It was a new dish I was trying out. Three chicken breasts, four cans of cream of chicken soup, potatoes cut into cubes, and rice. I covered it in cheese and baked it for about an hour all told. It was perfect, the rice a little overcooked, and we sat at the table to eat.
Always at the table since the day Tobin was born. All of us eat at the same time, and we talk about the day and what they have been doing. I talk to them about the important things and what they need to know. I was about to do that right then.
“Gotta talk about family,” I said. I looked up at Bekah for a nod and she agreed silently.
“Nana and Grand Dad,” Rayph said.
Rayph was about seven, making Tobin four. I knew questions were going to start soon and I had to catch them before they did. I did not want my kids thinking I was holding anything back from them, and if they started to ask about my family and found out there was a problem there, they might think they could not ask about any of it. I wanted my kids to always feel as though they could talk to me, so here goes.
“I have a mother and a father. They divorced. Do you know what that means?”
“My mother lives in Missouri, my father in Milwaukee, you both know where that is.”
“I don’t call my mother mom. I call her by her name, Rose.”
“Because she is not a good person and I don’t want her in my life. See, my brother hurts kids. She thinks that is okay, and I don’t. So I never talk to her or let her in my life.” I checked both faces. Both were listening intently. They had been thinking about it but never asked. They had questions, and I wanted to make sure to answer all of them.
“My dad I don’t call Dad either. I call him Char. He hurt me very bad when I was a kid. Very, very bad, and we do not let anyone in our lives that hurts us. Ever. If anyone ever hurts you, they get kicked out of our lives. All the time. You don’t deserve to be hurt.” I pointed at Tobin, swung my finger to Rayph. “Neither do you. If I hurt you on purpose, you leave me, too. No one has the right to hit you or do you harm. You get to choose who is in your life. No one else.”
“Well, I got in a huge fight with Rose, and she brought my brother to my house when she knew it might cause me a heart attack. She did it anyway because she didn’t care at that moment if I was okay or not. All that mattered was hurting me. She wanted me to beg and she wanted me to ask forgiveness for doing the right thing.
“When I did the right thing and told the cops about my brother hurting kids, Rose was furious. That is why she hates me. That is why I can’t have her in my life. Now listen very carefully to this next part.
“There are some things that are just wrong. They are always going to be wrong, and they will never be okay. I will tell you what they are when you get older. I will tell you all about the things that cannot be forgiven. That is not something you need to hear about tonight. The thing you need to hear about is this.
“You are a Teller. I expect certain things from you. If you see someone being hurt, I expect you to stop it. If you see someone hurting an animal, I expect you to stop it. We don’t tolerate bullies. And the rest we can talk about later. As a Teller, I hold you to a certain standard. Do you know what standard means?”
Tobin shook his head no.
“Standard means that there are certain things I want from you that you have to give me or I will not be happy with you. Things like what I was just talking about. Things like hurting people. Now the important part, so listen very carefully.
“It does not matter who is hurting a child. Your best friend. Your teacher. Even your family. Even me. If you see me or any of these other people—or anyone at all—hurting a kid, you get an adult. You get me and your mother if you can. If you can’t, you get a cop and you tell them that a child is being hurt. That is the most important thing.”
I pointed at Rayph. I pointed at Tobin. “We protect children. All the time. Every time. From anyone.
“Now. We are going to have a lot of talks like this as you get older. For now I want you to remember this. I hold you to a certain standard. You help if someone is in trouble. You always protect and help kids, and until you hear otherwise from me, you stay away from my family. As you get older I will give you more details as to why, but for now, if you ever see a member of my family, if anyone approaches you and tells you they are related to me, run. Go somewhere safe.
“We are going to talk about all of this again soon. I will tell you who in my family is safe and good, and who is not. But for now the rule is, if anyone tells you they are related to daddy, you run.
“And just like Mr. Dunham teaches at the dojo, we never let a stranger get close, and we never get in a stranger’s car.”
I turned and pointed at Rayph. “No matter how cool that car is.”
They both nodded and went back to their dinner. I looked up at Bekah.
“Look at me, boys,” she said.
They both looked up.
“You are both safe. No one is going to hurt you. All of Daddy’s family is scared of him and won’t come looking for him. You are both safe.”
“Can I be excused?” Rayph said. “I am done.”
“You are not excused yet. I want you to stay with us at the table in case anyone asks any more questions about this. You might think of something, or Tobin might. We stay at the table until everyone is done tonight.”
We all ate. We laughed about other things and we all loved the dish. They did not ask any other questions but they knew they could. They knew that if any thought came to them to address it here. At this holy circle.
Because being around the table is a sacred event.