OK, crap. Maybe we’re not growing closer?

My proclamation last month that we had turned a corner was, unfortunately, premature.  I think this is the first time I’ve ever felt that maybe we just can’t get along that well right now. But I worry we may never figure each other out. It’s always been my biggest fear that you’ll grow up and feel about me the way I feel about my own parents. And daily, it’s foremost in my mind that if I can’t establish a strong bond with you during these years, you may be out of reach as an adult. I know I worry too much, and I put too much pressure on myself to be perfect, but man do I  feel like a screw up lately.

Sometimes, when I open my mouth I can hear the sound of my father’s words. And when I see the look on your face, as you listen to me, I can see my own 11-year-old eyes looking back at me. It’s something you hear grownups talk about so much that it mostly loses its meaning, but as a parent, you really do feel possessed by your own upbringing. In the adult world, I can make nearly anyone feel comfortable and listened to. I can draw people out in quiet settings and engage them in meaningful conversation, even if I don’t like them all that much. But as a father of an 11-year-old girl, I feel as clueless as coal miner at a ballet when we’re together. And all trying makes it worse.

As I’ve said before, you and I seem to want to be closer. We seem to adore each other, in fact. We also seem to piss each other off a lot, and I’m always disappointing you with my inability to let go of the daily demands of adult life and give you my undivided attention.

But what’s hardest is these moments of intervention, when I try really hard to reach you or–even harder–parent you, and am met with such a shocking push-back, rudeness, door-slamming, interrupting and yelling. I can remember feeling that way about my own father, that I’d rather he disappear from my life than try to act like he cared–because I believed he didn’t. And so I’m left wondering, do I just suck at this and bumble all of my attempts to reach you, or do I give you the impression that I don’t care? Because if I do,  I’m not only screwing up. It would also mean I’m falling, slow motion, toward a destiny that I’ve wanted desperately to avoid since I was your age. And good holy hell that would suck.

Time will tell. And I guess I just have to keep looking for new ways to reach you. I wish every day was a game of Go Vacation, but it just isn’t.


I think we’re growing closer again…or…3 new things for Oct 2017

Here’s a potpourri of changes that are underway this month…

1. We’re beginning to find our groove again, and while I know these things can be cyclical, I’m grateful for the closeness anyway. We’ve been bonding over the Wii, playing loud, epic games of Go Vacation at a level of clamorousness only achieved when mom is out of the house. Your guard was so down with me the other night while mom was away teaching, you actually slipped and swore at one of digital the kayakers at the Mountain Resort. “Prettybitch!” was the moniker you gave her. I only laughed a little on the outside, but I was dying inside.

2. Elli is out-out of your group of friends, probably for good. Sort of.  It’s not an insignificant fact that your new best friend, Maya, truly hates Elli. But Elli has a knack for rudeness and pushing people away out of the misplaced expression of her desire to be included. I worry about her a lot, and hope she finds a crowd that accepts her. For now, I see your empathy for her dwindling by the day. Your frustration with her is being replaced by apathy and enmity. It’s really feeling over, but you haven’t fully admitted it yet. You only ever complain about her, but when I ask if you’re still friends, you say something like “sort of…I guess so.” This can’t go anywhere but bad.

3. This was your first Halloween trick-or-treating without us. You and Maya, Annika and some other friends  were completely off on your own this year, while Nanna, mom and I stayed home to hand out candy, which with the dogs going nuts is easily a three-person job.  You had managed (not very subtly) to deflect Elli’s repeated requests to go trick-or-treating with you, but Elli still found you all tonight and crashed your evening. You and all your friends were most displeased.

Nana’s always wanted to visit on Halloween but when she finally got here, you were on your own, although she did get to help you with your makeup. This year you were a made-up, ghoully thing. You were unrecognizable and kinda scary looking. It was awesome. What I appreciated most about your get up was how clear you were on your vision. You knew exactly what you wanted to do and you executed it really well. Classic Ari.

You’re a sixth grader now and everything has changed

My little young lady.

Holy cow.

