Tristan rode his younger sister’s bike down the hallway and into the closet door, busting a large hole in the lower half. It was a pink Strider, one of those bikes for toddlers without pedals and is intended to teach the child how to keep their balance. Aspen received it for Christmas, and we left in the house so we could help teach her to use it during the rainy season in Oregon. Although, she hadn’t really used it. But Tristan had.
Despite all the reminders we’d given him not to ride his sister’s bike. All the times we’d sent him to his room for riding the bike, it was simply too enticing for an 8-year-old. The moment we turned our backs he took the thing at full speed down the hallway, and then, one day, crash! We had a hole in the closet door.
“Dude,” I said, fist clutched at my sides. “Really? Really?”
Really seemed to be the only word I could get out. What I REALLY wanted to do was swear. A lot. I was filled with dad rage: the emotion that I didn’t know was in me until I had children. It’s a white hot rage that fills me every time my children break something, and I often wind up repeating something silly, like “really,” in an effort to calm myself .
Tristan looked down. It was evening, a little past his bedtime. He was in his underwear, his stomach rolling as he hunched forward on the bike. He should have been in his pajamas, but he wasn’t.
It took Mel and I a couple days to figure out exactly how to punish him. The whole time Tristan acted like he was waiting for a trial. The door would have to be replaced. This was the most damage he’d ever done to our home, and I honestly just wanted to make him fix it. Give him some gloves and a tool belt, send him to Home Depot, and have it be done. But that doesn’t really work with a little boy. I would have to fix it, which I didn’t really know how to do. But first, I’d have to pay for it, which I really didn’t have the money.
Mel and I threw around several punishments. Most of them revolving around Tristan paying for the door. The problem was, he didn’t make much money. He was 8. His primary source of income was from doing chores (cleaning the van, his room, the living room). He more or less earned a dollar a chore. We thought about withholding his payment until he’d earned enough to pay for the door, but we knew that would mean nothing would get done. He wasn’t all that motived by money. He was motivated by games. Tristan was a video game addict, and I discussed selling one of his game systems to pay for the door.
Tristan heard me suggest that and his eyes got all misty like I’d suggested taking away something truly essential: food or water.
Eventually Mel and I settled on taking away all his game systems until he earned enough money to pay for a new door, and while I knew this would take forever for him to accomplish, he took the punishment better than I thought he would. As we described it to him, he simply nodded, told us he was sorry, and then asked how long we thought it would take.
“That’s up to you,” I said. “It depends on how much work you do around the house.”
In my mind I saw this as an awesome way to build character. It would teach him how to work for a goal, make up for his wrongs, and stop being so addicted to gaming. Instead it just turned into a bitch fest.
“I just want to play games, Dad.”
“Can I have my games back, Dad.”
“I’m soooo bored, Dad. I just want my games.”
Games became the whiney refrain of my life. I’d remind him to do his chores so he could earn enough to pay for the door. I offered him more jobs around the house to earn more money. Instead he just sat there like a sorrowful, game-less, brown-headed lump, moaning for his games. He acted like I was keeping him from the great love of his life. He said, “games” and sometimes I heard “Juliet.”
We were a good two weeks in, and Tristan had only earned a fraction of what he needed to buy the door. I refused to cave and give him games, but I will admit, it was a struggle. I just wanted the bitching to stop.
One day, I came home from work, expecting to find Tristan moping around, but instead I found a crudely folded paper frog. Or at least I think it was a frog. It could have been a dog, or something. It was on the table. It had four legs and a body. I went into Tristan’s room to find a dozen or so other folded animals on his desk. There was a crane, and a horse.
“Look, Dad,” he said. “I started doing origomiee.”
“You mean origami?”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
I’m not sure if they learned about origami at school, or if Mel had introduced him to it, but he was running with it. I know very little about origami. I’m not an origami enthusiast. But what I can say is that he spent the next several hours finding origami tutorials on YouTube, and giving them his best effort. He showed a patience and concentration I’d never seen from him. His first creations didn’t really look like animals. I could see where he’d refolded several times to get a crease close to right. He stopped asking for games, and was diving into this new unexpected hobby. I often talk about how Tristan reminds me a lot of myself, but the focus and attention to detail he showed while folding paper was far beyond any skill I had at his age.
He eventually earned enough for the door, although it took him much longer than I’d hoped. But the crazy thing was, as excited as he was for his games, he still kept folding paper. His 9th birthday was around this time, and when his grandmother called and asked him what he wanted he asked for origami paper and a box to hold his paper. I assumed all of this would help him build character, and I think it did. He paid for the door. However, he also picked up a new hobby that was unexpected, and very creative. I suppose this is what it means to expect the unexpected, at least when it comes to your children.