2 PM on a Tuesday afternoon and I am sitting on the couch in my office listening to a random mix of songs on iTunes. Gordon Lightfoot is singing If You Could Read My Mind but I keep thinking about the Edmund Fitzgerald and the land of the Burning River.
It reminds me of the road trips we used to take when I was a child. If I close my eyes I can see us piling into the station wagon and heading out for parts unknown. My parents are young and my dad is behind the wheel. I always sit directly behind him and spend the hours reading or staring out the window of the car wondering who lives in those houses and why they chose to live there.
Eventually my mom and my sisters will start singing and it will send me over the edge and I’ll start poking, pushing and or prodding my middle sister. The twins are too young to mess with and they cry, but not my middle sister. She is only two years younger but people sometimes ask if we are twins and it makes me angry. Those two years are important to me and I won’t let anyone take them from me.
I blink and I am the one behind the wheel but I am not driving the wagon. This time it is a minivan and the kids are fighting. Most of the time I my voice is pretty similar to what it sounds like here but not today. They have spent too much time bickering and I have had it. Too much is going on and I am spent.
Two warnings have been issued and ignored so now I bark at them “Chanukah is canceled!” The dark haired beauty says “you aren’t G-d, you can’t cancel it.” Her older brother says, “she is right dad, you are powerful, but not that powerful.”
I bite my tongue and refrain from letting the words I really want to say fly. I don’t tell them that I have spent an inordinate amount of time eating shit so that their lives are better. It is not my nature to try to guilt trip them into anything and I find myself growing angrier than I was. But this anger, it is not directed at them. I am frustrated with me.
So I tell them that they have each lost a gift and they immediately promise that they will try harder. I tell them that it is too late and that I am not kidding- sometimes I think that they aren’t grateful for what they have. There is silence and I wonder if that is my fault. Maybe if I was a better father I wouldn’t have to have this conversation.
Back in the station wagon my father is lecturing me about not picking on my sister and I am trying to explain that she wasn’t hurt. She is faking the tears like she always does because she knows that I will get in trouble. He hears her crying but he doesn’t see her smiling face- she knows that she has beaten me with this angle. It is infuriating to me and I am fighting not to hit her.
I know that I will really get into trouble for that but it is so unfair to get yelled at when she isn’t really hurt.
The dark haired beauty says that her brother is an idiot and tells him that if he wasn’t such a “genius” they wouldn’t have lost their gifts.” I look in theÂ rear viewÂ mirror and make eye contact with him, “if you hit your sister you are going to be in more trouble than you are now.” She gives him a look that she must have inherited from her aunt and I watch him try to figure out his next move.
“Dad, she thinks you are stupid. She is not really crying!” I have told him this before and done my best to make my case but it is not working. I didn’t hit my sister but I accidentally bumped into her and dad doesn’t believe it was an accident. “You are not allowed to throw your weight around. Maybe I haven’t made myself clear, but I will find a way to impress how serious this is upon you.”
The kids and I are walking into the house and I watch as the dark haired beauty gets knocked into the wall. I am close enough to reach out and prevent her from hitting it as hard as she would have but the tears start immediately.
I sit the children down on the couch and we have a long talk about what happened and what won’t happen again in the future. As a father I am furious with my children. Why can’t they just get along for a few minutes. But there is also a part of me that remembers the frustration I felt when the tears would come from my sister and thus a piece of the brother rallies for the son.
And so I turn and look at the dark haired beauty and explain that neither one of them are to ever lay their hands upon each other, adding that I always know when tears are real and when they are false.
As I walk towards the bedroom I hear them begin talking about how they can earn back their Chanukah gifts and I smile. I still want to work on their gratitude but my own is growing because I know that if they are talking like this I must have done something right. It is not all out war all day long.