Noelle had warned us that there would be a sudden shift in your personality and maturity when you started sixth grade, and wow was she right. First of all, you love middle school. You mostly tolerate/kinda-maybe-on-a-good-day-like your classes, but so far you’re having a great time being a sixth grader. You walk to school with a gaggle of girls, LOVE the school lunches (Thank you Michelle Obama), and no longer seem sad or depressed. We’re fighting less as a family. You’re hyperbole has gotten particularly hyperbolic, which is hilarious. You’re funnier, easier, still struggling with chores, but wow. I can’t get over the sudden difference. We’ll see whether it lasts.

Ellie was pretty cool on your first day and you were surprised. The two of you had grown apart during the end of 5th grade and barely saw each other all summer (if at all…I can’t remember,) so the fact that she was suddenly “in” again was a surprise.  But alas, her behavior changed back to difficult on day 2, and it seems she’s becoming more of a frenemy. You had turned your focus to your new best friend/old friend Maya over the summer, so you’re fine letting this friendship go. But since you all walk to school together every day and Ellie has no other friends, I do worry about where this is headed. You came home the other day and announced that “Ellie is out of the group,” because she let you all buy her things at Starbucks for a few days but then refused to pay when it was her turn.

Oh, Starbucks is huge right now. And the Dollar Store.

I’m a little on edge letting you walk all over Evanston, and it is really taking some getting used to, but you LOVE the freedom and that’s something I’m super happy to see. I was getting worried about you this past summer. I think next summer we may need to go to some extraordinary measures to make sure you don’t get stuck in the house too much with your parents. ‘Cause you’re getting to an age where that’s not doing you any favors.


When you cried at the airport my heart shattered

We went to the airport and you wept and said that nobody loves you.  After mom pressed, you said nobody likes you. By nobody, I think you meant us.

We were in Logan Airport, having just visited my family in Billerica. On this trip, Nikki took you on a shopping trip with Mom for the first time and sprang for a lot of expensive clothes at Justice, and new wedge shoes (I think that’s what they’re called?) We also spent a fun day in Salem and a few days later spent a day at Ed’s girlfriend Joanne’s family lake house where you threw lake weed onto Uncle Ed  and teased him about a stain on his shorts. And then it was over. And we jumped into our rental. Dropped it off.

Somewhere over dinner at an airport restaurant–it’s always at a restaurant–you grew sullen, you put your head in your arms and you shut down. Are you mad at me? I think she’s mad at me. You sure she’s not mad at me? I don’t know. Honey are you mad at us? Silence. Are you mad at daddy? Silence. She’s mad at me. Why? I really don’t know. And then you cried. You told mom you didn’t know what was wrong and memories of my own adolescence rushed back–a painful “I’m depressed, I want to die, I don’t know why” conversation with my mother that got me into a therapist’s office and on antidepressants.

It’s always so hard for me to know what’s really going on, and your old memory of things will probably be so radically different from my fresh experience and guesswork, but just because this is fresh, I don’t want you to think I that I feel I’m right.

I just know what I saw. I saw a young lady who swam every day in the pool, got everything she asked for, went to bed when she felt like it, ate whatever, whenever and was showered with affection by her doting aunt. (Her gamma…not so much this time around. She’s depressed and won’t leave the couch–not sure if that hurt your feelings and contributed to this…it really may have.) And then we left. Back to a life with mom and dad, and rules and bedtimes, higher expectations, lower tolerance for all the “can we buy me one of these” requests…And you broke.

But you gave us no more to go on. Until I left to investigate food options during a quest for a smoothie. (You didn’t want to eat at the restaurant. You weren’t hungry enough.) When I came back mom filled me in. You had reported that you felt nobody likes you.

A little while after that, I was walking with you alone. Mom had gone to the bathroom and we were making our way to the gate. I think this was the hardest parenting moment of my life so far. You were feeling intense, overwhelming sadness. It reminded me of depression, which I know well. The thought of you feeling this is enough for me to do anything it takes to make it go away. But I’d just been told, in a roundabout sort of way, that I was part of the problem. Mom always seems to know what to say. I can often muster the right words in writing but in the moment, face-to-face, I rarely can. So my mind and my mouth was frozen. Your sadness was visceral, and it begged to be addressed.  I had nothing.

