Lately, Sunday evenings have been Daddy’s night. Elise has been busier than usual as we approach our departure date, and more and more families decide to take advantage of her immense talent behind the camera. Most Sundays, almost every Sunday, the boys play trains or make race tracks in the living room or play room or play outside. Clementine will take a cat nap, just long enough for me to get dinner started or, best case, on the table in time for Elise’s return home.
Last night did not go so smoothly. Elise had shoots both Saturday and Sunday nights. I shouldn’t make it sound harder than it really is, because Elise does this EVERY SINGLE DAY, but I have yet to be comfortable with the idea that I can’t do everything.
I have always prided myself on my ability to take care of my children all by myself no matter what. Not that I have to frequently, hardly ever, but I understood early on that our happiness and the happiness of our marriage called for me to be able to step up and parent and free up Elise to pursue her own interests, grow her own career or just have some down time. I had heard Elise tell plenty of stories about her friend’s husbands who were incapable of putting their children to bed. I determined early on I wasn't going to be that kind of dad.
And I’m not. But with three kids, I have had to learn my limits. When it was just Sam and Pete, they could play while I made dinner or got baths ready. Add Clementine to the equation and, God love her, I just can’t do it all, and that has been a big adjustment.
I can’t honestly say it was easy at any point last night. I can’t say it started off okay then got rocky later. It was rough from the beginning. I’m sure the fact that I had not slept in past 5:00 a.m. in the last three weeks had something to do with it. As Elise moved toward the door camera bag in hand, I was immobilized on the couch. She left me wondering how I was going to pull this off. Never mind that she was only going to be gone two hours.
We had gone to Wal-Mart earlier in the day to buy a new wireless modem. (I was already spent and frustrated from spending what felt like the whole weekend feeling technologically inept. Our old wireless modem was fried in a near-miss lighting strike during the chuva da manga, the first rain that signals the end of the dry season, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to install the new one. It didn’t help that the instructions were in Portuguese, but I had always been under the impression that you just plugged the modem in and it started broadcasting a signal. When did setting up a wireless network get so complicated?) At Wal-Mart, we bought, in addition to glazed doughnuts—the only place in Brasilia one can buy true, honest-to-goodness doughnuts is Wal-Mart. Go figure—and pao de queijo the size of tennis balls, an inflatable baby pool for Clemmy and an inflatable raft shaped like a racing car for Pete and Sam. Sam had liberated the raft from its box even though I must have told him a thousand times, it was not possible for me to take three children who had yet to learn how to swim into the swimming pool by myself. I don’t even think I could put their bathing suits on all by myself. Sam was walking around the house, trying to blow up the raft. But since I didn’t want him to hyperventilate and pass out, I mercifully offered to blow the raft up for him.
Per Elise’s suggestion, I set them up outside with the hose, the water table, inflatable raft and Clementine’s new inflatable pool. Clem was getting restless, so I made her a bottle and attempted to put her down for a nap, while I watched Pete and Sam strip naked and race back and forth through her bedroom window. In the short amount of time it took for me to give Clementine her bottle, Pete barged into her room, naked, wet and crying no less than twice. Not ideal conditions for getting a baby to go to sleep.
I soon gave up. I rolled her activity center outside put Clementine in it with explicit instructions; Sam was not to spray her with her hose. She got a kick out of watching the boys play in the water. For all of about 30 seconds. After which point both Pete and Sam decided they were done outside, got dressed and declared they wanted to play inside, abandoning Clementine.
Exhausted and alone, she burst into tears. I picked her and the activity center up and brought them back inside. I fail to recall what Pete and Sam were doing at this point, but I thought I would try to put Clementine down again. She was clearly exhausted, but I had no better luck this time without intrusions than I had had earlier with intrusions.
It was almost 5:00, and I had only gotten as far as cutting the butternut squash. Oh, yeah. I was trying to make dinner, too. I had turned the oven on. Then, realizing I wasn’t going to be ready in time, I turned it off, not wanting to overheat the kitchen.
I picked up Clementine and brought her into mine and Elise’s room. I lay on the bed with her, hoping she would squiggle herself out. At that point, I didn’t really care what Sam and Pete were doing as long as they were quiet. A few minutes later, they slunk in, guilty smirks staining their faces. They hadn’t done anything wrong, they just wanted to be with us. I acquiesced, and the four of us squiggled on the bed.
It was close to five, and I figured I could do this for another hour. Just let them roll around on the bed for an hour or so until Elise got home. I was too tired to move, anyway.
At some point I realized I would have to get something on the table, so I got up and took Clementine into the kitchen, put her in her high chair and gave her some plastic bowls to chew on. Sam and Pete followed. I was able to put the squash in the oven and get the rice on. Then, the boys started breaking down. I put noodles on, too, realizing they weren’t going to be able to make it long enough for me to also clean, cut and cook chicken to go with our rice, beans and squash.
I scooped the boys bowls of penne. I make two Tupperware tubs. One with butter and cheese for Sam and one with tomato sauce for Pete. Why? Because that’s the way they like it. Yes, sometimes I do make parenting harder than it has to be, but that’s what you do when you love your kids.
I got the noodles on the table just as Clementine was winding down in her high chair. I picked her up. Pete whined from his seat at the table, “I want a snaaaaack!”
Me: “You don’t need a snack you’re having dinner.”
“I want a snaaaack!”
“What do you want? Pretzels? Marshmallows?” I queried, furious.
I reached into the cupboard, got down the bag of marshmallows and threw them at Peter. They hit him in the face, and he burst into tears. I immediately felt terrible.
I took Clementine and walked outside. Clearly, I had lost it. I needed to get some fresh air. Pete’s wailing carried from every window of the house.
I went back inside and tried to tell him I was sorry, but of course he wasn’t having anything to do with me at that point. He found his blanket and curled up on the floor of the play room sobbing. Much of the rest half hour was a blur. At some point, I started to make a bottle for Clemmy, and then Elise came home. She saw Pete on the floor and immediately deduced he was sick. He ran a fever all that night. I had been so discombobulated I didn’t even see it.
Later that evening, as we lay in bed, I was shell-shocked. I knew it was hard, but I never imagined it could be that hard. I thought I had an appreciation for what Elise did every day. I thought that if I planned ahead and anticipated everyone’s needs, I would be okay, but sometimes, despite best intentions, there is just no winning.
A few days later, Elise shared with me a discussion that was taking place on Facebook. Some mothers were debating the merits of attachment parenting versus detachment parenting. Now, I’m not exactly sure what attachment parenting or detachment parenting really is. From the discussion, I got that attachment parenting involves either breastfeeding your child until they reach middle school and/or wearing them in a papoose all day, and detachment parenting involves either hiring a nanny to parent your children for you or completely ignoring your children whether there is a nanny around as back-up or not.
I am sure these are extreme examples, but my point is, you can’t practice either attachment or detachment parenting with three hungry and tired kids. I don’t know what you call it because one doesn’t have the luxury of theorizing over one’s method of parenting from the eye of the hurricane. You do what you do because you love them and because you are their dad. Not to say those that practice detachment parenting don’t love their kids; obviously, they do. You just wonder if detachment parents wanted their kids to play in their cribs in the other room while you prepared a romantic, candlelit dinner for their significant other, instead of watching them cook from the high chair, why they decided to have kids in the first place.
The next morning, I had just gotten out of the shower and was brushing my teeth when Peter padded into the bathroom. He looked up at me and whispered, “You throw marshmallows at me.” I scooped him up and told him I was sorry. I told him that I loved him and that I didn’t meant to hurt his feelings. I think he is going to work this one for awhile.