At my son’s open house last night, we were given a checklist with the different projects on display, so we could make sure to see them all. There was a wall where the kids had written about their favorite part of first grade (my son wrote “getting to eat breakfast in school,” because he has his priorities straight), and a wall displaying illustrated book reports of their favorite Dr. Seuss story. The last project on the checklist was “My Home.” There were little spaces where the kids filled in various facts about their home – how many pets they have, that kind of thing.
In my home, there are 3 pets, my son wrote. There is 1 adult and 2 kids.
I scanned the other kids’ projects, doing the now-familiar hunt for Another Divorced Person (I look for them everywhere – at drop-offs and playgrounds and amusement parks; they’re not usually hard to spot). Two of his classmates had 6 people living in their home (4 adults and 2 kids). The majority of them had 4 (2 adults and 2 kids). But – national statistics be damned – nobody else had “1 adult.”
I am the weekday parent. I am the one who pulls off the covers while they beg for “just a few more minutes!” No, I say. Get up.
I am the one who reminds them (an average of 60 times per morning) to brush your teeth! Now! This process almost always ends with me yelling, because it’s the only thing that makes them actually do it.
I am the one who slips field trip permission slips into backpacks (Don’t forget to give that to your teacher!) Who tells them that no, they can’t have another half hour on their screens, you have to practice piano; no, you can’t play with toys right now, you have to do your homework before dinner.
Every weekend brings a new adventure or five, recounted to me later in breathless tones: Dave & Busters, Chuck. E. Cheese, ComiCon. I smile, ask questions, ooh and aah over the new toys, and ready myself for the pre-bedtime tantrums that underslept, overexcited children specialize in. That is how I participate in these adventures: I sweep up the crumbs that are left in their wake.
Get up. It’s time for school.
I am the rule-maker, the reminder, the restrictor.
I am not fun.
My daughter cried when I came home from my business trip the other night; not the first time she’s done this. Kendrick had been staying with them at my place for a couple of days, and I arrived home at 9PM absolutely desperate to see them and hold them and snuggle them up in bed – a process that I had allowed myself to imagine would happen seamlessly. They’d be tired, already up far past their bedtimes, and so happy to see me that they’d fall into my arms and pass gently into sleep.
I let myself have fantasies like this sometimes.
But I walked through the door to find popcorn just popped on the stove, and unbrushed teeth, and promises of more books. And when I said – as I do, always, always, always – no, it’s too late, you have school tomorrow, you can’t, she cried. She didn’t want her dad to leave. Then my son started crying; he didn’t want to go to sleep. Then – exhausted from the shoot, the travel, the emotional hurricane I’d just stepped into – I started crying. Well done, me.
I understand why they were upset. I understand that they miss him when he’s not there, just as they miss me when I’m not there. I understand that they just want both of us, all the time.
But also, it’s a simple fact that can’t have escaped their notice: “Dad leaving” means “that’s it.”
I cancelled our spring break trip – the one I’d been agonizing over. First there was the drama at the passport agency, and then there was the whole having-all-our-personal-documentation-stolen-out-of-my-car thing, and then there was the fact that my son’s certified birth certificate (which I had ordered via an expedite service) hadn’t been signed for any of the three times that it had been delivered to our house while I was away, necessitating a trip to the USPS in Van Nuys that took up the better part of a workday.
All those things were more than a little annoying, but what finally broke me was the quick calculation that told me I was going to end up having to pay upwards of $600 just to have the damn passports (maybe) arrive in time for us to leave for Mexico on Sunday. I just couldn’t rationalize spending that much money, on top of the money that I’d already spent on this (notaries! photos! expediting services! plane tickets! hotels!).
Goddamnit, though, I wanted to go on that trip so badly. I wanted – just for once – to be the hero, the parent who takes them to do fun things and lets them stay up late and eat ice cream whenever they want and isn’t constantly saying no, no, no.
I want to be the yes parent. Even if it’s just for a week.
A few hours after I pulled the plug on the trip (which of course ate up the rest of my workday, what with the calls to Delta and the calls to the hotel and the hanging out on hold for 45 minutes and such), I picked up the kids from school.
So about Spring Break, I said. We’re not going to go to Mexico anymore.
What are we going to do? they wanted to know.
We went home, and I drew a little calendar for them. I filled in the boxes: A beach day, a pool party day, two days at a water park in Palm Springs. There was one box where I’d written “Lazy Day,” because I’d run out of ideas. My son pointed to it.
What’s that day? he asked.
That’s our day for doing nothing but sitting on the couch together and snuggling and watching movies, I told him.
Oh! he smiled his huge, gap-toothed, seven-year-old smile. And then:
That day is my favorite one.