We sat down. Nothing. You pulled out your phone. You were going to shut me out. Quick, think of something, anything! “What are you doing?” I asked, without even thinking.

“Playing Color Switch,” you said.

“Can I watch?” I asked.

“Sure,” you said. And then I watched you play your game. I felt a little like the idiot who can’t figure out how to ask someone out so he follows her around wherever she goes, trying to build up the nerve. But then something strange happened. You warmed up. I watched you closely, commented on the game, eventually played a little too and we laughed a lot. Mom later told me that when she came back, she figured we’d had a talk and hugged it out. Nope. I just followed you where you were going and asked to be there too.

Here’s my interpretation, now, fresh: we don’t give you enough attention. More accurately, we don’t give you the right kind of attention. You’re lonely. Partly because it’s summer and you really are between close friendships right now. In a matter of minutes, you’ll be focused on your friends and will want less and less attention from us, but we make the mistake too often of choosing to live in a world of responsibility–one that we’re always aware is fully centered on you but kids don’t care about this stuff–rather than a world of minute-by-minute joy and interaction with the whirlwind of a gift that you are in our lives. We concern ourselves with your screen time, your forgetting to put your clothes away, your dragging your feet on your chores…and leave less energy for all that happens in our lives between those parenting moments. We forget to follow you where you are.

That’s the only reason I can think that you would have gotten the impression that we don’t like you (in this moment, at least). We adore you. Despite all the new emotional stuff that has entered into our relationship, you’re still getting more and more funny, more and more charming and clever and…just…awesome…in basically every way.

In the days that have followed this trip, I’ve been making a greater effort to stop moving from responsibility to responsibility and take moments to be with you.  We’ll see how it goes. My initial findings have been that this is getting harder and harder to achieve. Because, paradoxically, your maturation means you’re also pushing us away and wanting, more and more, a life defined without us.

You and mom went to BreyerFest!

Back in March, mom and I were talking about whether to buy you a trip to BreyerFest for your birthday. I was mostly against it–worried, really, that you wouldn’t be that excited. You’ve always preferred things for your birthday over experiences. In fact, every experience we ever bought for you went over like a bland sandwich when you opened it. Even when you loved the experience itself when the time came to cash in. So I felt maybe we needed to learn our lesson and stop doing this. But mom said “but this is BreyerFest…”

Then I realized that it was on the same dates that I had a workshop for one of my plays in Lowell. I was sad again, and worried that would make the experience even worse for you. But mom convinced me it was still the right thing to do.

She was right about everything. You didn’t seem to care much that I wasn’t coming and you were off the walls with excitement over this gift! Truly. Plus we figured out some time in May, I think, that you could finally ride in the front seat of the car and the idea of you and mom doing the trip together with you in the front picking the radio stations had big appeal. You wrote a count-down on your white board “X days until BreyerFest” and every day you counted a day off.

I wish Mom was writing this blog so she could describe it here. Since I wasn’t there, the memories I have are of texts she sent me while I was in between rehearsals and writing sessions. My favorite went something like this: “Some kid just got seriously hurt on the mechanical bull and is bleeding above his eye and I have a video of Ari being a badass.”

You were in heaven. Mom was a little overwhelmed by the culture of consumerism that was being celebrated, but from what I hear it was still a pretty great trip with lots of late nights, bad food, horse crafts and SHOPPING.


This month saw two major developments in our lives. My medical problem was finally diagnosed and I had my appendix (along with six  inches of my intestines) removed and have spent this month since the 12th transitioning from agony to recovery.  You’ve been very nice and very protective. On the day I returned from the hospital, not even an hour after returning home, Bella, who had been on my lap, heard the door open and attempted a bank shot off my tummy on her way to the side door. Somehow, with spider-man-like reflexes, before I even had time to put my hands up to stop her, you reached over, grabbed Bella, and put her on the floor. You saved me from having to return to the hospital. No doubt.

