I never take anything with me after watching short videos on my phone, but into my daily scroll enters, Dr. Becky Kennedy. She’s got 2M followers on IG so maybe you know where I’m headed. I pause whenever I see her selfie vlog clips on my screen. It seems like in every other video, she’s gently hammering us with the idea of “repair”. I’m paraphrasing, but essentially she says that when we are assholes to our kids, we’ve got to put our hand up and say sorry I was an asshole.*
When everyone is fighting me on getting dressed, picking up stuffies, and getting out the door on time for the third morning in a row, occasionally I’ll ball a fist and spike it down on a couch cushion and growl like a bear. The kids will freeze, get scared and then sad or angry or both. I’ll step away and load the dishwasher or fold some laundry to let the stove cool off before circling back and saying, “Sorry about yelling guys. That was probably scary. Not my best stuff.” It works [I think]. It seems to unravel the damage a little so that they don’t walk around terrified of setting me off; I feel a little better about being a flawed human.
“Ya Dad. You shouldn’t yell at us.”
You’re right, son.
*I want to make special note that you never have to “repair” after giving them the finger from another room or whispering fck you under your breath.
I’ve been paying more attention to the evening routine lately around the apartment. This awareness started a few weeks ago after a night that Jake had a scary dream. He came sprinting into my bedroom, quivering with fear.
“I can’t go back in there [his room], Dad. It’s terrifying.”
He used the word terrified and it haunted me. We curled up on the pull-out in his room together. It took forever for me to go back to sleep as he burrowed his small body against me. He fell asleep immediately; I am a girthy warm furnace.
I wonder if these kids could use a little more sweetness in the evening before they drift off to sleep.
So now we kick off our tubbing program at 7pm (moved up from 7:30). The Keegan man always takes the first tub. He is a devil in the tub lately. He’s grown large enough where he doesn’t want to share the tub with his brother anymore. He spends his time in the tub trying to send 40 gallons of warm suds onto the bathroom floor. He’s been using the sloped part of the tub as a water slide. When his naked ass cheeks slide into the tub, a tsunami comes over the side, flooding the bathroom and soaking my clothes. If I’ve had a trying day, that move can infuriate me. Lately though, I’ve tried to work to stay curious and to “let go” of expectations [this is hard]. I try to notice how much he likes the tub. How much joy he finds in being in the water. It’s fine that the bathroom is soaked. I’ll just mop it up with a towel later. Will I ever be able to let go of wanting him to be more like regular kids?
Jake gets in the tub next and is content to play with action figures and create his own world until his fingertips wrinkle. There’s usually a fair amount of machine gun sound effects and other general violence. He will get out and wrap himself in a towel and start a movie on the couch while I get Keegan into his PJs. Having one kid who can do stuff for himself is a lifesaver. While I chase Keegan around and try to prevent him from smearing feces on everything or chewing on electronics, Jake can pour himself a drink or fetch himself a snack.
At 7:40, we’ll go into the bedroom. Keegan will climb into his cave on the bottom bunk and do sixty minutes of giggly, violent, belly flop face smashes into a soft pillow until whatever feeling in his body he’s searching for has arrived. He gets in hundreds of reps. Face Smash. Giggle. Face Smash. Giggle.
Jake starts out in the top bunk. I’m on the pullout bed that gets stowed under Keegan’s bed.
This is the new sugary part, inspired by the nightmares. I made up a little song that I’ll sing to the boys in the smokiest, softest voice that I can muster. Ninety percent of his day, Keeg has his fingers plugged in his ears to manage sound. I suspect that his hearing is sharper and more sensitive than ours. If I sing softly enough, he sometimes will take his fingers out of his ears and belly slither over to the edge of the bed so he can listen to my voice. I’ll repeat this until people are tired of it. Jake will then sneak down from his bunk with a blanket and join me on the trundle. He will slip into the spot under my armpit, against my side like a puzzle piece.
I’m a real prick about children’s books so I’ll turn down Jake’s first two requests if I think the plot or the writing stinks. I recommend getting a few of the Magic Tree House books. They are small books with great stories and one picture in each chapter that both kids wait for with great anticipation, Mary Pope Osborne sold a trillion of these things. While I read to them, I’ll take a few breaks and try to say some nice things that any human might like to hear.
You are loved.
You are safe.
I feel lucky to be your dad.
I’m proud of you.
I know that I’ve said enough when Jake says, “We know Dad. You always say that.”
I’ll send Jake up to his bunk and read a few more pages. He’ll be asleep in seconds. Jake is a silent sleeper. Not a peep. Keeg takes a bit longer but I relish in watching his eye lids get heavy. His blinks get long and slow, and I get to watch him fade off to wherever he goes when he sleeps. He sounds like Homer Simpson when he sleeps. When they are both finally out, I try to let the relief envelope me for a few moments. I’ll let out a deep sigh that’s been trapped in there for days.
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