We all know what island the imbecilic “Thomas the Train” hails from, and it ain’t Sanibel. It’s the mythic Island of Sodor, somewhere between the coasts of Britain and Braindead. Because of Thomas, we have spent 1.2 million dollars on trains and tracks. And what does my son do after I set up tracks? He places the trains around the track a few inches apart and stares at them. I try to push the $22 wooden blocks around my expertly crafted track, but he screams, “Noooo! Not that one!” Ellison doesn’t play with the trains. He stages them. Thank you, Great Britain, for making my son OCD. Then there’s the Thomas plot lines. In every story, one thing happens: someone disobeys orders. Every train from Diesel 10 to Paxton to Skarloey (actual names) seeks short cuts in daily tasks, thusly disobeying orders, thusly causing “confusion and delay”.
So we just had a fun weekend celebrating Ryder’s third birthday. (Ryder’s mother and I have been dear friends since first grade. Our boys have no choice but to be besties. It was sealed in the family fates.) We went to Vernon, NJ, to accomplish several things: celebrate a 3-year-old birthday, try to have parental fun, swim in a hotel pool and visit a pumpkin patch. We accomplished all of the above. And it was great…in retrospect. In the moment, why must so many activities be so laborious? Am I alone in finding it hard to relax during activities that that take us a 5-minute walk from our apartment? Creating picture-perfect experiences is just so difficult.
And by “everyone” I mean parents. Not Syrian refugees. Calm down. Most of the last year has seen me as a single father. My partner conducted and directed concerts across the country, and that meant many weekends away. I’ve been stuck, un-showered, with a double-stroller and the sinking feeling that everyone else is having more fun than I am. So I occasionally set myself up for bitter annoyance by trying to create a solo (with kids) “ideal Saturday morning.” Let’s go to Tribeca and play amidst the elite.
Certain events with the kids cause me serious angst: subway trips, birthday parties and plane trips. Subway trips mean we’ll be out for a long time. Beyond temper tantrums, this is what stresses me out: What if it’s a 105 degree summer day on the subway platform with 98% humidity and I get swamp-ass and people laugh at my wet khakis? What if the subway stops and we’re stuck inside for three hours without enough battery life on my phone to keep the kids quiet or enough goldfish snacks to keep ME happy? And then what if desperation drives me to pee between subway cars? Late on a Saturday night is one thing. But middle of day with other riders, my children and, well…sober? Would I get arrested in this extreme situation? Do the police want to deal with my screaming kids’ wrath?
Last February I frantically brain-stormed a last-minute timeshare getaway to warmer climes with the family. It would include our 2-year-old and 10-month-old. My stress over rising airline tickets and dwindling hotel availability prompted my partner to say, “You could just go on your own.” (Disclaimer #1: Getting away for an adult vacation wasn’t feasible. We don’t have family nearby on whom to foist two kids under 2 and we can’t afford 4 days of round-the-clock baby-sitting.) “What?” I sputtered. “Yeah, I mean it’s so much work to take the kids. It’s expensive, it’s a headache, and it’s not relaxing. I’m all about taking my own solo mini-vacation, later. You want to get away more than I do, right now, anyway.” (Disclaimer #2 True. I’d been very full-time daddy for the past couple months.) “So you just go for a couple days.”
The other day I read a spot-on post by a mother lamenting the fact that her kids don’t look out at the river when they’re driving. Instead, their faces are buried in touch screens. Screw my kids’ appreciation. What about my burning desire to stare at a touch screen? I stand at the playground and challenge myself to see how long I can hold off checking texts. Sometimes I make it two and a half minutes…if Colton isn’t gleefully stealing toys from younger kids. Once I’ve extracted the phone and glanced at the home page alerts, I might as well swipe, punch my code, and see if emails jumped from 13 to 14. Maybe a life-changing message arrived in the ninety seconds since I slipped the phone into my pocket (to unload the stroller). Yes, I was scrolling HuffPost while pushing the stroller to the playground. I might not have looked up as I crossed streets, dodged an old lady using a walker, and avoided dog poop. Busy bodies might think I never looked up …
Processed foods. I ate Mac’n Cheese, Kool-Aid, Fruity Pebbles, Pop Tarts and Fritos. And my kids will only have those on special occasions. Like Haley’s Comet visits. Now we worry about red dye, HFCS, and chemical additives that render food addictive. And we obsess over our kids eating vegetables. Actually, red dye confounds me. But I totally obsess over the veggies. In my childhood, canned creamed corn counted as a vegetable. And I will never serve that to my kids as a vegetable. Unless we’re camping. Actually, they can eat all those foods can be eaten when camping. All bets are off camping. But every day? Sorry guys. You’ll never have it as good as I did. Seat belts. My dad drove a Volvo in the early 80’s. There was a confusing black handle that jutted out from the dashboard. When riding in that car, I’d hold onto the black handle to get myself as close to the front windshield as possible. Occasionally Dad would ask, “Gavin, please sit back and put on your seatbelt.” …