And another, more subtle milestone occurred.  It’s much bigger news. Your stuffed animals are now in a bin, the lid has been closed and they have been placed into the garage. Your reaction to this has been interesting. You were definitely reluctant, and have told me that mom “kinda forced” you to do it to make room for your new dresser. There seems to be–from your perspective–both truth and exaggeration in this narrative. The exaggeration, I think, is for my benefit.

A little history…in case you’ve forgotten…

From the time you were 3-and-a-half to about the age of 9, we went into your room and I made your animals come alive and interact with you for 10 minutes every day. No weekends off. And when we missed a day, we’d “do a double,” the following day. (But triples were not allowed and you could not carry a balance greater than 20 minutes.) It was a strict, time-boxed event, with built-in warnings. “Five minutes left. Two minutes left. One minute left. OK, time for a last thing.” And looking back on this, I wonder if you think this was incredibly anal of me. In my defense, we started these play times loose and untimed. But then every session ended with a rage against its ending. I tried lots of things and finally landed on a super-rigid structure with very definite rules. That put an end to the bad times.  Then the regimen stuck.

Some time around the age of 9, you became much more busy with homework after school and trying to fit these evenings in became difficult, so I’d say we probably did this 3-4 times/week, always skipping on bath nights. By the time you were 10, we were down to once a week on the nights mom was teaching at North Park and the occasional weekend. And then since you turned 11, I’d say we’ve maybe made animals talk 3 or 4 times and each time felt like playing to a tough crowd. You don’t seem to have fully accepted this, but you’re over it. I can feel it.

I’ve seen you go from pretending to be one of the animals, to being yourself but with magic powers, to just being yourself–a snarkier, tougher, slightly too-cool-for-school version of yourself. You’ve gone from tyrannical bouts of screaming at your animal friends, even biting them, almost every night to occasionally beating the stuffing out of Monkey. I had to work harder and harder to be funny as you got harder to amuse. By age 11, I’ve definitely reached my funny-on-cue limit. I can’t make you laugh like I used to.  At first, I could just make the animals fart and you’d laugh your head off. Eventually, I had to develop consistent characters, tell more involved stories, get us (usually with your participation or even lead) into fantastical realms and serialized plots.   The extent to which this kind of entertainment is hard work for a guy  my age has definitely been lost on you.

Anyway, while I’m not sure we’ve said our formal goodbye to them yet…we have crossed a threshold. I do wonder if this is goodbye because a more formal one would be too hard on you. But…

Even if it’s not technically over, it’s over. And what do I think looking back on this? Do I  miss it? That’s a hard question to answer. I can’t pretend that I miss being so in-demand as an entertainer in my home. But every time you got me into your room and we sat down and pulled out those animals, I had a really good time. Even when I was tired or sick or had a really bad day, I would usually find myself locked in and enjoying our play times. What I can say for sure is that I miss having some kind of activity we can do together.

Is it any coincidence that this is a time when you and I are struggling to be closer?

I think we’re growing apart


Something is happening. I need to figure out my role in it. The bonding moments we once shared are getting fewer. The time we spend in conflict is getting more frequent. The feeling that you want me around or like me is even getting less frequent. I feel increasingly like a third wheel, the guy on the outside, the 70’s dad behind a newspaper who pats you on the head in the morning and asks you how your day went at the end.

Maybe it’s my health. Maybe it’s your adolescence and the natural separation of parent and child. But neither of us seem to like it. And I hope that counts for something.

You’re trying to get my attention, and I’m trying to get us closer and both of us are failing. My efforts to bring us closer involve conversation. I ask you questions. I try to understand the things you’ve said to me so I know exactly what you mean. You feel interrogated or misunderstood. You physically bombard me, animal like, usually throwing your face noisily into mine (among other physical disruptions). It shuts me down like a frightened pill bug. And that only makes you try harder.

But hey. I’m 43. You’re 11. This is all on me.