My Failure

I am going to focus this week on coming clean. I should say that I don’t take into account any specific reactions when I write this blog, I’m writing it largely because I’ve led an absurd life and have been told that I have an interesting voice. I write because there is an enormous world out there and while each blog is akin to filling the Grand Canyon one stone at a time, I do feel like you have to throw stones or nobody will fill it.

Also, you can’t just throw in pearls. Sometimes it’s bricks of shit. It’s important to talk about what you’ve done that’s *wrong*. At least, I think it’s important. And not wrong in some noble sense, not wrong like “striving but failing”. I’m talking about huge wrongs that come from our own smallness.

Jordana largely handles the bath time with the kids because our bathroom is pretty small and there’s just barely room for one adult and two monsters in there. The bath takes about ten minutes, and I’ve just spent the hours before cooking dinner and getting Barnaby through his homework, so I take that ten minutes to sit in the room next to the bathroom and check my email or lose at Words With Friends. It isn’t fair to Jordana, the bath is a huge pain in the ass, but… life isn’t fair and I rely on the excuse that there’s not enough room for two of us to get out of helping.

A few nights ago, Barnaby was really making Jordana insane, and she kept asking him to quit screaming. She was trying to wash Marlena’s hair and every time the girl’s face got wet she would scream and Barnaby would howl with laughter. Jordana kept asking him to stop and it kept happening and suddenly, I just snapped. I walked into the bathroom and told Barnaby to get out of the bath.

“No! I need to get my hair washed!”

“Get out of the bath right now. You’ll get your hair washed tomorrow.”

“But daddy, I don’t want to get out of the bath! I want to stay in!”

And I just snarled, “Get out of the bath Right Now, I don’t want another word out of your mouth.”

He scrambled out of the bath and started crying. Which is bullshit, it’s the same bullshit he pulls all the time. The second he thinks he’s in trouble, he just starts crying about how we’re hurting his feelings or something, and it makes me furious. It’s a goddam con, and I’m not buying it. As soon as he starts crying, I croak out, “Quit Crying. Get out of the bathroom, go to your room, get your pajamas on.”

He start crying for real, rubbing his eyes to make more tears come out, and I have fucking had it. We walk into the studio that separates the bathroom from his bedroom and I snap, “LOOK AT ME.” He does. I say, “Pull yourself together, Barnaby. I don’t care if you want to melt down, what you were doing in the bathroom was mean. It was just awful. That’s your baby sister in there who’s scared to death, and you just mock her, and now you’re crying to get out of trouble and I’m sick of it.”

He fell apart. One thing I’ll say for our relationship – I almost never raise my voice at him and he almost never throws a temper tantrum. It’s a chicken and egg thing, I don’t know which causes the other. But he went into a full poison squirrel dance, screaming and crying and gagging. I told him to go to his room and I closed the door because I’m not gonna listen to that shit.

What transpired over the next twenty minutes is difficult to re-tell point by point. I went in his room and explained to him why I was angry –

“For years, FOR YEARS, you have been too scared to get your face wet in the water. When you swim, when you’re in the bath, anywhere, you’ve been scared. And now when you’re little sister, your BABY SISTER, is scared in the bath, you LAUGH at her, YOU LAUGH AT HER, and that makes you a bully. I don’t get mad at you very often, but when you mock people who aren’t as big as you or aren’t as strong as you, that’s the WORST THING you can do.

He told me where I was wrong –

“You don’t let me talk. You don’t let me tell you what is happening. I have a bubble of laughter and it’s in my belly and it just COMES UP. IT JUST COMES UP, and whenever I try to tell you WHY, you won’t let me talk and you won’t let me TELL YOU I HAVE TO TELL YOU…!!!!”

And I snapped at him and shut him down –

“Don’t you DARE try to tell me that there’s some kind of THING inside your body that MAKES you mock your little sister, don’t you DARE try to explain how this isn’t your fault. I need you to apologize to your mom and to your sister, and I need to hear you take responsibility for what you did.”

And he tried to weasel out of it, crying harder and screaming –


“Then pull yourself together and stop making yourself cry. If you’ve got something you want to say to me, it had better be an apology. And not to me, to your sister.”

He really tried. He pulled himself together, he really did. We were able to talk for a minute or two, but he had a hard time explaining what was happening – he kept saying that Marlena’s screams were making a laugh appear and he couldn’t do anything about it, and I shamed the SHIT out of him for feeling that way.

“One day, it’s gonna be you, Barnaby. One day, someone bigger than you is gonna be mean to you and make you unhappy just because he can, just because he’s bigger. And you won’t know what to do about it. You won’t be able to cry and make it stop, you won’t be able to argue your way out of it because some people are just awful. You will have to decide if you’re gonna walk away, or if you’re gonna fight, or if you’re just gonna be able to summon the strength to know that you’re a better person. But if you’re gonna take advantage of a smaller person’s pain, then you aren’t better. You can’t know you’re better, because you’re not.”

He pulled himself together. He went and apologized to his sister and then to his mom. And, infuriatingly, his mom actually told him that what he did wasn’t all that bad, but that she just needed him to listen to her. Which is just… Jesus Christ, to spend twenty minutes with your kid screaming in your face, to have your wife just completely stab you in the back. But I didn’t say anything and decided I wouldn’t say anything. She has to be the bad guy way more than I do, if this is the time we switch then I can live with it.

As we were going to bed, Barnaby said, “do you know why I started crying so hard?” Yes, I do, because you’re a goddam con artist who knows if you cry like that then everyone backs down because they hate hurting you. You cried like that for the same reason my friends, at the end of our friendships, always claim that *I’ve* hurt *their* feelings by being nihilistic and cruel. You cried because it’s fashionable now to stop arguing and to feign shock and incredulity that someone would call you on your shit. But I said, “why don’t you tell me why you were crying.”

“Because I didn’t see my daddy when I looked at you and because I felt like you didn’t see me when you looked at me and the person who was looking at me didn’t love me anymore and I didn’t know if my daddy was coming back.”

Later that night, quite a bit later that night, long after my shock and my anger had died down, Jordana said, “By the way, Barnaby wasn’t laughing at his sister.”

I said, “…” and then I said, “what?”

“They were doing this thing – I get Marlena to tip her head back and then when I pour the water over her head she leans her face forward and makes this bubbling noise and screams because it makes Barnaby laugh.”


“It’s just a game they play – I mean, it’s a good lesson, Barnaby needs to know he can’t mock his sister, but I was asking him to stop because he was laughing and screaming and kicking in the water and I was getting soaked. He wasn’t actually laughing at his sister, though.”

Of course he wasn’t. Jesus Christ, he would never do that. He’s simply… he loves that little girl, when she cries -EVERY OTHER TIME – when she has ever cried, he does what he can to help. He brings her toys, he asks her what’s wrong. He’s never mocked her, not once, never. I was looking at a boy that wasn’t Barnaby when I decided he was mocking her. I was seeing someone that he wasn’t, and I was thinking like someone I’m not.

“One day, it’s gonna be you, Barnaby. One day, someone bigger than you is gonna be mean to you and make you unhappy just because he can, just because he’s bigger. And you won’t know what to do… because some people are just awful.”