“YOU DON’T NEED TO WORRY ABOUT MONSTERS IN YOUR ROOM! THE ONLY MONSTER YOU NEED TO WORRY ABOUT IS ME! DON’T YOU DARE MAKE ME COME IN THERE AGAIN!”
My girls began screaming after I slammed the door to their bedroom; this at the tail end of the five hours of torture they had inflicted upon me. You know how you’re not supposed to go to bed angry at your spouse? You’re probably not supposed to go to bed angry at your kids either. Luckily, I haven’t gone to bed yet, so there’s still hope.
I had had a pretty good day. I got stuff done around the house, including multiple loads of laundry, which seemed to make my wife happy. I had gotten the house straightened out and fed lunch to the kids, just in time for our twice-monthly visit from the cleaning ladies. I tended the garden, fed the animals, and made it to the gym with the kids in tow. I even managed, with the kids pestering me and the cleaning ladies vacuuming under my feet, to work with an editor on an article I’m pretty stoked about.
But at around 4:30 p.m., I fucked up. Bad.
The kids were playing nicely, running upstairs and downstairs and out the back door onto the deck. We had talked about a wholesome outdoor activity, but I was a little spent, and they were getting plenty of exercise. I figured on snack time, maybe some reading, and then Mom would be home with dinner. Then we’d slide right through the bedtime rituals and bam, done.
I thought about the fresh strawberries in the fridge for a snack, but we had been eating them by the pint for the last few weeks. I glanced at the apples, oranges, and avocados on the counter but was uninspired. And then I remembered the chocolate-covered graham crackers that Mom had bought as a special treat. I had been strictly warned against eating any myself, but of course I had ignored the exhortation.
They were strong medicine, these cookies. They weren’t really chocolate-covered graham crackers as much as they were rich milk chocolate bars with a crunchy, graham cracker center. It was like the Swiss take on a Kit-Kat. What the hell, I thought. The kids have been pretty good today.
They didn’t dilly-dally when I announced that they would be having the special cookies for snack time.
Did you ever have a friend—like a classmate or someone you worked with—who you thought you knew pretty well, but then you figured out was a raging psycho? Maybe you went out for a drink and they laughed too loud and insisted on dancing even though it wasn’t really that kind of place, then started sobbing, then screamed at the waiter, and then started sobbing again?
That is the person both of my children turned into after eating these cookies. As I tried to fold laundry, they stamped around in the water they had poured into a large puddle on the deck, and then tracked it inside, onto the freshly-mopped floor. Then they stomped around in the freshly-scoured bathtub with their filthy, wet feet.
I used to worry that losing my temper and yelling at the kids would emotionally scar them; but now I just worry that it’s completely ineffectual.
I yelled at them from upstairs, and then ran downstairs to continue yelling at them from close range when the initial yelling didn’t have any effect. When my back was turned, they filled the bathroom sink with soapy water and slung it around the bathroom, and laughed in my face as I yelled and hid the hand soap from them. As I cleaned up the mess in the bathroom, they tore the living room couch apart and used the cushions as a slide, a trampoline, and a “pile of rocks.”
Mom came home, dropped off the food she had scored from work, and then headed out to her workout class.
At dinner, one kid wouldn’t keep her hand out of her milk glass. The other refused to eat with the fork I had given her because she didn’t like the color, and instead shoveled rice into her face (and down her face and onto the floor) with her hands. All I could think to do was withhold the food until they calmed down. Forks were thrown. Threats were hurled, and ignored. We got through dinner without a visit from Child Protective Services. Mom returned to help with bedtime preparation, but then took off to pick up provisions at Target.
Bedtime can be tricky under the best circumstances, and these poison cookies had turned the twins into volatile middle-school students with the self-expression skills of toddlers. I should have expected the worst, because that’s what I got.
Maddy has started doing this thing where, every time the cleaning ladies come, she won’t sleep under the covers of her bed because she doesn’t want to mess up the smooth bedspread and hospital corners that Lupe and Company have created. It’s a problem. And tonight, Livvy started playing the same game. Add to that their demands that Daddy take turns lying in bed with them, and you’ve got a recipe for an unstable trained chimp turning on his masters.
“Sleep with me, Daddy!”
“No, Daddy! Sleep with ME!”
“Not on top of the covers, Daddy! YOU MESSED UP MY BED! BLAAAAAAHHHH! SMOOTH IT OUT DADDY! SMOOTH IT OUT!
“IT’S MY TURN, DADDY! SLEEP WITH ME, DADDY! No, Daddy! Get under the covers. AAAAAAAGGGGGGHHH! YOU MESSED UP MY BED! SMOOTH IT OUT! SMOOTH IT OUT!”
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
“I need water.”
“I can’t find my ballerina doll’s shoeswaaaAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!”
This continued for 20 minutes, until finally:
“That’s it! I can’t do this anymore! I don’t want to hear anything else about your blankets and dolls and lovies and crap! Go to sleep! Good Night!”
[Exits bedroom, slams door.]
Then came the wailing about being scared of monsters, the rejoinder from Dad, more wailing, sobbing, snuffling, and at last, slumber.
I’m not actually mad at my kids. I kissed their cheeks as they slept, just as peacefully passed-out drunks in a boxcar. I’m disappointed in my poor judgment and my attempts at damage control. But I’ve forgiven myself, and I have high hopes for tomorrow. Especially since the kids will be in school all day.
Andy Hinds is a stay-at-home (mostly) dad, freelance writer, carpenter, blogger at Beta Dad, and contributor to the Atlantic, and the New York Times’ “Motherlode” blog. Reprinted from Mamalode (Fall 2013), a quarterly magazine that provides mothers with a clearinghouse of resources, support, inspiration and connection.