My Little Ticking Time Bombs

Emily is now as old as the neighbor girl was when we first moved into this house. I say this because nearly thirteen years have passed, and the sweet, sometimes flighty, little child (whose eyes nearly exploded out of her head when she told me that she was into this cool new game called Pokémon and I quickly presented her with five CARTONS of cards inherited as part of a windfall from a friend’s failed bookstore) has pokévolved herself into an occasionally sweet but mostly brash and jaded young woman who a neighbor and I had to call the cops on last night because she and her boyfriend were engaged in a loud, drunken spat in the street from 2:00 to 3:00 AM.

While not a shining moment for the family, it probably isn’t the lowest point. Mira’s birth story is inextricably linked to this family’s more humbling moments because as Becky was going into labor, our driveway and the street were blocked by the cars of two state troopers, a sheriff’s deputy, and some local squad cars who were taking this neighbor girl’s older sister out of the house in handcuffs.

Now I bring up these stories not because I feel some need to dish dirt on my neighbors — I don’t like to do it, especially when I do know these people personally — but because each of those two events were punctuated with outbursts of a venomous dagger that I have feared for myself since before we had kids. I confided to Becky that my biggest fear in raising girls would be that some day “Daddy’s Little Girl” who would run through a wall to give me a hug would suddenly shut me out completely except to say “I hate you, Daddy.” Both of these events were peppered with “I Hate You Daddys.”

Last night’s was particularly disturbing because  the ferocity with which this young lady slurred her insults at her boyfriend before being driven into the house by angry neighbors — how he had betrayed her, used her, lied to her, treated her like s**t, etc. — only made the conclusion, where she stormed out of the house again even MORE agitated at her father and back into the arms of the young man she nearly came to blows with, all the more bizarre.

Obviously I don’t know what goes on in their house. I don’t care to speculate. What I do know is that her father proudly and dutifully supported her through her years in volleyball and on a traveling softball team. He had established expectations for homework and curfews and imposed rules. Her parents helped her find and keep jobs. These are things I know, and they are things I would want to do for my children. And so, without pointless speculation, I feel sorry for a man I know and respect, and whose burdens I worry I may someday face.

I am regularly assured by others that I don’t have anything to worry about; my kids are just great.  I think of Emily in particular who is forlorn for a week if she gets called out at school for talking out of turn, and who wanted a new gym teacher because she got yelled at for misusing gym equipment and didn’t get a star stamp for the first time ever. But I also know mental illness runs in the family, and can change things in a hurry.

Perhaps in Mira’s, they might change for the better.  Mira is our clear odds-on leader for “I hate you, Daddy”-ism. We have a long-standing joke, regarding the money we have put aside for each child since they were born. The money is intended to be for the kids’ college fund, but in Mira’s case, we wryly contend, it will probably be needed as bail money. It’s a joke that gets less funny with each passing year, but we still tell it. Child psychologists give me a tongue lashing for establishing the foundation of a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” But then they meet her, and wonder whether the fund will be big enough not just for bail, but for a legal defense team.

I don’t think of it that way myself. I think of it as following a well established system I have where I imagine the worst that could possibly happen so that what really happens usually is a pleasant surprise by comparison: The car only needs a $400 belt replacement?  Awesome — I had told myself I might need $3K for a new engine! This is why I find myself lying awake at night, imaging my girls as teenagers calling me on the phone and saying things like: “Hey, Dad…. Yeah, sorry I haven’t let you know where I’ve been for the last week. I just wanted to tell you that I think I’m pregnant. But I don’t know, that might just be the meth talking.”

This way, I’ll have steeled myself for the impact, and have the chance to prepare and memorize responses more helpful than things like “I hate you, too!” or “You wait until your mother hears about this!” or “Fine! I don’t care!”  Things like “Just remember, I love you know matter what and you’re always welcome here” or “I don’t want to fight, so I’m just going to listen, ok?”  I have these lines stored as a PDF on my iPod for review and ready access for rapid deployment.

Hopefully, if well-played, they’ll be Super Effective.

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Author of over sixty children's books, as well writer of textbook materials and standardized exam text. I may have helped teach your children...

Posted in The Kids

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