Have you ever wondered what really goes through your kids’ minds? I ask this because of the mental abuse my brain cells have taken in trying to understand what goes through those little skulls sometimes. I mean, sure, I have my moments of sincere and absolute pride; my oldest’s prom and my sons’ artwork are two of the most recent.
But I’m most confounded lately by my middle daughter, who looks and is most similar to me. I see a lot of my own faults in her as well. While the teenage me had a sign on my bedroom door that read, “The Swamp” (after the tent of the same name on the TV show M*A*S*H), Hannah’s room is like a Superfund site. While I made my bed every day, Hannah managed, somehow, to break hers.
I can live with all that, really I can.
But the thing I can’t live with is the fact that she’s not doing or turning in her homework. It was bad enough I started, at the start of the school year, to get emails from her teachers. I rode her, looked at her work, and was assured, to my face, that it was all in order. Then came the meeting with the teacher. Then we had to have the material put in a planner, signed off by the teachers, and reviewed by me every.single.night. We had improved until I took the kids with me to Nebraska on the anniversary of their mother’s death. I started getting notes again; Hannah had ignored a bunch of the work that was waiting for her when she got back from Nebraska rather than facing it.
I’ll be honest, Hannah is the child I’ve worried the most about. When she was a toddler, Hannah grew afraid. Very afraid. She had contracted some sort of obsessive-compulsive disorder that paralyzed her. Hannah was scared of dying. She was scared of the dark. My younger brother visited once, shared a room with her, and noticed she’d get up in the middle of the night and look in on everyone to make sure they were still in the house.
All through this, Hannah fought, screamed and ran from me. She adored her mom, adored my mom and dad. I was confused by the fact that I, a middle child, couldn’t be as close to my own middle child as I wanted to be. I simultaneously love her more than anything and want to strangle her with both hands.
The week Andrea ended up in the hospital was the closest Hannah has come to me. She slept in the giant king bed with me every night. So did her brother, Noah, at times. The day Andrea died I distinctly remember walking the hallway away from the ICU and the panic began to build up in my chest and felt like it was going to burst out. I knew the boys and Abbi would be an absolute mess but I kept thinking how Hannah was going to be crushed. The look on her face is one I hope to God I never have to see again in my life. The mixture of anger, panic, horror, sadness, all mixed together is almost obscene. She looked at me and begged me to go back to the hospital. “They got it wrong, Dad! Sometimes they’re wrong, she’s probably okay. Please, Daddy, please. You have to go back. The have to be wrong!”
From that point, she’s clung to me. Not in an unhealthy way, but she’s held to me. She hugs me goodnight every night. So it’s even more disconcerting when she avoids her homework. When she lies to me with a completely straight face. I want to see in her mind and wonder how she thinks that trust can remain in our lives when she lies and thinks she’ll get away with it? What do my next 5-6 years while she’s a wild teenager with her own band look like? Why, for the love of all that’s holy, does she avoid her work?!
It has gotten so bad I had to eat the cost of a concert ticket, the Black Keys in Oakland. The only deal, the one thing I thought would keep her in line, was that all her work get turned in. She didn’t do it, even with an embarrassing extension I gave her. I wanted so badly to let her come. We’ve gotten so close. But instead, I had to stick to my guns. Not only was she left at her aunt’s house with her brothers, I paid to take my oldest, Abbi, to a really expensive hotel. We ate dinner, had ice-cream on the beach, and sent pictures of all of it to Hannah so she saw what she missed.
It hurts me to do this punishment because she’s become my daughter. She finally talks to me. She strives to make me proud of her and without even realizing, she’s already done it. She tells me when she’s learned to play something on the guitar and has to show me right away, something she never did before. She calls me when she’s happy; she comes to me when she’s sad.
But the main thing is I talk to my daughter. I talk to all of them. I may question, scream, shout, interrogate, maybe even berate at times, but we talk. We sit at the table. We watch TV together. We spend our weekends with each other. The biggest failure I ever had was when I had no connection to my little Hannah – my “Baby Bear”. Now, we play guitar together.
I talk to my daughter.
Do you talk to your kids? Do you know what hurts, scares, or troubles them? Do you see what makes them sad? Do you feel it when they hurt or when they’re proud and happy?
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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 and check out on his Facebook page too.