The Truth about the Empty Nest 9/26/03

I just plugged my fancy keyboard into my lap top ... you know, the one that's all slopey and stuff. Some people call it 'ergonomic,' but if the sucker was really ergonomic it would be split in half with either side mounted on the arm of my comfy chair. So, it's slopey.

It's also green--just in case being slopey wasn't fancy enough.

I was reading back over some old Truths, and I just thought to myself (right after thinking, 'Damn! What a funny guy I am!') that I sure do miss writing these Truths. And I miss hearing back from you guys, too--that you liked this or thought that was funny. For a time, this was a hermit's only social interaction (aside from a lot of Massively Mult-Player Online Role-Playing Game playing) (which I only recently got back to). So I guess I'm feeling a little sentimental. Maybe even a little weepy. Yeah, okay, not weepy. I really only get weepy with my daughters, when they say something that indicates they don't consider me a 'step' father so much. (And the little bitches know it, too--I think they say things to me just to watch me get blubbery.)

Actually, now that I think on it, quite a bit has happened in the last couple of months. Since my Truths have been in the Few And Far Between department for some time, I think it's safe to say that I haven't discussed much of it. Of course, I could easily read over the last two or three Truths to see just how much I've told you--but A) that's too much like work, and B) newcomers shouldn't have to go back and read five years worth of Truths to know what's going on. This ain't Twin Peaks, where if you miss one you'll never enjoy it again.

In fact, I think I'll do a bit of recap.

Almost two years ago, our youngest daughter (okay, she's actually my step-daughter--but she's a daughter in my heart, and my heart is connected directly to my typing-fingers. Henceforth, I'll simply refer to her as my daughter--without explanation or apology--and everyone's just gonna have to deal with it) (and now I've completely train-wrecked the thought, so I'll have to start again).

Almost two years ago, our daughter began to talk about leaving Oklahoma. Mrs. Steele and I looked at our finances and decided we could afford to move from a two-bedroom apartment to a three-bedroom apartment to accommodate both her and our grandson. So, we moved. The lease was up December of 2001, so we leased a bigger place in the same complex.

We spent Christmas that year living out of boxes--but we absolutely-under-no-circumstances gave a shit. Our Christmas was coming three months late that year. That was when everyone was supposed to get here. March of 2002, if memory serves. (Maybe April, but I think it was March.) Overall, the new apartment was a little bit smaller. We had to cram our furniture in at some really strange angles. We needed Vaseline to fit a few pieces into some tight spots. We were okay with that. They'd be here soon.

(Just as a side-note, this was the second time Mrs. Steele and I moved. We'd only been married two years at the time. We didn't fight once. You might have to be a married person who's moved to appreciate the importance of that statistic--if you don't fight when you move, you just ain't gonna fight.)

Then they arrived. Our quiet, neat little existence quickly became decidedly noisy and decidedly untidy.

Oh, you want examples? I have lots of examples. In fact, the last year of unwritten Truths would have been about Noise and Mess. That's largely why I didn't write them--I didn't want to disrupt the peace. No matter how much love you have in an apartment, three generations in a three bedroom apartment is a Fragile Peace.

First, there's my grandson. If he's awake, he's making noise. The only time he's quiet is when he's playing with a noisy toy. Oh--he's also quiet if he's doing something that deep-down he knows he shouldn't be doing ... like playing tic-tac-toe on the wall of the hallway with a magic marker sans opponent. You learn to fear the silence. As a grandparent (and I'm sure, as a parent as well) you spend 95% of your time wishing it were a little more quiet, and 5% of the time wondering why it's so damn quiet in here and what you're going to have to repair/repaint/rebuild because of that quiet. It's a scary situation. You're not comfortable unless something is leaning on your sanity.

His name is Ian. I call him The Boy.

The Boy has a couple things against him. Okay ... maybe he only has one thing against him. He's smart. He's so freakin' smart. We had the poor sense to teach him how to read before he started kindergarten. Bad mistake. Don't ever do this.

For one, it makes spelling in front of him out of the question. You know the drill.

"We were thinking about going to the zee-oh-oh. on Sunday."

"We're going to the zoo?"

And let's not even bring up the fact that it makes him bored for his first year of school. Beyond bored. Bored + Active + High Self-Esteem = Kindergarten Teacher who Really Had No Reason To Think Her Job Would Ever Be So Fucking Difficult When She Was Studying This Stuff in College.

"The Boy was sent to the principal's office today," Mrs. Steele would tell me.

"Really? Why?" I'd reply.

"He bit another student."

"He did?" I say, as I'm rubbing the spot on my arm where his grandmother just bit me five minutes before. "That's so strange. I wonder where he picked that up from."

Etcetera.

