I think I just did something I promised myself I’d never do. I just guilted my kids. Even worse, I did it about my wife’s cancer. (If you’re new to this and need background, see On Colons, Cancer, and Courage.)
Wait, ‘guilted’ isn’t a word? A verb, ‘to guilt’?
It should be. ‘To blame’ just doesn’t quite do it. ‘Accuse’ isn’t absolutely right. ‘Castigate’ is way too strong, and ‘censure’ simply doesn’t fit. I ‘guilted’ them.
We recently returned to Spain from a 3-week holiday in California, and the 9-hour time difference has been wreaking havoc with our sleep patterns. On the first night back our youngest got up at 3 am and demanded to be fed – so I got up and fed the beast. It was the first night, after all, and hey, the kid was hungry.
We all got up at 1 pm the next afternoon, and given the circumstances, that was fine.
It’s now been 6 days since our return and the kids are still a mess, sleep-wise. Not going to sleep for hours. Getting up multiple times for snacks, reassurance, back rubs, scratches, head massages, and general comforting. I’ve been taking care of some of this, but my wife has also been up and down dealing with their insomnia and general discontent.
I can hear them right now, in fact, chatting away when they should be fast asleep. They’re arguing about some minuscule and arcane aspect of one of their Lego creations. I want to kill them.
So my wife has gone back to work, and tonight she comes home, drops her bag in the hallway, and collapses on the sofa. I’ve made her a special dinner, since the Mexican corn soup that the rest of us are having is strictly off-limits for anyone with a colostomy. She’s insensate on the sofa, though, so the boys and I eat our dinner on the terrace without her.
After a decent interval I get the boys ready to sleep, and lead my wife to bed. Now comes the moment of which I’m not so proud, the thing I think was a low point (one of many) in my personal parenting portfolio.
“Mommy’s really sick right now,” I tell them. “And a big part of that is that she hasn’t gotten a lot of sleep lately. Do you know why?”
I pause to allow them a moment of personal reflection. “It’s because you inconsiderate shitwits have been refusing to go to sleep, and have been getting up at all hours of the night to plague her – and me – with your stinking freakin’ problems.” (Okay, I may have substituted “inconsiderate shitwits” with something more age-appropriate, but that was the gist.)
“I’m itchy,” I whine pathetically, mocking their personal discomfort and theatrically scratching myself like a lunatic baboon. “I can’t sleep,” I moan, bashing my head against the wall and more or less ripping my nipples off in paroxysms of parodied pain.
The boys stare in what I can only assume is a state of complete understanding of their own misdeeds and contrition for their own failings.
“Mommy needs lots of sleep to be healthy,” I continue, more gently, “but she can’t sleep if you guys are screwing around night after night, keeping her – and me – up until all hours. So, could you just please, please, go to sleep?”
It seemed to work. They were quiet for a while, anyway. But now, as previously mentioned, I can hear them talking up there. And not the kind of tranquil, trailing-off murmuration that precedes sleep – no, they’re hissing at each other about their goddamn Legos.
I’m ashamed of guilting them. They’re just jet-lagged and can’t help it. We, after all, are responsible for dragging them halfway across the globe. I did a mildly bad thing, back there, and need to atone for it.
So, I’ll give them a few more minutes, then pop on up to see if I can help escort them to sleep. Sing lullabies, read stories, massage backs. Maybe. Or maybe my own jet lag will get the better of me again and I’ll crush their little psyches with guilt about making their mom sick.
Dammit, I suppose I really shouldn’t, though. Inconsiderate shitwits.