Tuesday, August 17, 2010


We returned from the paradisaical Oregon Coast and our rented Xanadu in Tillamook County ("Land of Cheese, Trees, and Ocean Breeze") on Sunday to the dogmouth heat of a Portland August, and were mightily displeased withal.

You have to understand that Oregon goes through about a month or less of what you people call "summer"; you know, where everyone outdoors sweats, the sidewalks burn the soles of your bare feet at noonand everything not anointed with the balm of mechanical cooling (I've heard it called "air conditioning" and I understand that entire actual houses are built with it in other parts of the country...hard to believe, I know, but there you go; autre pays, autre mores...) melts into a wilted heap for a good part of the period between the spring and fall equinoxes.

For Northwesterners this is particularly pathetic since our "summer" is what many other portions of the world, and much of the rest of our own nation, would call "a week or so of pretty warm weather".

Temperatures in the mid-90's would merit at best a sniff from Angelinos, outright dismissal from the humid denizens of the Atlantic seaboard, and a sigh of relief from the truly heat-smitten in places like Florida, Texas, the entire Gulf Coast, and much of the central continent as far north as Saskatchewan.

Here they practically prostrate the entire region, with freeway signs shrieking smog alerts and local fire-and-murder news shows pausing to note the number of heatstroke victims. These are usually second only to the drowned, drunken bastards and bastiches
[There really needs to be a feminine of the term for the product of the sexual union between unmarried people. "Bastard" is such a...male...word; you just can't get the same satisfaction out of calling a truly loathsome female a "bastard". So, as a complimentary service, I give you "bastich"; the double-X version of the despised love-child.]
heaved out of the Sandy and Clackamas Rivers like so many doughy pale salmon.

I note in passing that in those portions of the outer Southeast drained by the aforesaid rivers it is considered a social faux pas equivalent to failing to obtain your ankle tattoo by puberty to swim without downing a half rack of Natty Light, or the equivalent in nasty fruit-flavored "coolers" for the distaff dwellers of the land of the payday loan and the Budweiser cap. Hence the slow but steady drain on our priceless national reserve of future check-kiters and meth cooks.

Anyway, that dreaded Hell-week is upon us, so it was a hot and somewhat frayed little family that went back to work, daycare, and Portland Parks camp on Monday. I don't know how the others did - I worked a hell of a long day Monday. I know that by today everyone was pretty cranky, and as I was finishing up another fourteen-hour workday today I got a call that showed my bride's name on the face of the cell phone.

"Yes, love, you caught me; I'm working." I answered.

The sounds coming out of the phone sounded like tango night at the Lemur House up on the hill at Oregon Zoo. I was finally able to make out my daughter singing, my son shouting, and my wife's exhausted voice.

"If you can come home soon, I really need help."

"What is it?"

"It's your son. He's out of control, and I need your help with him."

Now my wife is a pretty hardy woman. A century ago given a gingham frock, a lean-to shed with a couple of heifers, and a Henry repeater her name would have been the byword for flinty self-reliance in every sodhouse from Kennebec County to the east bank of the Platte. She isn't intimidated easily, and can whip her weight in progeny if well dug-in. So this sounded like a bad one.

"OK, I'm on my way."

I was already in the work truck - I'm scheduled on a grading job tomorrow at seven - and headed home before I was able to get all the information.

It seems that, along with the more predictable misbehavior, defiance, namecalling, insults, and all-around crappy attitude the Boy had managed to somehow attack and "tried to choke" his baby sister.The lad's explanation - which he delivered in the patient, ever-so-slightly-bored but exquisitely rational tones of a Republican congressman explaining to you why it is far the better that your grandmother learns to survive on Whiskas than that his multimillionaire constituent foregoes his windsurfing vacation to Dubai - was that the tiny preschooler "said mean words to him". Mean words, apparently, being her comments about her daycare class going bowling that day and her having had a kegling experience denied to him. Which, as any fool could tell, required that he grab her about the neck.

It was insanely difficult, listening to his offhand recitation of his attack (however abortive, however brief), not to go utterly, Drill Sergeantly, berserk. To unleash the sort of fearsome rage that once reduced quivering 98-pound trainees to...umm...more fiercely quivering 98-pound trainees.

Especially when he explained that he liked bowling more than he loved his sister.

But I have promised that I would not be the "Mad Dad". Instead, we had a very adult, very direct conversation. He produced, as requested, three options to control his temper before it led him to attack his mother or sister again. He mouthed the "right" words. He fidgeted and wriggled, making clear his discomfort with his shaming.

I did fix him with a very modified version of the noncommissioned stinkeye which produced a gratifyingly immediate quiver when I insisted he apologize to his sister and inquire as to her welfare. His mother stood in the doorway, and I could hear the tremor in his voice between Missy's piping replies.

I think he understands how seriously I feel about what he did. But his deepest regret - the only time he cried at all over the entire affair - was when his mom told him he would be denied his weekly overnight cuddle with her. He is more sorrowful, and more regretful, for his punishment than his little sister's peril.

I told my son, at one point in the proceedings, that you could love someone and yet not like them, or not like something that they did; this in relation to how he had attacked his sister for what she did - "teasing" him about the bowling. My point was, I added, that part of being a family was caring for, and about, your family, even when they were irritating you.

And restraining your natural instinct to choke the living shit out of them for so doing.

But I'm afraid that I do not like what my son has done, and am finding I do not like him much, either, at the moment, because of the obvious insincerity of his contrition and his unconcern for his sister.

I am finding it rather more then a little difficult to digest my own advice, as well.

At the moment.

The house is quiet now, with only the tapping keys and the faint, odd grinding noise from the television cabinet to my right front that tells me my bride has, again, turned off the television but left the cable on. The children are asleep, each in their several beds, at peace for the moment.And outside the mirrored night-windows the stars are shadow-patterned with high clouds that foretell the coming of a cold wind from the sea, and the hopes of a softer, gentler day tomorrow.


Pluto said...

Oh Chief, I SO know how you feel!

My two sons played that same game every summer for several years when they were your son's age. I even had a similar experience when their mother begged me to come home to fix the situation (although, thankfully, I hadn't just put in a 14 hour day). The minor difference is that my wife was seriously considering beating both boys to death with a hammer and this scared her so badly that she needed me immediately. Fortunately I was able to go home and offer comfort to her and distance to the boys until it blew over.

You've said it before, and it is true. Childhood is TOUGH! That makes parenting the single toughest job that anybody could sign up for. Being a single parent must be almost impossible.

The good news is that this too shall pass and someday you'll be reading a blog or talking to a friend and they'll vent about how horrible their boy was to his younger sibling and you'll be amazed at how your child has changed since today.

Lisa said...

How beautifully written this tale of domestic woe! You capture the many-layered tragic-comedy of the things.

"He is more sorrowful, and more regretful, for his punishment than his little sister's peril" -- human, all too human! When humans wail, it is often for their own discomfort, as their displays at funerals testify.

As my mother says, give flowers or words of love when someone is alive, and do not grieve my passing. If you do, you will only be grieving for your loss.