My wife Kathi left to teach in L.A. this morning and so I became the POD (Parent on Duty), also known as “Substitute Mom.”
That was less than 12 hours ago & I’m totally frazzled.
Unlike most of my posts, this has nothing to do with media– think of it as highly individualized anthropology. Cue the Michael Jackson music because I’m looking at the Dad in the Mirror.
Here’s my afternoon’s itinerary:
3:10pm: Left house to pick up my kids (H, the 10 year old girl; W, the 6 year old boy) and W’s friend P (also 6). It’s pouring rain. I remember to get the extra booster chair for P out of my car and take Kathi’s SUV. We have P because it is our turn for Tae Kwon Do carpool.
3:20pm: There is no parking near the school. I park two blocks away. It is pouring rain. Yes, I know I already said that but it stays annoying so I’ll keep saying it.
3:25pm: 47 moms and 3 dads cluster around the front of the school. When I join my fellow dads I quip, “look, we’re in the dad ghetto.” “We should get a velvet rope around us,” one other dad says. “Yes,” I reply. “But it’s to keep us out, not to keep them in.” H emerges. Big hug. Seeing no W or P she says, “Oh! they must be in the bus line,” and disappears to fetch them. IThe moment she is out of sight W and P show up. Before they can dive into the educational labyrinth searching for H my hands arrest their movement. “No, we’re just going to wait here.” Five minutes later H emerges, “Ah! there you are.” We walk to the car. It’s pouring rain.
3:45pm: Leaving W and P to play with Legos in the car, I take H into her choir practice through the — you guessed it — pouring rain. Aaron, the talented choir leader, tells me that practice will end at 5:30pm. This shatters my evening’s plan as I had everything scheduled around a 6:00pm end time. I am now running late. I hate running late. I race to the SUV.
3:55pm: W and P place their orders at Señor Taco, the surprisingly good local joint. We then dart to Petco to collect dog food.
4:05pm: Burritos and quesadilla acquired, we zoom back to our house. It’s pouring rain.
4:15pm: W and P play 30 minutes of “Smash Bros. Brawl” on the Wii, eat dinner, change to Tae Kwon Do uniforms.
5:15pm: We jump back in the car and zoom back to the choir practice. It’s pouring rain. While driving I call in another order to Señor Taco — “Hi, Mary, it’s me again.” “Hi Brad!” — this time dinner for H and for me. I did it this way so that everybody’s food would be fresh upon dining.
5:30pm: H’s practice isn’t over. I check on the boys. There is no blood coating the windows of the car from the inside. Sometimes in life you have to settle.
5:35pm: It still isn’t over. I feel pressure in my forehead. Is it a migraine? a stroke?
5:40pm: Choir practice ends. The stroke subsides, for now, and I chivvy H into the car through the pouring rain. As she climbs in, one of her fingers floats near W. So — of course, how can I not have foreseen this? — W bites H’s finger. There is no blood. W denies doing it. H stands her ground. I make it clear that if I discover that this has actually happened later that such punishments will ensue as to make the Terror of the French Revolution seem like a mere barked shin, only I don’t say this in so many words. W confesses. “W,” I say. “Impulse control! Please work on it.” I wonder if any of them will notice if I use the Google Mobile app on my iPhone to search the keyword “orphanage.”
5:45pm: I collect the second order at Señor Taco.
6:00pm: I deposit the boys at Tae Kwon Do and drive H home. It is pouring rain.
6:10pm: I escort H into the house. She has her choir book and the “you might have to wait for a while after practice” novel. She has her roller backpack that contains the 68 pounds of books she ferries back and forth every day to the fifth grade (!). “Honey, where’s your jacket?” She looks about. She looks some more. I feel the inter-cranial pressure mount again. “Did you leave it at choir?” “You were rushing me!” Intemperate words spring from my mouth. That Dad of the Year Award will elude me in 2011 just like 2010, and 2009, and 2008…. I get her into the house, plate her dinner and set up a show she likes via Netflix on the iPad. I send quick notes to Aaron and his wife Dierdre about the jacket, send a separate note to the executive director of the arts center asking him to forward it to Lost & Found, and then I dart out the door.
6:20pm: I call my wife. We chat while I’m driving to the arts center for the third time in less than three hours. I find an open door to the center but not to the choir room. I use the flashlight app on my iPhone to illuminate corners of the choir room. There is one forlorn fabric lump in the corner. Is it her jacket, some other idiot child’s jacket or a disused instrument cover. Who knows? Still chatting with Kathi, I wander the halls, eliciting bizarre looks from people in sundry meetings. No jacket.
6:35pm: I look at my watch. Holy mackerel! Tae Kwon Do ends in 10 minutes and I’m 12 minutes away. I zoom through the pouring rain.
6:50pm: Tae Kwon Do lets out 5 minutes late. I am waiting, an insouciant smile on my face, trying to suggest that I’ve been waiting a while. They are boys, and therefore oblivious. I guide them back to the SUV through the pouring rain. H calls my cell. A package arrived. Per the Paternal Prime Directive she did not open the door, but she suspects that it is a package from Amazon and wanted me to know.
7:00pm: P is returned to the bosom of his family.
7:05pm: W and I arrive home. It is indeed a package from Amazon.com. I try to take W directly to the shower but he announces — in a voice that vibrates our neighbors’ windows — that he has to poop.
7:10pm: My burrito is cold. I reheat it. It now has paper stuck to it that is impossible to peel off. “A good source of fiber,” I tell myself.
7:12pm: W emerges naked from the bathroom and dances in the loft, waggling his butt to show that he has wiped himself. I escort him to the shower.
