May 15, 2003

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

After one week of being the sole resident parent to a 5 and 6 year old I can faithfully state:

THE GOOD: Childrearing is a science.

THE BAD: It’s not an exact science. Yesterday morning I had our “get-out-of-the-house” routine down so pat we found ourselves ready to go 24 minutes early! I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Of course, I secretly attributed it to my patented “daddy efficiency.” Be careful. Hubris will get you nowhere, Jeff.

I delivered my five year old to her ride and then proceeded to my 6 year old’s drop off point, our good friend C. I knocked on the door and no one answered. My daughter decided she’d knock (really loud) and still nothing.

I used my cell to call her. It was obvious I had woken her up yet she was incredibly pleasant when she told me today wasn’t her day to help. But she’d be right down anyway.

I was sure my chart said “Tuesday morning drop Daughter #1 off at C’s.” I was wrong. It’s not that I refused to look at the chart (I am one of those males who actually asks for directions) —I had merely assumed that the Monday through Wednesday schedule would be the same. It obviously wasn’t.

Tuesdays C had an early appointment but, as luck would have it, it had been cancelled the night before. So it was no problem to leave Daughter #1 there. In fact, she’d slept through her alarm so my early morning blunder was fortuitous.

THE GOOD: Yesterday morning, during the rush to get out of the house, both girls were wonderfully helpful. Each dressed in the clothes we had agreed upon. They ate breakfast with a minimal amount of reminders and even brushed their teeth and washed their faces, all on their own. I was proud of them and told them how much I appreciated their good behavior. As a former child, and now a parent, I know how important positive reinforcement can be.

THE BAD: Child behavior is inconsistent (duh). What happened “yesterday” is no predictor of what will happen today. And this morning was as bad as yesterday was good. Of course, if we were to chart pre-teen conduct we would see a slow curve upwards towards rationality as young children mature and migrate from an ego-centric world view to a multi-layered one (I know, it begins to go down again in the teens). But, on a day-to-day basis, you have to be ready for anything.

Daughter #2 woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. She had no interest in dressing herself or in cooperating in any of our pre-school morning activities. She had to be cajoled every step along the way. At one point she dropped her sippy cup on the floor and demanded I get it. She knew I was on the other side of the house at the time.

THE GOOD: At this age children can be bargained with.

THE BAD: But, like general behavior, this is a constantly changing environment. And you have to be able to think quickly on your feet. When all else fails (that is, asking nicely, multiple times) a parent must be prepared to withhold “something,” something of value to the child as a way to get what YOU want accomplished. There is debate amongst my parental peers as to how many chances you give your child before you do this. One revolutionary parent gives no chances. I am told her children have suddenly become very cooperative.

While my wife’s been away, I’ve been relying primarily on my 5 year old’s desire to wear dresses to school. When rationale fails I pull this ace out of my sleeve. And it usually works. But its use requires some finesse and I must be able to read her moods quickly. This morning, for example, I tried this tactic and instead of “ok daddy, I’ll [fullfil your reasonable request],” she dropped to the floor and started whining.

Parenting requires one to be ready to withhold, scold, or hug at any moment. Whatever the child needs.

THE GOOD: We all look forward to Mom’s nightly calls. Monday night she actually said she missed us (for the first time). That’s so nice, dear. We miss you too. A lot.

THE BAD: During last night’s call she thought I might have a touch of Tourette’s Syndrome. One moment I’d be pleasantly telling her of our day and everything I’d learned. Then, the next, I’d suddenly shout “YOU GET RIGHT BACK HERE THIS MINUTE!” or “IF YOU TOUCH HER ONE MORE TIME YOU WILL NOT GET TO [pause while I think quickly of something to bargin with] WEAR A DRESS TOMORROW!” And then back to my gentle banter.

As the traveler in this family who usually is making these nightly calls, I have learned not to be shocked by this abrupt change in dialogue meter. In fact, I can now easily visualize exactly what’s taking place at that moment of discordance. However, this is the first time my wife has experienced home life via the telephone. I had a lot of explaining to do.

THE GOOD: At the end of the day, when the children are both in bed, a glass of wine goes a long way to transition between my roles as “father” and as “individual.” I call it my “wine for whine exchange.” Last weekend I went to the liquor store to find just that perfect vintage for this event.

THE BAD: I couldn’t find the corkscrew and had to wait for my wife’s call to find out where she had hidden placed it.

And finally:

THE GOOD: The possibility of accumulating mounds of brownie points for these two weeks is immense.

My sister, whose children are now in their 20s and who liberally dispenses parental advice to her ignorant brother, told me how proud and impressed she was of me for agreeing to do this. She wished her husband had been so open-minded when her children were young. Thanks, sis. That means a lot to me.

And, when I mentioned to a colleague this morning what I was doing, she, too, suggested that I should be awarded something analogous to feminist frequent flyer miles. She told me her husband stayed home with their young children for two years. P, our friend, decided to do the same when his wife got a new job.

These are the guys who should really get these brownie points. Moms too. This is hard work.

THE BAD: Too bad this doesn’t happen more often.

Related Stories:
Charting the Next Two Weeks
Domestic Tranquility: My Spotted Record

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