We’re halfway to school this morning when my first-grader informs me: “Kisses are gross, Dad. Why do you have to hug and kiss me in front of the whole school?”
I knew it would come.
I admit I’m a moosh. I love to hug and kiss my children at any opportunity, especially on their naked bellies or just after they hop out of the tub. But the first-grader is a boy, and this is just the first step toward when he’s a teenager, and I have to drop him off a block away when he goes to see a friend.
“Well, I suppose I don’t have to do kisses, but I need hugs.”
We keep walking as I scramble to think of a middle ground.
“How about I hug you across the street from school, then you can cross by yourself?”
That’s too close, he says. People could still see him there. We’re now less than 100 yards from school, but still around a corner.
“How about right here? And you HAVE to hug me. With your arms.”
I squat down and grab him in a bear hug. He squirms and flails, but doesn’t squawk too loudly. We round the corner, and he steps off the curb as the crossing guard smiles at me.
A friend watches as she crosses with her first- and second-grader by the hand and asks me, “Banished to this side of the street already?”
My son sprints across the schoolyard and toward the scrum of kids waiting to go inside. He doesn’t look back.
My friend Kristan gave me one of the best parenting ideas I’ve ever come across: Daddy’s Box of Magic. The idea is to gather a few dollar-store items in a shoebox to occupy the children during the “arsenic hour” – the time when they cut up the worst as I’m trying to fix supper between 5 and 6 p.m.
I started with a few cans of play-doh, crayons or colored pencils (not markers – too messy), coloring books, stickers, scissors, construction paper and a glue stick. Nothing extraordinary, but new items they hadn’t played with before. Maybe it was more my tone of voice, building curiosity about what’s inside. A two-level island divides our kitchen from the dining room, and I would put the kids at the bar level – easy to keep an eye on them, but they’re not getting in the way during supper prep.
Eventually, it all grew into four shoebox-sized plastic tubs, including one just for craft supplies such as corks, popsicle sticks and felt. Our son built more “sculptures” with this stuff than I ever imagined. What had grown into Daddy’s Magic Center dispersed after we finished the basement last year, and now they trash the whole room instead – safely out of view from the kitchen.
Incidentally, I survived my Lovely Bride’s four-day weekend business trip and didn’t holler at the children too much or drown my sorrows every night. Just tried to keep busy: went to church (twice), son to soccer, daughter to music class and play date, both for jaunt on railroad track turned bike path, school for kiddos on two days and dinner at Denny’s ($17 for one grownup nd two kids — I didn’t have the nerve to use my 20% off coupon). We made it.
And I actually got curtains hung.
Why do I set ridiculously big goals (paint garage, plant tulip bulbs, hang curtains and unpack china cabinet now that door-and-trim painters finished two weeks ago) when my lovely bride goes on a business trip — only to struggle achieving the most basic things (clean up from supper, pick up the house, walk dog, try not to whine a lot)? It’s because I figure that with nobody to talk to at night — and the days occupied by our 3-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son — I’ll be looking for something to do.