May 6, 2003

Charting the Next Two Weeks

My wife has left me. She’s left me and my two young girls alone with each other.

Well, ok, it’s only for two weeks and it’s for a very good cause: her sanity and wellbeing as an artist. She’s been awarded a fellowship at Pilchuck, that famous glass school just outside of Seattle. She will make art, make adult friends, and have some uninterrupted time to think. She deserves her own Petri dish.

And I am to be Mr. Mom for the next fourteen days.

We have been in preparation for this moment for a month. I have, shall we say, been in training. Since my wife’s and my lives are so differently organized (she works out of our home and I work in an office with regularly scheduled hours), our household responsibilities are different. I am consumed with governmental bureaucracy daily while she’s consumed with the familial variety. It’s not an even exchange.

It wasn’t always like this. When I taught and my hours were dictated by my classes, our parental roles were less traditionally male/female. They were more equal. When we decided I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to work at the Smithsonian we had to talk about how it would change this equilibrium.

Our lives now are “apples and oranges” and any attempts we’ve made to compare them (for parity sake) have failed miserably. We are chagrined by our more traditional gender parental roles. We are both exhausted at the end of the day but for different reasons. Let it be said, however, that she is my wife and the mother of my two girls and that trumps just about anything. So she really deserves this extended time off: her first since we became parents.

• • •

I have sitting before me a large chart with each day laboreously mapped out. Our two girls go to two different schools. Usually, it’s fairly easy. Each of us is responsible for just one of our children. Our youngest goes to daycare downtown with me and our oldest is in a local public school.

But because I will be working at home for five days during this period and at my regular desk the rest of the time, organizing who picks up whom and when is a complicated affair. Let it go on record we are thankful for the kindness of strangers, ok, of good friends, fellow parents, and in-laws who are helping us out.

Normally, I am a creature of habit. I make it through the pre-work morning hours of getting dressed, getting my youngest to school, and walking to the office totally on instruments. Everything is consistent, so I don’t have to think much. I act on instinct and prior experience.

For the next two weeks, however, my daily routine will be totally out of wack. I will have to keep my chart by my side and at the forefront of my mind to make sure I am where I’m supposed to be at all times and that each of our parental helpers is ready to receive us at the moment of handoff.

I just got a call from my mother-in-law checking to make sure she wasn’t on school pick-up duty today. Nope. According to the chart, I’m up and, in fact, all is taking care of. Next stop: ballet, then on to a neighbor’s to pick up #2 and then back for ballet pickup. After that it’s home for the evening and our first successful day.

I woke up yesterday morning in a cold sweat, turned over and made eye contact with my wife: “Wait, don’t leave me until you tell me everything you know about getting stains out of the kid’s clothes!” I now have beside me another chart: Hot only: towels, sheets, bathroom rugs. Cold only: leotards, tights, and dresses (and don’t put the leotards or tights in the dryer). Warm: everything else and remember to separate the darks from the lights.

Now, let the record show that I wash all my own clothes. And I do know the difference between darks and lights. I am not a Neanderthal. But I generally don’t rub markers into my shirts nor wipe my catsup-ladened mouth on my sleeve (I use a napkin). What about spots?

Consulting my chart: Wash all spotted clothes normally first. If spots persist set washer to extra small water level with warm water. Add a “little” bleach (how much is a little? —about an 1/8 of a cup). Start washer and agitate for just a minute to mix the bleach with the water. Place spotted clothes in and set washer to auto-soak cycle. If this doesn’t work, repeat, but this time with hot water. If this fails, forget it or call my mother-in-law, the Spot Queen.

I think I’m about as prepared as I can be. Wednesday will be the first big test. I will have to get two sleepy girls up early, dressed and to their prospective handoffs. No wait. Only my oldest needs to be dropped off. I will take my youngest with me. Don’t forget that. I have no idea how long our morning regimen will take us but I know I only have an hour’s window to get #1 daughter to her first stop.

I’ve been talking to my girls a lot about cooperation and helping daddy. Do you think they heard me? Maybe I’ll let them sleep in their clothes. That should cut at least 20 minutes off the morning schedule. Hmmm, maybe I can really ace this thing if I serve breakfast just a little bit early —like the night before.

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