38/52: Half-time Parent

October 25, 2014

Sometimes, I feel like I could be a stay-at-home dad. Give me a day with no real agenda, and I can bathe in the joy of my children. I’ll wash dishes, while hearing them laugh together in the living room. I’ll break to read Baby Animals with Elliot and play a game of Catan Junior with Alice. I will use the vacuum to show my son that I am the alpha male of the household by my ability to make noise, light, and clean floors. As a result, he will willingly take two naps. I will wash multiple loads of laundry, as I challenge myself to complete this task before my son wakes up from his crib to declare jihad on creases. I may even throw in a trip to a park, just because I can.

Then there are other times.

Today, I took my children on a solo trip. Next week, my students will be going to the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, and I wanted to preview the location. Since the weekend will be quite busy, I decided to go after school today. Unfortunately, there were several problems with this plan. First of all, I was low on energy from a very busy week. Additionally, I was on a schedule, since the museum closed at 5 and I didn’t leave until 2. Finally, and most unfortunately, I would be supervising a meal by myself.

We got to our destination a little before 4. That part was the easy part. Elliot smiled and made these deep belly laughs upon seeing science in action. Alice seemed to take joy out of nearly every activity, even the ones that involved trackballs and computers from the ’90s. We made parachutes out of coffee filters, pipe cleaners, and shave ice cones. We saw a “Try-rannosaurus” Rex skull. We climbed DNA. We convinced our father to buy us gift shop crap. We were royals.

When the museum closed, we spent another half-hour playing outside. The view was beautiful, high on a hill, overlooking the City by the Bay. However, it was slightly chilly. That’s when I realized I didn’t bring coats or sweatshirts of any kind. Other parents brought snacks for their kiddos. My son started a beeline for dem apples, looking like a heavy-eyebrowed pigeon. But his father was fruitless, somehow thinking that one pouch of pears would be adequate for the hungry wildebeest.

Then it was time to eat our supper. We waited a little while because Alice wanted horchata, and I didn’t want to risk the possibility of multiple stops in a town I didn’t know very well. So we ate in Napa. If I ever do become a stay-at-home dad I will definitely have to hone a few skills. Minivan parking is one. Food ordering is another. The line was long. I was informed the restaurant was out of horchata. Fortunately, I looked so pathetic that the woman at the register was able to drain out a final cup. Unfortunately, this near disappointment messed with my head and caused me to order refried beans instead of black beans. But thankfully, no 5-year-old who gets the same order every single time is going to notice that kind of error. And of course her 1-year-old brother won’t try to grab a handful of refried beans because he is used to grabbing a few super-easy-to-eat black beans with every meal he gets. Sometimes I hate habits more than nudist nuns do. And in that moment, we both believed in purgatory.

In the end, we survived. Elliot made it back with damp pants, but fairly calm. Alice fell asleep in the van, turned into Edward Norton’s alter ego from Primal Fear upon wake-up and then snuggled down sweetly. But apparently, I am not ready to be a full-time stay-at-home parent.

Sara would never forget that black bean order. She would have those kids properly snacked up. She would make sure they had adequate clothing. She wouldn’t parent by resorting to consequences so quickly.

To put things in perspective, I took my kids on an outing to a really fun place and still feel the need to write this blog because it is my way to deal with the trauma. Yet my wife takes kids to staff meeting, grocery stores, and doctor’s appointments all the time. There isn’t a fun activity waiting at the end of those. Sometimes the grand finale isn’t a gift shop but shots. Somehow she isn’t catatonic.

The humbling experience of today helped me appreciate my favorite Ph.D. more. I clearly need her. So do our kids. I also came to the realization that single parents are just superior to me in nearly every way. Whenever I see a single parent whose kids seem well-adjusted, I just shake my head in disbelief. I can’t imagine grinding life out every day without someone to commiserate with, without someone to bounce ideas off of, without someone to fill in the gaps. I really don’t know how they do it. And I’m glad I won’t ever find out.

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