yes" he grunted.

"Then go up there and sit on it until I come and get you."

And then we finished our dinner.  And then Ryan got up to clear the plates.  And he stood there by the back door, loaded down with plates.  And he said "It's locked.  He locked us out of the house."

Now.  We do not have a key for the back door.  And the front door was double locked because I was afraid he was going to make a run for it when we were in the back yard.  We were good and locked out.  I pounded on the door.  My dad tried his front door key in the back door lock, with no luck.  Ryan went to go find an open window.

Shortly afterward Charlie appeared in the kitchen.  I yelled, very rationally, "Open this door right now or Phent will be sleeping in my room FOR THE NEXT SIX MONTHS!"  It was a proud moment, yelling that right in front of my parents.  And most of the neighborhood, actually.  I was pretty pissed off.

When he unlocked the door I swung it open, met his eyes and said "GO."  He ran up the stairs, barely touching them as he went.  He flopped down on his bare mattress (that he had stripped earlier, you remember).  I started yelling.

"You NEVER lock us out of the house, EVER!  DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?  Do you know how DANGEROUS THAT IS?!"

He started sobbing.  I stalked back down the stairs and angry-washed some dishes.  Then I put James to bed around 6:00 and poured another glass of wine.  He was still crying.  I went into his room, put his sheets back on, helped him change into jammies and told him it was bedtime.  I kissed him good night and told him I love him.  He was asleep by 6:20.

 This morning was also very special.  Wes had a 101.6 fever, James was inhabited by a loud, screamy poltergeist, and Charlie continued his reign of terror.  By 10:40 it became clear that there was no way anyone was going to get anything out of church, even if we could get half the family there by 11:00 and by some miracle, whichever parent was there managed to carry James and drag a screaming, belligerent, fifty-five pound child all the way in from the car. But yet, we pushed on.

I was reading "Pocket's Christmas Wish" to Wes in the living room when I heard Ryan say "WE DO NOT SPIT IN ANGER" to Charlie, who had just been asked to do the totally unexpected task of putting on his church pants and shoes.  And in that moment I realized that I could not continue down this path for a second day in a row.  My voice caught in my throat and my hands holding the book started shaking.

All I could think of were the pretty fruit pizzas I had made for dessert the night before.  How as I'd chopped the strawberries I was thinking of Charlie the whole time and how much he loved fruit pizzas.  How much I'd looked forward to having my parents over for dinner, to the whole family being together.  And how Charlie hadn't even eaten any of that dinner or dessert. Wes hadn't eaten anything either, since he was getting sick, unbeknownst to me.  I'd spent the whole meal angry and hurt and embarrassed.  It was so disappointing.

Charlie was lying face down on the stairs screeching about how awful his life is.

I told Ryan that we would not be making it to church today.  Then handed Charlie a grocery bag and carried him out the front door.  I deposited him in one of our front gardens and told him to start pulling weeds.

He halfheartedly picked a few and put them in the bag.  I sat down on the other side and helped.  He started fiddling with a leaf.

"If you stop, I stop, and you're not done until all of these weeds are gone."

He started ripping angry handfuls of plants out of the dirt.  Pausing to show me the roots here and there.  He complained about the hot sun.  He was thirsty.  He was tired.  This was boring.  I repeated myself.

"If you stop, I stop, and you're not done until all of these weeds are gone."

He was not a happy boy.


We had been working for thirty minutes when he stopped complaining and started talking to me.

"I didn't like it when you were gone. I had all bad days."

I stopped weeding. "But you knew I would come back, right? Just like Papa always comes back from work trips."

He pulled a long strand of bermuda grass out of the dirt and inspected it's roots.

"But you weren't around during the day. I MISSED you." It was not a statement. It was an accusation.

I told him that I had missed him very much too. That I would never leave and not come back. I made sure he understood. And I knew that a thousand little things that I do every day that I think go unnoticed, were Very Important Things. And I don't even know what those things are. But they are rituals to him. And I felt very, very sad.

He was so, breathtakingly angry with me for going on my trip. We weeded together in silence for a little while. I thought about the trip. "Was it worth it?" I wondered. And it was. Not worth his anger, but worth the disruption and the money and the time. It had been so, so good professionally, personally, all of those things. The boys were in excellent hands with our babysitter and my parents and Ryan and their teachers. I had no doubt about that. But I did not know what to do with his hurt and disappointment and anger. I still don't.

But the ninety minutes he spent weeding were just what he needed. I took Wes to a doctor's appointment and when I got home he ran out into the garage and gave me a huge hug. He was himself all afternoon and we had a lovely dinner together, including dessert, that we all got to enjoy. We read books and gave hugs and kisses and everything was as it should be. I haven't told him about my next trip, which is in July, but tonight? Was good.


GradBaby said...

Wow! Thank you for writing this - the play-by-play really brought me in, living each moment with you. But the analysis at the end is what killed it for me. As someone with an 8-month old and 4th year in my PhD program, this is what I have to look forward to. Loving my baby, leaving my baby. Juggling career and motherhood and everything. I also had a stressful weekend trying to juggle, but your recall of the "aftermath" of a trip was really useful to hear. You are such a wise parent-kids have their own characters, at times at odds with us. They need punishment and limits, but that doesn't always mean punishment away. The thought of you both suffering thru wedding together until you started talking will stick with me for a long time.. Thanks for sharing :)

Anonymous said...

this is totally heart breaking. i have a 2yo and travel occasionally for work. hate the thought that he feels this way. but what can you do?

Alyssa said...

I love this post - and how all your posts are very real. I don't know what I'd do with his sadness either. So heartbreaking! Glad you had a good night with the WHOLE family :)

Brooke said...

Bless his little heart. I think you handled everything just exactly right, and I admire you for actually not losing your temper, and for being intuitive enough to understand what he couldn't yet find the words to say. I don't know how to strike that careful balance between taking a trip that was good for you and maintaining the consistency that's good for Charlie, but I think the really important thing is that the vast majority of his days (and your part in them) are so good that he has something wonderful (even if it seems ordinary) to miss when you're gone.

Anonymous said...

Whenever things like this happen at our house (and they often do, and I feel angry at the children at first, and very, very guilty for being a working mom later) I always think back to the advice someone gave me a long time ago, when I had no idea I'd come to appreciate it so much: these are the situations that make children learn and grow most, not the days in which everything and everyone is easy and loving and peaceful. If we take away every situation that is difficult, as we as modern parents are sometimes inclined to do - my friend said -, we're not equipping our children for life. I think (hope?) she might be right.

Suzanne from the Netherlands

Nora said...

Nicely played, my friend. I think I will start trying to join mine in their punishment, to. Such a good idea.

What REALLY impresses me is your clever forethought to have cultivated a bed of weeds for just such an occasion. Most people just grow flowers but you are growing shared learning experiences. So smart!

Sarah said...

Oh, man. Harry has been acting like this lately, and it never occurred to me that something could be bothering him. You're awesome!

sarah said...

Oh Becca, this made me cry. You're such a good, loving, thoughtful mom. I love that you sat down with him at the weeding (how priceless is that picture, btw?!) and that he could find the words to tell you how he was feeling. They are so complicated.

SnarkyMommy said...

So before I got the end, my favorite part was, "I yelled, very rationally, "Open this door right now or Phent will be sleeping in my room FOR THE NEXT SIX MONTHS!" It was a proud moment, yelling that right in front of my parents. And most of the neighborhood, actually."

But then the end was so touching. Seriously. I think you did a great job handling all of it.

Kyla said...

Good job, Mama.

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