The words that greet me are, “I hate you Daddy, go away” as a small head disappears under the covers. It’s Monday morning, it’s raining, and my wife is away for a month on business, leaving me with a 1st grader and a pre-schooler, both of them precocious, high energy and high maintenance. They have decided that, in her absence, I shall be their emotional and physical piñata.
We’ve done this before, and I’m painfully aware of my predicament. I’m also determined to avoid the pitfalls this time. A dog-eared copy of “The Explosive Child” is on my night table; I plan the day with ample time for transitions and a minimum of deadly, idle limbo; I provide them undivided attention, sacrifice “me” time, and bend over backwards to smooth out bumps. I avoid the sugar highs and the hunger crashes. I pick my fights, I count to 10 and 10 and 10, I bribe and cajole, I plead and negotiate. I read them the riot act.
All for nothing.
They test my limits. I test theirs. We all miserably fail the test. They react to my reaction as the day progresses – or regresses, as it were – and together we spiral down into the abyss of tantrums, pathetic posturing, poor parenting, desperation and, ultimately, exhaustion.
As we go through the bedtime kabuki of teeth, ‘jammies, and stories I just want this awful day to end, while they try as always to postpone the inevitable. As they finally do settle down, a look of contentment spreads across their faces. “We won,” they seem to be concluding, “and you so lost, Daddy.” I concede defeat and turn off the lights. I feel 10 years older and one entire, miserable day poorer. I don’t even know where to begin to untangle the knot of disappointment, sadness, anger, and frustration created by two tiny people pushing buttons and getting away with it because they happen to have my unconditional love.