Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Trials and Tribulations of Single-Parenting

I would be a terrible single-parent.

As you may have realized from the photos in the sidebar, Elise is not in Chennai, because we don't have many camels in the south of India. She is in fact in Rajasthan attending the Pushkar Camel Fair, while I am home with Sam, Peter, and Clementine.

It is not that I am not a good father. It's just that I am not a very good mother. As a father, I am good at the routine tasks of childcare. I get up at five and make coffee, wash the left-over dishes from the night before, make school lunches, and make breakfast for the kids. Sometimes, it is just cereal. Most mornings it is bacon and eggs, French toast or pancakes. I change diapers, get everyone dressed, and brush teeth. Socks on. Shoes, too. Ready for the bus.

In the evening, it is dinner, baths, comb hair, brush teeth, read book, bed. Bam bam bam. No messing around. Soldiery in efficiency.

At this...making sure everyone is fed, clean and well-rested, I am very, very good. What I don't do as well is nurture, worry and snuggle.

When we lived in Brazil, Elise had subscribed to this service that sent you a box of clothes every month for your kids. All you had to do was tell them what size or how old your child was and feed them your child's "style profile" (still not exactly sure what that means), and every month the company would send you a box of new clothes for your kid. No more dragging recalcitrant kids through the aisles of Target. I thought this would be perfect for the single dads in the world.

With Elise out of town, I didn't have to buy clothes, but I did have to do things that fell outside of what I am accustomed to do as a father. Last night, Sam asked me to lie with him while he fell asleep. I was tired and hadn't eaten dinner yet. I told him, "No, I am not going to lay with you." But as soon as I said it I regretted it. I told myself if he asked again tomorrow night, I would do it. Sure enough, he asked again, and so did Peter and Clementine, so I laid down with all of them, asking them what the best part of their day was.

This morning, as I was lifting her from her crib, Clementine told me her stomach hurt. I hate to admit it, but typically, I wouldn't think anything of it. But all at once I realized that Elise wasn't there, and if I didn't worry about it, there was no one else that was going to worry about it either.

Later, Sam would give me a stink about going to school. He didn't want to go, he would tell me. In this, he was quite firm. But I forced myself to stop going about my daily routine and picked him up, not much unlike I used to do when he was Clementine's age a short five years ago. I sat down with him on the couch and held him close to my chest for about ten minutes, his wild mane tickling my nose. This was, evidently, all he needed. Fortunately, I recognized that before it was too late, and got him out the door on time.

Sometimes, I get up early on Saturday mornings and go for a "long" (8 - 9 miles) run to Elliot's Beach and back. I am usually home by six, but my boys get up at an ungodly early hour. In order to keep them from waking Elise, I started to tell Sam and Pete that they could play a Lego Chima video game on my iPhone until I got home.

I have Elise's old iPhone which can't carry a battery charge so there was no risk they would play all morning. The battery usually dies shortly after I get home from my run, a perfect coincidence. This weekend, I told Sam I may get up early and run on the treadmill. I didn't run, but they got the iPhone anyway. I didn't fight him on it. The battery would die soon anyway.

But before the battery died, he asked me if he could download a different Lego Chima video game. Of course, my initial thought was how much does it cost. It was free! For some reason I have trouble articulating now, I didn't say no. I guess I tried putting myself in his shoes. When I looked into his eyes, I saw curiosity or a thirst for the next cool thing. I could see myself, wanting the next comic, the next movie, the next TV show, the next video game.

So we downloaded it. He hardly ever plays on my iPhone and it wasn't like I was buying the kid a new Xbox.

This morning when Sam said he didn't want to go to school because he was so tired I may have bribed him by saying if he went to school he could play on the iPhone when he got home. Not my finest parenting moment. I guess I was imagining this alternative universe where at the end of the day every one had a little quiet downtime to engage in their own self-actualizing activities instead of the normal, happy chaos that ensues every evening starting around 5:00.

I told our nanny, Rita, that I was okay if the kids watched TV when Sam came home from school. They haven't been watching TV during the day, so I think both Elise and I agree that after a long day, it's okay to zone out in front of the TV for a few minutes. Why else would HGTV be so popular?

When I came home this evening, everyone was bouncing on the trampoline next door at the neighbor's house. When I saw how flush and sweaty Sam was, I recalled how exhausted he said he was this morning and had the fleeting thought that this wasn't going to end well.

Packages had come today, and when we came home, I showed them the the two new Super-Friends comics I had ordered on Amazon for them. See, I had ordered three. I mean, I do have three kids. But only two of them came. Presumably, the other will come in next week's package shipment. Another one of the realities of living overseas. So, I could hold the two I had until all three arrived, or I could give them two now in hopes that they would share.

There was some initial crying, but it wasn't as bad as I feared, partially off-set by the three notepads and three ballpoint pens I hijacked from my lunch meeting at the Hyatt.

As they flipped through the comics, I re-heated the dinner Rita had made for them, and we ate. After dinner, they each picked one (or two...another parenting fail!) candy from their Halloween buckets. Then, Sam--finally--asked me if he could play games on my iPhone.

It was already 6:30. He could barely see straight. The best--and, frankly, only--course of action at this point was baths, book, and bed.

"Not tonight," I told him calmly.

He went berserk, "You ALWAYS say no when it come to electronics!!" Then stormed out of the kitchen.

I did break my promise. Guilty. But the more I tried to explain why, the more irate he became. Until I heard Elise in my ear whisper, "Stop talking. You talk too much."

Somehow, I got him in the shower. He balled the entire time. I carried him, swathed in a towel, like a baby to the couch and put his pajamas on.

He was still crying. He told me, "It's like you are the king and I am the guard. You're always telling me what to do."

"I am not the king. I am your father. And I only tell you what to do because I love you."

Sam, "Your always telling me what to do!"

"At my job, someone is always telling me what to do. Someone is going to tell you what to do your whole life, and the sooner you get used to that fact, the more successful your are going to be."

(Not sure where I was going with that one, but both Peter and Clementine were both running around naked in the background and the shower was running and maybe even starting to flood the bathroom.)

Eventually, everyone calmed down. I laid with Sam while Peter and Clementine took their showers. Only God knows if they used soap. Clementine's hair was wet so that was progress. We did read one a story from one of our new comics. Sam asked me if Green Lantern's battery recharges his ring faster than the iPhone's battery or about the same, and we learned the words "relinquish" and "successor".

Only two more days to go, and I am still awaiting confirmation that she has actually ridden a camel. 

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