A person's a person, no matter how small. - Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who!
Hotch arrived at Jessica's after a long case in Kansas City, Missouri, just ready to pick up Jack and get home. He was exhausted. When cases didn't end well, and even when they did, Hotch ended up drained and needing to sleep, but never being able to get quite enough. With a six-year-old, rest didn't come as frequently as he would have liked.
Tonight, it certainly didn't appear that Hotch was going to be getting any rest. Jack ran around in Jessica's backyard with the same wild abandon he had when he was over-stimulated or had too much sugar. Jessica was usually so prompt. So good with him. His homework was usually done. Supper was usually eaten. None of those things had been accomplished, though, due to an unforeseen work call for Jessica, which left her tied up for too long. Jack, apparently had yet to consume any real food, but got into the Strawberry Toaster Strudels, which Hotch had on good authority were nothing more but glorified sugar.
The ride home was chaotic, as Jack didn't want to go home in the middle of his "battle." Hotch didn't know what Jack was fighting today and frankly, didn't care to know. All he wanted, was to get them both home, fed, and in bed at a reasonable time.
So, dinner came first, which Jack didn't touch. And then there was math.
"I don't know how…" Jack whined, staring at the picture of three pennies, two nickels, one dime and 4 quarters.
"Just add them up," Hotch coaxed, trying to be patient. Jack was brilliant. He read and comprehended at a fourth grade level, so why could he not count change?
"How much is a quarter?" Hotch quizzed.
"Twenty-five…" Jack moaned, covering his eyes with one hand.
"Right. Twenty-five cents. How much is a dime?"
"I don't know, Dad!It's too hard! The teacher didn't explain it good enough!"
Jack was perilously close to tears, but Hotch couldn't keep his temper either. "How hard is it to count change?" he snapped. "It's been two hours, Jack. Come on."
"If it's so easy, then you do it!" Jack exploded, jumping up from his chair. "But no! You never help me! You always just go away and work stupid cases and you make me feel bad that I don't know math!"
Jack buried his head in his arms and refused to look up. Hotch sighed, feeling guilty as charged. It might not have been so stressful, except that he and Jack had left each other feeling stressed. Hotch needed to get out the door and get to work and Jack had dragged his feet all that morning. He slept in twenty minutes later than usual. He did nothing productive for a half-hour and then took another ten minutes looking for clothes to wear to school. He plodded through eating his cereal, and stared in a daze at the cartoons on TV, and brushed his teeth when he should have been out the door and waiting at the bus stop. When Hotch urged him to get a move on, Jack responded with just a little too much attitude that he was gelling his hair. Hotch hadn't even known that Jack even used hair gel. He was at the bus stop ten minutes later than usual, but still within the timeframe to catch it. Hotch, on the other hand, had very nearly missed the briefing and the jet.
He wasn't one to hang onto bad feelings, especially as they related to his son. Jack was only six. Hotch cursed himself, remembering his own childhood and the pressure put on him by his own father to grow up too quickly. To get things right the first time. And if not? There were consequences. Hotch never wanted to be the kind of father his own had been. Today, he was coming closer than he ever wanted to come.
"Hey, Jack?" Hotch sighed. "I'm really sorry. I shouldn't be so hard on you. Daddy had a hard day today, but I shouldn't take it out on you, should I?" he asked, rhetorically.
"No," Jack mumbled sadly. "It's not my fault. I just don't know numbers as good as words…"
"That's okay," Hotch reassured. "Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. We'll figure it out together," he said, and slid the paper so it lay between them both at the table.
But when Jack lifted his head, it stopped Hotch short. He looked so defeated.
"Hey. Come here," Hotch encouraged, patting his lap.
Reluctantly, Jack came and stood in front of his dad. He hadn't sat on his lap in a long time, and was sure he was too big for it now. But his dad lifted him up anyway and held him like he was still little.
"What about math?" Jack asked eyeing the paper.
"Math isn't as important as you are, Jack. Sometimes I forget what it's like to be six. Sometimes, I forget how words can hurt. I'm sorry that I hurt your feelings. I think you're such a smart boy and your mom would be proud."
"But I can't count change," Jack objected.
"I couldn't do art," Hotch countered. "I'm still not the best at it, but I'm learning. Just like you will. It doesn't mean I love you any less, okay? Do you want to work on this together?"
"Is that a trick question?" Jack asked, giving his dad a small smile.
"Okay. Maybe I should rephrase that. Do you want to work on math together, or apart?" Hotch laughed.
"Together," Jack decided.
"You got it." So, they stayed up an hour past Jack's bedtime, so that Hotch could determine exactly what about tripped Jack up about counting money. It was a slow process, but Jack did all ten problems and then he and Hotch read his book for silent reading Judy Blume's, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, which Hotch himself had read as a boy.
And when he fell asleep beside his son, Hotch didn't fight it. He didn't care how sore he'd be tomorrow. He only wanted Jack to know that he was important. That he was loved. That he was not, by any means, a first-grade nothing, as Jack had asked, while they were reading together.
"No way," Hotch had insisted, a little too forcefully. But knowing that words were inadequate in times like these, he wrapped his arms around Jack and held on.
To prove to himself that he could do better.
And to prove to his son that he was not nothing.