Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The End of the Day

Some days are better than others for the working dad. Some days you come home full of energy and flush with free time. Other days you come home beat up and tired, with a tall stack of bills and paperwork waiting for you, or a list of chores a mile long. “Life maintenance” type stuff, as my dad calls it.

As a dad with three young boys, it is a rather chaotic event when I come home. Mind you, I am perfectly calm most of the time, but the kids get a little wound up. All the day’s happenings, as well as all the day’s frustrations are described to me in unison by three very loud, fast talking children. I am instantly needed for any number of very important art projects, outdoor games, indoor spy adventures and toy repair jobs. My second opinion is required on all the day’s court cases, reviewing the rulings handed down by the evil mother of justice. I, of course, always concur with the sentencing, much to the dismay of the guilty parties involved in the day’s mischief.

When the initial onslaught of rapid-fire conversations has tapered off, and I have been allowed to kiss their mother hello, I have a choice to make. To play or not to play.

On the days when I am coming home to a mountain of paperwork or chores, it is always tempting to tell my three boys that I don’t have time tonight to play with them. Daddy has a lot of work to do, and I need to go take care of it.

Now, there are times when that is a truly unavoidable situation, but most of the time, I find myself putting them off for my own convenience, not because of any true bill paying or door hinge squeaking emergency. It’s just that if I get some things done before dinner, I will have more time after dinner to do what I want to do. Namely, sitting.

I am making a conscious effort these days to resist the pitfall of turning into the guy from the “Cat’s in the Cradle” song, however. Most days, I put the chore list aside and go play some baseball in the backyard when I get home. These days I am reminding myself more and more that I am not going to get to the end of my life and wish that I had spent more time at work or more time doing chores. You only get one shot at raising your kids, and the only thing that they require from you is your time. If you’re around to play with them, you are 90% of the way there when it comes to raising them right. The other 10% is a total mystery, and if anyone knows what it is, please tell me!

One of the challenges to fatherhood is that going out and playing with the boys is not all fun and games. Many times I wish I could be doing chores instead. There are days when everyone gets along just fine, but I’ve only heard tell of them. I’ve never actually seen it happen. I always end up refereeing some kind of hullabaloo between two boys who seem to be constantly jockeying for position as Alpha Child. If Son Number One and Two were dogs, I would just let them fight it out, letting one of them finally establish dominance. But since my wife tells me we can’t do it that way, we always end up needing to “use our words” after they are peeled apart. Add a very opinionated Son Number Three into the mix, and emotions can run high in the backyard. We always have fun, but it is usually intermixed with some temper flare-ups and resulting disciplinary actions.

Still, even with the inevitable brotherly squabbles, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Not because of the fact that I’m spending quality time with them in their formative years. That’s all well and good, but it’s not the real reason I do it. I do it for the laughs, and I do it for the thrills. If you spend enough time around kids you’ll get a lot of both.

One evening a while back, when tempers and emotions were at a particularly high level, all three of the boys ended up in tears, crying about not getting their respective ways. I sat them all down and had a talk with them.

Me - “I want you guys to control your emotions, and use your words with each other. I don’t want you guys to cry when you’re mad. I want you to cry only when you’re really sad, or when you have broken your leg.”
Son Number Three – “Or your arm.”
Me – “Yes, or your arm.”
Number Three – “Or your peanuts.”
“Yes. It is definitely OK to cry then.”

That’s the kind of hidden comic gem that keeps you coming back for more. Also, the more time you spend with them, the more “teachable moments” you get to handle. Teachable moments for the working dad can be exhilarating. They are a lot like being at bat in a baseball game. You get your pitch, and you do with it what you can.

Just last night we were all out playing on the play structure and everyone was momentarily getting along. Out of nowhere, Son Number Two, the six-year-old, pipes up with, “I’m sexy and I know it.”

Now for those of you who don’t know, that is the tag line from a pop song that is currently all over the radio. (Just not the channels you listen to.) He sang it with the right inflection and beat that would suggest that he had heard the song, but I was sure he hadn’t. He also had the classic “testing the waters” look on his face, suggesting he knew it might not be appropriate, but I could tell he had no idea what it meant.

Stifling a laugh and forcing my best stern, concerned dad voice, I asked him, “Where did you hear that?”
Son Number One piped up and said, “Well, he could have heard it at first grade, too, because a lot of kids in my class say it.”
“Really? Well, you boys don’t get to say it, because it’s not a kid thing to say. It’s an adult thing to say.”
Son Number Two, now with a big smile on his face, asked, “What does it mean?”

Some days you get fastballs at your chin, and some days you get hanging curve balls that look like they are sitting on a tee, just waiting for you to knock them out of the park.

“Well, son, it means you think girls think you’re cute and huggable and kissable.”

BAM! That’s a 500-foot shot straight out over the center field wall. Kiss that ball goodbye!!!

You should have seen the look on their faces. I don’t think there is a more horrifying thing you could tell a six or seven-year-old boy than that. We won’t be hearing that again.

It’s parenting home runs like that that make it all worthwhile. Now if you will excuse me, I need to go play some ball with my boys, and later I need to discuss home schooling with my wife.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

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