It’s taken me about ten years to learn to not be excited about a snow day. That’s a long time to spend feeling duped.
I suppose the excitement of a snow day as a kid was just strong enough to propel me through these ten or so years of stay-at-home-parent snow-day disappointment. But it’s wearing off. I’m coming around. In fact, just this last week, I listened to the forecast for an approaching midweek blizzard and thought, “shit.” Progress.
But the snow day’s more ubiquitous cousin, the weekend, is still wreaking havoc on the absurdly untrainable reptilian portion of my brain. “Friday! Partaaay! It’s gonna be awwwwwesoooome!” it yells.
Cut to: Saturday morning. The kids are stewing, bored, flopping and writhing around the house, primal noises emanating from them as they rid the cupboards of snacks. They’re fighting, Kate’s yelling at them, they’re selling their souls to get on a screen of any sort, they’re complaining that there’s nothing to do, Kate’s telling them to go make a fort because she thinks it’s 1952, and I’m moping around in my slippers until DING! a synapse fires in my higher cortex, and I go, “wait…This actually sucks! Weekends suck! I can’t believe I fell for it again!”
By Monday morning, I’m back to counting down the hours till the weekend.
What I’ve gleaned from a dozen or so conversations around the playground after school pickup is that the only good thing about weekends is you don’t have to make school lunches. The conversation usually begins with me sidling up to a mom and asking, “Do you have fun anymore?”
They usually grab another mom by the arm and pull her close and then, eventually, together they get to some form of ‘no’. “Fun? No. Contentedness maybe. If the kids are playing nicely together in another room of the house.” That’s the general takeaway. Then I tell them that I know how to make a woman feel amazing. Kidding, I don’t do that. But I should. Because I do.
Regardless, not having to spend ten minutes making a school lunch makes for a pretty weak ‘plus’ column in the argument for weekends.
There was a brief period when Kate took pity on me and took the kids for a full Saturday or Sunday. It was designed to give me time to write, something I complain about not getting any time to do with the kids home and my nap schedule.
It was our little switcheroo; me as the working man, her as the house mom. I wanted time to write, yes, but what I really wanted, like, in my heart of hearts, was for Kate to be stuck at home with the whining and fighting and moping and constant cleaning and feeling all lazy and shitty in her sweatpants and calling me every three hours to ask when I’ll be home. That would be the true switcheroo. But it never happened that way. Because Kate is smarter than I am. She went out with kids. Far out. Far enough that the kids would remain strapped in car seats for roughly half of her allotted time with them. Apple picking, pumpkin picking, visiting a friend, an outdoor museum upstate, anything, it didn’t matter what the destination was. The point was to minimize her pain and keep me at home in my sweatpants all mopey and ineffective.
So, there’s the scene at the car: I’m standing there in my sweats and slippers and I’m looking at the kids’ faces all in a row in the back seat.
“Are you coming, Daddy?” the little one asks.
Kate answers quickly, “No, Daddy’s staying home.”
The little starts to whimper. “I want Daddy to come.” He says.
“Daddy needs a break,” the girl says, staring out the other window.
“Where are you guys gonna go?” I ask Kate.
“I don’t know… maybe we’ll go apple picking or something.” She says.
“Really? It’s pretty far, right?” I say.
“A bit, I guess.”
“You really wanna be gone for that long?”
Kate sighs. She’s annoyed.
This is how this goes. I want a break but I don’t want a break. I have Stockholm Syndrome. The kids have broken me. They are my captors and I need them. Or maybe I’ve become institutionalized like Brooks, the old librarian prisoner who gets out of Shawshank only to find life on the outside too fast and with too many options.
“Honey, I’m trying to give you a break.” Kate says.
“I know, it’s just… uuuughhh… can’t you just like go to the playground or something?”
Kate looks at me like she wants to strangle me. I don’t feel great about myself either.
“Alright. I’ll just… maybe I’ll go for a run or something.” I say.
Kate pulls out of the driveway and I stand there waving. The kids look sad, Kate looks annoyed but resolute. The car disappears around the corner. A slouched dad walks by carrying a kid in one hand and a tiny bicycle in the other. I give him the solemn nod and I walk back to the house.
“Get busy living or get busy dying.”
Staying home with the kids is hard because you lose yourself. You lose the things that once empowered you. Your love for your kids is strong but it’s selfless. And in being selfless it’s draining. You wake up with a set amount of energy and your kids just suck away at it all day. A cute belly laugh or a dish brought to the sink can replenish but not really that much. You go through the day getting smaller and smaller.
At work, Kate is Ms. PacMan gobbling up power pellets (“great job, Kate!”) and eating monsters (“Sorry, Barry, I’m sticking to my guns on this one.”). Deedleladeedledoo Deedleladeedledo0….
At home, I’m a hamburger maker trying to make fourteen-foot tall hamburgers with ingredients falling from of the sky while being dive-bombed by space flies. And when the kids go to school, I’m the hamburger maker sitting alone in his restaurant wondering if there might be some other things that might be more rewarding like race-car driving or barrel smashing.
It’s chaos or loneliness. I remember fondly the days when there was something in between. And the saddest part? The chaos won’t last a whole lot longer. Theo is four. Our oldest, George, is ten and already making his own school lunches. The kids will be off into their own lives and I’ll just be home making sad little hamburgers for Kate.
Maybe we’ll get the Shawshank ending. Kate and I have made it out, we’ve done our time and now it’s all just in-between time as we kick back and restore an old boat on the beach in Zihuatanejo.
But I’m sure I’ll still find something to complain about, like sand in my swim suit or splinters from the boat or Kate not doing as much of the work as me. Don’t worry.