7:15pm: H rehearses her speech on manga for me. It requires me to draw along with her. I eat left handed.
7:20pm: I finish my burrito. The shower is still going. “W?” I ask mounting the stairs. My right knee twinges. An old fencing injury. Really. My 12 year old Corgi, Dexter, huffs his way up the stairs next to me. My knee just twinges. He’s REALLY struggling. “What?” I imagine him asking. “You couldn’t have bought that one-level ranch home I liked so much?” W is practicing Tae Kwon Do in the shower while making laser gun noises. I suggest washing himself.
7:25pm: I suggest washing again.
7:28pm: I open the shower door and glower until he begins to bathe himself. I go to check on H.
7:33pm: W is now meditating under the water and not washing his hair. I suggest that if he wishes to play video games again before puberty he rethink this stance. He washes his hair. Clean and looking like a large, peach-colored prune, he exits the shower. “Please dry yourself,” I say and go back downstairs to make sure H has finished homework.
7:40pm: I return to the scene of the shower and find W practicing Tae Kwon Do, naked, in front of the mirror. Just as I reach the door he KICKS the mirror and I hear a loud slapping noise not followed, thank heavens, by a series of tinkling noises. “Don’t DO that!” I shriek. “Impulse control, W, please!”
Tooth brushing follows. I don’t know when. I don’t remember what I was doing. I might have blacked out. No, wait. Now I remember. I went to the garage to get the DeLonghi space heater for W’s room, as it gets unnaturally cold at night and he is recovering from a cough. It looks like an old radiator from a New York apartment building, but it doesn’t make noise and doesn’t use electricity like a hair dryer. I clean it and install it in his room.
7:55pm: The kids and I review their chore sheets and I award stickers for good behavior. Down on my knees, at W’s level, I carefully go over the “don’t hit sister” line on the chore sheet. “Do you deserve a sticker here?” “No.” “Why not?” “Because I bit sister and lied about it.” “That’s right,” I say. “And, by the way, because of this behavior you also lost dessert. Sister gets dessert. You do not. Now please go upstairs.” It is at this point that I see that a flurry of ants have colonized the island in the middle of our kitchen. I see this because H has rested her arm on the island and 6 ants have crawled onto her sweatshirt. I de-ant-i-fy her. At this point, W uses his arm to sweep across the island, infesting his pajamas with ants. I de-ant-i-fy him and send him upstairs. H generously agrees to read to him so that I can napalm the ants with Windex. She dislikes bugs as much as I do.
8:05pm: Island cleaned, I come upstairs. H trots off to her room to read. I tuck W in and a thought occurs to me. “W,” I say. “Do you know what ‘impulse control’ means?” “No, Dad, actually, I don’t.” I close my eyes and smile. We then talk for a few minutes about the three words I’d like him to have in his head whenever a sudden desire to do something that might, perhaps, exceed the usual rules governing his day — kicking something, hitting somebody, throwing something sharp at high velocity toward the back of a waiter’s head in a restaurant (I speak hypothetically, of course). “What words?” he asks. “It’s simple, really,” I say. “Just think, ‘wait a minute!’ whenever you have an irresistible urge to do something that might be bad, just think ‘wait a minute.'” He starts to talk about Bey Blades. Laser sounds are involved. “W,” I ask. “Can you tell me what I just said?” There is a very long pause. “Wait a minute?” “Good,” I reply. “I just like to know that you hear me once in a while.” Kisses and hugs are exchanged.
8:20pm: I serve H her dessert — cherry pie and a glass of milk — and she happily reads her book while I empty the dishwasher, clean the kitchen, get the coffee pot ready for the morning, put the dog out in the pouring rain to relieve himself, and start going over tomorrow’s activities. I notice that somewhere during the day the Henckle Kitchen Scissors Fairy has visited our house and stolen our scissors. I let Dexter back in. He nearly darts by me with muddy paws, but a quick lunge saves our carpets and my fencing past proves itself useful.
9:00pm: H is entirely ready for bed and happily reading her book. She has only 20 pages to go, so I give her permission to finish the book so long as she rolls over and goes to bed upon finishing it. She agrees. I remind her that I will be waking her early to get ready for makeup picture day, as the pictures from the first go around show her beautiful face stretched by an expression one usually associates with electrocution. She understands. We discuss breakfast options (she is my picky eater). Kisses and hugs are exchanged.
9:05pm: I begin writing this post.
9:41pm: H pops into the room to inform me that she has finished her book. I sigh and wonder what the Google query on the iPhone managed to turn up. However, since she is here it occurs to me to ask if she has indeed read the book for her Friday Book Club meeting, and if so what it might be. She tells me that the title is “The Name of this Book is Secret” by Pseudonymous Bosch, but that she has not read it. I send her to get the Kindle and proceed to download the book. I also send a brief email to Kathi asking for confirmation on this title as well as if she happens to have brought the Henckle scissors with her to Los Angeles for mysterious reasons.
9:49pm: H returns to bed.
10:15pm: I go to check on H, listening at the door as she is a light sleeper and if I go in it will wake her. It is possible that I hear the quiet murmurings of an audio book being played on her iPod Touch, but it could also be the sound of the now driving rain and howling wind whipping through the trees outside. At least it’s quiet in there. Sometimes in life you have to settle.
10:16pm: As I come back down the stairs I see that Dexter has levitated himself onto the couch. If he had opposable thumbs I feel confident that he’d now be watching Animal Planet.
And that brings us to the present.
My wife amazes me. She does this ALL THE TIME. I feel like I must book a business trip just so that I can get some rest.
I’m going to join Dexter on the couch. But since I have thumbs there will be no Animal Planet.
The coffee machine is set to go off at 6:00am.