Being home on summer break, I have lots of time with the kids.
Thus far, this extra time has been really special for the family, and by “really special,” I mean “especially bad.”
I’m afraid my three kids have gotten to know me. I was hoping to hide the hypocrisy a little longer.
The other nine or 10 months of the year, when I worked until two hours before the kids’ bedtime, it was easy to throw out something like, “In this family, we will speak to each other kindly” and other enlightened maxims.
But, when I have more than just a few hours with them, there is no way I can hold onto that kind of pretense.
During the previous nine months, I said things like, “Let’s turn off the TV and use our brains!”
But, over the last two months, we have watched at least 20 movies and conquered three Wii games.
For the last nine months, I supported my wife in her war on sugar, and we tried to put something green on every plate.
Lately, my kids have eaten so many quick snacks that I twice checked the Internet to see if they could suffer from high-fructose corn syrup poisoning.
I’m so tired of answering questions like this one: “How come you can drink soda, Dad, and we can’t?”
I try to tell them, “Listen. I’m old enough to know what’s good for me and what’s not. If I want to put poison in my body, I’m wise enough to make that decision.” Slurp.
I could stop drinking soda, but, to be less hypocritical, now I'm letting them drink it, too. So, every time I give the kids caffeine or sugar, they strut around like college mascots, shakin’ their booties and getting the party started.
Last Monday, I had a humbling moment. I caught myself saying, “Milk?! Are you hungry or just bored? Let’s make the right decision here. Eat your dry cereal, and you can have the milk later.”
Normally I am the keeper of justice, but now it’s, “I’m sure he did call you a diaper head, but were you in his personal bubble? Your sister told me you were going to tell me that, but we don’t tattle, OK?”
A father can only fool kids so long, and then he starts to lose control.
Right now, we can’t go anywhere that sells toys, groceries, animals, books, drinks, electronics, crafts, clothes or anything fun. The kids have learned that my wallet opens easily after a certain sequence of questions.
The little bullies don’t know this code or how to decipher it, but, given enough combinations, eventually they can break the wallet open.
“Dad can we/why can’t we/how about just/what about/didn’t you last time/I thought you promised/what if/didn’t you say/you know what I thought of/how 'bout/why not/don’t you have/then why/guess what/why are you crying/what if we sell/where’s Mom/don’t you love us?”
I call this game “The Barrage.”
Their objective is to crack the code before I can get out of a store.
My objective is to leave without spending too much money or having cranky ladies sneer at us with an expression that says: “When my children were young, they never spoke audibly in public. They just blinked in Morse code.”
A few years ago, I used to shop in relative peace by telling them, “No. I’m sorry, but we have to put that back. It belongs to the store.”
Now they are a little wiser, and I’m a little less clever.
At home, I try to limit their exposure to electronics, but the alternative is really disagreeable.
First of all, I can’t get any work done. After I’ve read the same paragraph 11 times because there have been four "Daddy-I-need-you’s," three fights, two spills and a cartridge inserted into a banned Wii, I surrender.
Plus, for every hour my daughter plays, we spend two hours cleaning up. I try to tell myself that maybe she is a prodigy in abstract art — only Jackson Pollock threw paint on a canvas, and my daughter throws toys and clothes all over the house.
If I take a step back — because I'm really lazy and need justification — I can imagine that she is trying to capture the essence of a hoarder’s compulsion.
I can internalize the helpless desperation that imprisons these poor people who are completely overwhelmed, too ashamed to ask for help, afraid of visitors and don't know where to start.
Her "art" symbolizes the effects of being left alone for extended periods of time. Her chaos theme perfectly communicates the lack of parental guidance during her developmental years.
The summer began with me in control. I had goals. I had boundaries. I had respect and dignity.
Now, I’m counting the days until I only have to father for two or three hours at a time and can start to repair my image.
Brad Clemons lives in Columbia and writes in the bathroom with the door locked.