Meatballs, Meltdowns, and Missing Martin

 

It was just a plate of meatballs.As requested, our nanny Mary prepared Lola’s dinner last week: three meatballs in a warm Kaiser bun, sprinkled with cheese. By the time I walked in the door from work, the children were seated and ready to eat. All I had to do was heat up my own plate of leftovers and slide into a seat at the table to enjoy a quiet Friday night dinner.But it wasn’t quiet.

Far from it.

While Jaz and Miss C devoured their meals, Lola bit from the bun, swirled around her chocolate milk, played with the utensils, and ignored my requests for her to eat.

In an effort to keep the rhythm moving, I talked with Miss C about school, praised Jaz as he drank from a “big boy” cup, and encouraged Lola to keep up with us. Dessert was just a few steps away in the freezer, and she could be feasting on it in a matter of minutes.

But as the minutes ticked by, it became clear that those meatballs were going to grow cold and Lola more defiant.

By the time Jaz and Miss C were done and excused from the table, Lola and I were at a stalemate.

She didn’t want to eat the meatballs.

I wasn’t going to let her leave the table.

Now, in our house, nobody is forced to clean their plate. I’d rather the kids eat until they are full or satisfied, and not feel pressure to eat the whole thing, which can lead to overeating and obesity down the road. Usually, though, this isn’t an issue because I know what they like, their appetites, and we portion the food accordingly.

And usually, I have a good sense if they are refusing to eat because they are not hungry or if they are merely pushing limits and testing boundaries.

This was the latter.

We went back and forth about it. I implemented my “age” rule: depending on your age, you have to take X-amount of bites before getting up. In Lola’s case, she just needed to take four more bites.

You would have thought I said her allowance was being sequestered. (What? Too soon?)

As she took a bite of the meatball, she started sobbing. Big, fat tears rolling down her cheeks.

“I don’t wanna eat my meatballs!”

“Too bad. You need three more bites.”

“But I don’t like the meatballs!”

“You asked for them!”

“But I hate them!”

“Lola. The sooner you eat them, the sooner you can get up from the table.”

We bantered like this for a few more seconds.

And then she sort of choked back a big sob, and in a voice muffled by her food, “But I miss …. I miss my Daddy.”

Ah, the truth will set you free.

I could feel her defenses melting away, and I lowered mine as well. I pushed my chair back and opened up my arms, and without saying a word, she got up from her seat and came over to my lap where we hugged it out for a bit, with me admitting that I miss Daddy too, that he won’t be gone for long, that he’ll be back before we know it, and that he loves us very much.

I wasn’t surprised by her admission, and in fact, knowing that my kids are missing their father has made it easier to tolerate the fluctuations in their behavior. I actually expected this sort of meltdown from Lola for awhile now, especially since she’s the same age Miss C was when I deployed and because Miss C went through the same thing back then, too. (Martin wrote about one such incident HERE.)

When Lola finally caught her breath, I directed her back over to her seat, where she immediately finished her meatballs and asked for seconds. As she ate, I talked some more about trying to maintain a positive attitude; how doing something nice or fun when we’re feeling sad or upset can help us feel better; how we shouldn’t fight and argue when we need to stick together.

That’s when we decided to goof around with the Photobooth app on my laptop, taking silly photos of ourselves and printing them off to send to Daddy in our next letter. Lola’s attitude stayed upbeat the rest of the night.

 

 

Later that evening, though, just as I was preparing to go to bed myself, Miss C walked into my room and slid underneath my comforter, pulling it up over her head.

“What’s up?” I asked. “Why are you being an ostrich?”

“I miss Dad,” she whispered. I snuggled in next to her.

“Do you want to cry about it?” I asked. I could feel her shake her head. I pulled gently on her hair. “It’s okay to cry about it. You don’t have to be so strong all the time.”

That’s all she needed. For the next 20 minutes, she quietly cried, her sniffles fading as she finally fell asleep.

As I wrote in an earlier post, the only constant in these kids’ lives has been Martin. While I’ve gone off for my own military and work obligations, it was always Martin who stayed behind. And even then, I was always able to connect with the kids over the phone or computer whenever I wanted.

It’s a little different now. Martin’s been gone since Valentine’s Day, and we’re not even at the half-way mark. There are no regular phone calls, and snail-mail is called snail-mail for a reason. Despite my efforts to keep his presence felt here, I can’t make up for him not being here. These emotional growing pains are tough to experience with them, but I feel like there is opportunity here for all of us to learn how to deal with disappointment, frustration, and just plain missing the person we love.

As tough as it is, it’s good to learn how to stay positive.

It got better over the weekend. Fortunately, Martin sent three envelopes that arrived on Saturday: one addressed to Lola, one addressed to Miss C, and one addressed to me. We all gathered around the dining room table and read them.

The girls were in heaven.

And even better, Martin actually called on Sunday evening. Each girl got to speak with him individually, and bring him up to speed about their days. Lola wanted to discuss Disney World, of course, and Miss C shared her concern that she’s coming down with a sore throat.

I got to speak with Martin for a good 10 minutes again. He reported that he’s been kept pretty busy, that he really enjoys the letters he receives, and that he gets sentimental when he sees the families who are there celebrating the graduation of their Airmen, especially the families with little kids.

In fact, he got quiet at that point, and asked for me to pick up the conversation.

Which I did, telling him about the latest with my job, and about our new dryer.

All said with a smile on my face, to keep the conversation upbeat, because I know he misses us, too.

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From earlier today … no matter how stressful/busy my workday was, the view outside my office always reminds me to take a step back and remember how awesome it is to be right where I am.