Yesterday ended ridiculously strained and full of family stress. And I'm not talking about our nineteen-year-old son Mike. It's a sad thing when one's crime-historied, organic brain damaged son ends the day better than the supposed functioning family members. And it's stranger still when things change within a matter of minutes.
After a full morning of work yesterday and an afternoon of errands of various kinds, I prepared dinner for our family, minus Claudia (who was making an out-of-town business-related visit) and Rand (who was working). It was a hurried affair on my part, and barely an excuse for an evening meal -- sloppy joes, chips, fruit and peanut butter cookies (made from frozen dough). But the meal was remarkably peaceful and stress-free. We prayed together, ate our food, and then scattered in various directions.
Our twelve-year-old son Dominyk and I headed off to a Boy Scout Court of Honor. The Boy Scout Troop of which Dominyk is becoming a part is chartered by our congregation, so we are very familiar with the physical geography of the space. Familiar space is always a bonus for Dominyk, whose anxiety issues can be overwhelming. The Court of Honor was a great celebration of both the Troop's and individual's achievements (this is really a spectacular troop), and at the close we headed home. I asked Dominyk, "So, are you still excited about being a Scout after all you heard tonight?" "Kind of yes, kind of no. My brain keeps saying 'no.'"
"Why does your brain say no?" I inquired.
"Umm. Don't know."
"Well, there are times when we need to tell our brains things are OK, don't we?"
"Yep. That's what I'm doing, dad."
On the way home I decided to stop by the local grocery store to pick up a few coupon items before their expiration date (which was last night). Among those items were sports waters, like Gatorade. The coupon allowed us five free with the purchase of ten. Dominyk has an obsession (in clinical terms, not as in what most people mean by "obsession") with drinks of any kind, and I thought it would be nice for me to let him choose the flavors, a task he completed swiftly.
On the way to pay for them he began to harangue me with how it would be once we arrived home. "I'm going to choose who gets what drinks, dad. I'm going to keep five of them in your closet [where we keep items like this locked up until use] just for me. I'll decide who gets what."
I continued to remind Dominyk that it was not going to work that way. That I would distribute the drinks, and that each person would get one and each person could choose which one they wanted. He was not convinced, although he silence his verbal barrage.
Upon arriving home I allowed Dominyk to choose his drink first, but he was still convinced he would be the arbiter of drinks in our home for the evening. I told him in no uncertain terms that it was not going to work that way, after which he stomped off to his room screaming about my unfairness. I have heard such phrases so many times for so many years I must confess I paid little attention.
I told the other kids they could help themselves to the drinks on the table as Claudia and I departed for a twenty-minute neighborhood walk. The walk itself was enjoyable enough. It was a crisp, clear, cold late October evening and refreshing in its own way.
Nearly home we encountered a shadowy figure lumbering down the other side of the street. Even before we could see his face I could tell by his gait that it was our thirteen-year-old son Tony. He had on his grey hoodie, hood pulled over his head, a backpack at his side and a determined pace coupled with no eye contact.
Claudia headed home, and I walked over to Tony. "So where are you headed?"
"Away. I'm going away from home."
Silence as we walk.
"How long do you think you'll be gone?"
"I don't know. Maybe for good."
"Hmmm. Care if I come along?"
Silence and the adolescent look that says "dad you're so damn dumb I'm not even going to answer that."
We trudge along together for twenty or so minutes. While Claudia and I walked there had been an altercation at home involving at least three or four other of the kids, and Tony feels that he has been mistreated. The fact of the matter is that Tony is seldom mistreated, if that classification is based upon innocence. He is constantly provoking, demanding, violating others' space, physically aggressive and lacking any kind of impulse control. He is unable to see this, nor does he understand how his behavior contributes to the way others treat him. I have given up, at least for now, trying to explain rationally to him why things are the way they are for him. I simply remind him that he does not need to respond with physical aggression and threats when others bother him.
By the time we arrive home the emotional level has been ratcheted up many degrees. Having left a relatively calm (except for unhappy Dominyk) home minutes before, it is disarming to enter the emotional intensity that now floods our domicile. Heading to our bedroom, I see a crumpled note at the top of my trash. It reads:
Dear Dad: I fricin hate you. I wish I was never boren.
Recognizing Dominyk's handwriting and phonetic attempts at spelling, I am angry. I am angry with myself for having purchased the stupid drinks that created the emotional disturbance in our home, and I am angry that I am too tired to respond more positively. Unhappily, I do not handle this stressful invasion into our lives very well. I am not at my best at night, and I find many ways to assess the inadequacy of my and my spouse's parental ability. In particular, I expound for minutes behind the shut door of our bedroom to Claudia about all the ways she contributes to our family's distress. It is a verbal attack that is unwarranted, one that diminishes my spouse and myself in the process.
In the ensuing minutes she responds by leaving the bedroom, intent upon reprimanding to her spouse's satisfaction other children who were involved in the earlier altercation. Her intense interactions with our oldest daughter cause the daughter to explode with nasty words of invective peppered with f*** and other linguistic barbs. It is really very unpleasant, and as we all prepare to try to sleep there is an uneasy truce afoot.
Few of us are happy. None of us are proud of our behavior. All of us feel trapped.
There is, my wife reminds me, always tomorrow. And while I do not know what tomorrow holds, I know it does not include my purchasing any more soft drinks for some time.