It goes something like this:
You sit at your desk for eight or nine hours a day and get totally mentally worn out, but your body doesn’t move at all. Then you spend a frantic hour or two running after crawling/creeping/toddling/madly-dashing kids, doing forced brushings of teeth and puttings-on of nappies (“diapers” to you, Yankee) and, finally, the exhilaration of reading a bedtime story in several dramatized voices.
We had our second child about five months ago, and my wife’s been shouldering the nightly feedings. Partly because I’m an insomniac–falling asleep when baby is waking up–and partly because she’s the one with the boobs.
By 6:30 she’s exhausted, so I’m the one who wakes up with the kids. Then, as I’m heading out at 8, I wake her, pass the torch, and vanish for work.
Which is a pretty efficient system. Problem is, it’s too efficient. Because I’m the one who wakes them up, gets them dressed, grumpily instructs them that they are NOT to wear a Papa Shirt and flip-flops to daycare, encourages them to eat dinner faster (not too fast, but please, the food goes into your mouth) and, finally, turns out the lights on them–well, our reactions have been getting a little businesslike.
And meanwhile, in that [what time is it right now?] zone of time between 1:30 and 2:00 PM, where my brain starts going sluggish from the early-morning wake-up call, I’m not thinking straight and my grammar goes to hell. (Note to bosses: That’s when I do all the Photoshopping. Because you don’t need good grammar with Photoshop.) Wouldn’t that be the best time to spend with my kids? Where I can just go on autopilot and we can read Outside Over There together or have a wrestling match?
The answer that I’ve come to is: No. Because we have so little time together, there’s the constant pressure to make it meaningful. I never (well, rarely) (well, except at 6 A.M.) zone out or don’t pay attention when I’m with them. When we’re together, the struggle is to get them to eat efficiently, dress efficiently, and then squeeze in the three-minute punk-rock dancing or the brief philosophical conversation. I try to make sure that all our time together is good time.
It doesn’t always work. And the sad fact is, even if you’re the most efficient person alive–and even if your kids always listen to you, which they never do–it’s never going to be enough time. There will always be the stupid minutiae to round out, the hamper that needs to be emptied, the toys that need to be put away. In parenting, everything is a judgment call. Am I going to check my email once more to make sure my daily mailing is scheduled? Or am I going to hop up and down with the Ramones and my daughters?
I’ll be right back. I think I just heard the stereo click on.