crashing THE GATE

by Brian Clarey

crashing THE GATE he sins of the father

The warm afterglow of Christmas lasted exactly eight days in my house, just eight days of exultation in the fellowship and goodwill that usually lingers long after a successful multi-generational family gathering, which also means that the enthusiastic optimism that accompanies the very irst day of the year lasted less than 12 hours, by which time every drop of holiday cheer had been leached from my psyche.

It happened slowly, like a leisurely drip from the upstairs bathtub that you might not even notice at irst but which eventually causes the whole ceiling beneath it to crash to the ground.

It was the kids, you see. My kids. Those sweet little tax deductions who most of the time make my heart swell with pride and love. Those voracious little animals intent on draining every drop of my life force even as they absorb every last cent in my bank account and make a mockery of the concept of “spare time” as it applies to my existence.

I love them, of course. They’re sweet and brilliant to a one, and my wife and I could not begin to quantify the things they’ve brought into our lives. But after a weekend like this one, I understand a bit more why lions eat their young.

It was Christmas, of course, and that was a big part of it.

A weeklong bender of heavy giftage and endless praise from relatives coupled with rampant candy and cookie consumption makes for a sort of detachment from reality for children like mine. Throw in a prolonged vacation from school and nearfreezing temperatures necessitating indoor living, and you’ve got a disaster on your hands.

By this weekend, my kids were exhibiting the same traits as pack animals. There were near constant adjustments and enforcements of the pecking order, squabbles over food, physical play. Strange alliances formed among the three, sometimes pitting longtime rivals against a common, albeit temporary, foe. An information network developed whereby within minutes — seconds! — of every single rule infraction a report would be made, usually verbally, in the hopes of punishment against a perceived enemy. Alas, I soon discovered the information was not always accurate. I eventually instituted Solomonic rule over these little people, punishing all three for every offense. Tears lowed like bitter wine from the punishment corners of my house.

I had a handle on it — or so I thought. Then on Saturday morning I caught them jumping on the bed and I absolutely lost it.

That’s right: They were jumping on the bed. Understand these are not just any beds. These are brandnew twin beds and mattresses, long planned for with much deliberation. Furthermore, these particular beds were a gift from Santa Claus, who, understand, was up until sunrise assembling them. And the one bed incurred some minor damage as a result.

My explosion came shortly after a series of admonitions for just this sort of thing. I caught the big one and the little one bouncing like a couple basketballs atop the bed of the middle one as he sat by laughing wildly. It was like a small herd of baboons let loose in the boys’ bedroom. Upon questioning, none were able to tell me what they were doing or why they were doing it.

I remember all this, of course. I grew up in a house with two sisters close in age. We fought, plotted, ran wild and broke things, possibly with even greater frequency than my own kids.

This was back in the day when parents freely administered corporal punishment for such things, however, without fear of child services paying a visit. My wife and I long ago gave up on the idea of hitting our children as punishment because we found it both distasteful and ineffective. But I’ll tell you something: A couple smacks in the mouth made for a pretty good deterrent, if I remember correctly. It also served as a stern warning to my sisters. And I’ll tell you something else: Knocking these kids’ heads together like coconuts would have made me feel a lot better, if only for an hour or so.

In the end, I stuck with policy and kept my belt looped around my pants. And if anyone asks why my children are sleeping on the loor when they have perfectly good beds in their rooms, I will show them a copy of this column.

I also felt obligated to call my dad and tell him what happened. He laughed like he always does when I relate to him stories of misbehavior among my children. When he stopped I told him the point of my call.

“I guess I just want to apologize for all the terrible things I did when I was a kid,” I said.

He responded with the kind of calmness that comes from living in a household without young children.

“That’s okay,” he said, and he laughed some more.