We thought we were giving him an advantage. We were. He's at least five steps ahead of the future-delinquents in his class. I'm sure he'll be their King.

Some parents--I'm told--mark the growth of their children/grandchildren on the wall. We never had to bother with that. When The Boy was sent to the corner, he'd make a Little Boy mark where his forehead rested on the wall. We could track his growth from that.

I remember the day when we realized his head no longer fit under the freezer door.

Wham!

Sorry for that, little guy. It'll heal.

And let's talk about my daughter for a second. Just for a second.

Daughter Rule #1: The TV must always be on.

That means that even if she's running out for only six or seven hours, there's no sense in turning the TV off because--hey--I'll be back in six or seven hours.

Daughter Rule #2: It's not a mess if I can't see it.

I can understand not cleaning the back of the toilet. I don't clean back there myself because, who sees it? Not cleaning the side of the toilet--on the off-chance that no one would possibly lean to the right while they're pissing--is another story.

Daughter Rule #3: Bad TV=Must See TV.

I had to sit through the finale of Dawson's Creek. Something else was on, I'm just sure of it. Anything else was on. But she'd watched it from the beginning, so she had to watch the last episode. She even acknowledged that it was Bad TV. That's what killed me.

Daughter Rule #4: On The Floor of My Room='Put Away.'

Don't make me go into detail, here. Just don't make me.

Daughter Rule #5: If I do anything in the kitchen, it means I've cleaned the kitchen.

The counter is full of dirty dishes--but she loaded the dishwasher and started it. That means she cleaned the kitchen. End of story. Live with it.

Daughter Rule #6: My last step-father was an asshole. Don't be an asshole.

This rule was never stated, and never implied. This rule was in my own head. Her last step-father was an asshole. If you're reading this, John, you're an asshole. I'm sorry. My saying or not saying it isn't going to make you less or more of an asshole. I've measured you on the Asshole Scale. The data is conclusive. You were an Asshole. You likely still are, wherever you are.

Father Rule #1: Your daughter has had her share of asshole-father/step-fathers. Your grandson has his share of asshole-fathers/grandfathers. Don't be an asshole.

I haven't mentioned The Boy's father up to this point. Perhaps I should take a moment to do that. He's an asshole ... the most truly pure example of a rectal cavity you'll ever meet. I'm told the father of the sperm-donor is a genuinely nice guy. I want to believe that.

I don't.

My father was real hard on me. If he hadn't been, I might have grown up an asshole. I grew up a nice guy--and only became a prick later when it became clear that my Nice Guy skills would not allow me to get by in the real world. He did his best to shield me from things I wasn't aware of. For his efforts, I rewarded him as every other teen-aged son rewards his father--not at all.

My father doesn't read these Truths. He's not a big fan of the Internet. He's not a man of letters. I don't blame him. Most of what's out here is crap. But I'll print this out and shove it under his nose--and loom over him until he reads it. He won't have a choice in the matter.

I love you, Dad. I'm a good person because of parentage. Mom played a really big part in that too--but don't dismiss your part. Mom taught me to shoot for the stars. You taught me that it was okay to shoot for the stars, as long as hard work backed up your shot. I've worked my ass off--I'll keep working my ass off--and I'm shooting. Because of you. Don't discount what you've contributed to me.

The lessons I learned about being a good father came from him. Only him. He was the only one who could teach me about being a good father. At times, I wasn't perfect. That's okay. Neither was he, but he did an outstanding job.

You're a good man, Dad. You're the best I've ever known. Anyone who says otherwise better have good-fucking dental plan.

To my youngest daughter ... I may not have dealt with the TV being on all the time and the constant mess and the contstant noise as well as you might have liked. Judging me by the last step-father, I'm sure I come out a Prince Among Men. Judging me as a regular step-father, I'm not so sure. Know that I succeeded as best I could. Know that I love you.

Mostly, know that I love you.

To my oldest daughter ... this is how much I love you. The fact that our relationship has never been tested in quite this manner doesn't steal any love from you. I am fully aware--just as I am with your sister--just how lucky I am to call you family.

And know that I love you.

To my mother ... I know there are two people responsible for who I am today. I haven't forgotten the huge part you played in that. I love you.

And I'm shooting for the stars.

So, bottom-line. The kids moved out in July of 2003. The apartment is quiet. It's neat. But mostly, it's quiet.

So fucking quiet.

Mrs. Steele is performing in The Glass Managerie at the moment. I'm all alone in a three-bedroom apartment. And adding the word 'fucking' to the word 'lonely' doesn't begin to describe how fucking lonely it is in here.

And, I think that's the whole of this Truth.

The morale of the story is, Never Let Your Kids Grow Up.

And since none of us can do that, we're left without a morale. I hate when that happens.

Damn, it's quiet in here.