Hey everyone, I’d like you to meet Dave Manoucheri, our newest columnist. You might recognize him as he was one of our Life Lessons features a few weeks ago. Anyway, I just knew he’d be a great addition to the views and voices we have here on the site so I asked him if he’d be willing to contribute a piece once a week. Dave lost his wife/partner earlier this year and is now tackling the next phase of his life’s journey, which includes raising four, young kids on his own. The thing I love about him is that, his life, like the Good Enough Mother ethos, is not perfect; he’s doing the best he can. Dave, thanks for letting us come along and I truly hope you will get support from us as we learn from you. You’re not alone, my friend.
If you’ve ever faced a child who has problems addressing his anger you know it’s never as simple as talking to or grounding them. You never know what’s going to touch them or get under their skin to the point they will listen or understand the consequences of their actions. I’ve tried lots of things. The hardest part is getting your punishment to sink in and make them think before acting.
But until a few weeks ago, I’d never had a punishment pull at me and hurt me as much as it did my kids.
You have to understand, I’ve been really creative in how I punished my kids. There were the standards; “time out” in the laundry room with the door open, blocking the Disney Channel, even grounding older kids. I punished them, but I had someone to help me stand by those punishments then.
To give you context, my wife, Andrea, passed away eight months ago. She went to the hospital on Tuesday, March 22nd, with a cough and an infection on her leg. On Saturday, March 26th, at 8:30am, the morning of our 18th wedding anniversary, she passed away. At that moment our whole lives changed. I had to come to terms with losing my wife, the love of my life, truly my partner in all things.
The kids and I got through the summer, but once the school year started back up, Noah, one of the twins, started having problems in school. For God knows what reason, he has an issue with another set of twins – kindergarten students. Noah is reactionary; he’s never good at holding back his temper. When the kids bothered him one too many times, he lashed out, pinning one of them to the carpet and yelling at him.
Worse yet, he made the claim that he wouldn’t get in trouble because his Mom died and the teachers would feel sorry for him. He was playing everyone, and it really bothered me. I did what a lot of parents would do. Noah wrote a letter to each of the twins that he’d mistreated. Then I told him he had to write a letter to both the teachers and the kindergartners’ dad. It was in the middle of the last letter – to the teachers – that I got the burst of inspiration. It was horrible, and I had no idea that by night’s end I’d feel broken in two.
He finished the last letter, drawing a little picture on the bottom, I guess because he thought it would be nice for the teachers, and wrote their names on the envelope. He was about to get up and leave and I stopped him.
Write a letter to your Mommy.
The look on his face wasn’t angry or sad. It was scared. His eyes went red and the tears started to fall down his little cheeks. You have no idea just how hard it was for me, watching him write to his mother and apologize for using her death as a way to get out of trouble. I could see the bottom of the letter, the blue line of the notebook paper smearing under the salty drops, one by one, hitting the bottom of the page. I looked away not wanting him to see me as torn up as he was.
“I’m sorry, Mommy. I said I would be good at school because you had died, but I lied.”
I hadn’t asked him to write that. He did it on his own. All I said was to write what he would have told Andrea if she was sitting there. I know what was going through his mind. The one thing Andrea wouldn’t abide, not ever, was lying. Not from the kids. Not from me. You could get away with bloody murder, but lie to her and you would have a hard time getting back into her graces.
“I miss you Mommy.”
That’s what made me lose it.
You have to understand, I know what he went through. I was going through it there with him. When he couldn’t think, I told him just to think about Mommy, sitting there, right in her normal spot at the table, a big mug of coffee in her hands and that beautiful smile, the sparkle in her eyes looking at us.
“What would she say to you, Noah?”
He shook his head not knowing.
“Would she say I love you, little moo? You have to do better, you know that right?”
He nodded his agreement.
Then he added that, “I love you so much.”
I put my hand on his shoulder, standing behind him, telling him he didn’t have to write any more if he didn’t want to. He didn’t, and I was glad; I couldn’t take it anymore. I had him put the letter in an envelope and put “Mommy”, which he misspelled (in the letter too) Momy.
Then I did something that ripped what little semblance of control away from my emotions and was the last piece that pushed him over the edge, too. I told him that we’d get up early tomorrow, go to the cemetery, and give Mommy his letter.
After he’d calmed down, I told him to go upstairs and change into pajamas and I’d come up and read. Then I went to a part of the house where the kids wouldn’t see me and just broke down.
I had to do it. I know that. I knew life wouldn’t be perfect, not any better than when Andrea was here, it couldn’t be. You see, we weren’t prepared for this. We were supposed to grow old together, watch our grandkids being born, tell my children’s children what their parents were like as kids. We had the story plotted out. Now, it’s like the author left with the ending unfinished. We had to start writing a new story all by ourselves.
How will my kids see their lives now? I no longer have that calming factor, the second opinion to help me decide if I’ve helped my kids or scarred them. I started writing so people can understand what we’re going through because they just don’t understand. They call me a “single parent” because it’s the box that fits us the best, even if we don’t quite fit in the box. The problem is that phrase implies a choice. It implies that we made a conscious decision of some sort that put us here, staring at the blank page, wondering what to write next. There was no decision, we didn’t get a divorce, she didn’t leave our family. Andrea’s not there for me to ask for help anymore.
No, I’m not a single parent; I’m their Dad and wouldn’t change that for the world. I look at those four amazing, imaginative, intense children and hope that I’m making the right choices. I hope, at the end of the day, they don’t look back and think this is the year their lives all fell apart only that it’s the year our new lives began – where our story begins. I pray it’s what happens, even when I have to make the decisions that break me in two.
Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife, Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.