Monthly Archives: April 2010

Special Agent NoRFU

Call me Special Agent NoRFU. This week I was sworn in as a Census worker to help with the Non-Response Follow Up effort to chase down all you scofflaws who didn’t send back your Census forms earlier this year.

Early into the first of four full days of training – I haven’t spent this much time in an office in six years – I started asking myself:

Why exactly am I doing this?

Why am I putting my family through this?

Is it worth the neighborly goodwill I’m using up to help with my children?

How can I repay friends for four different afterschool playdates for Eddie, plus two other friends to walk him to school?

And how many hours do I have to work to pay for two extended preschool days plus a day at an in-home daycare (which fell through, so we have to rush completion of medical paperwork to qualify Carla at the backup daycare place)?

Why am I not spending this time on freelancing? (I’m especially jazzed up about writing after last weekend’s journalism school reunion in New York, so this one especially stings.)

Why did I have to spill pork chop marinade on my freshly ironed pants two minutes before walking out the door?

Is it a bad sign that only an hour into the first day, I already wanted to be someplace else?

Who are all these people in my class, and why don’t they have real jobs?

Do I really want to knock on all those doors?

What if I can’t get out in time to pick Carla up from preschool?

I survived the first day of training, worried mostly about the Carla pickup question. We spent the afternoon getting fingerprinted, and I jumped the line when I saw time was getting tight. I got to Carla’s school with only five minutes to spare.

Somehow I managed to set aside the worrying long enough to pay attention to find that my class includes a laid-off mortgage branch manager, an architect, an insurance saleswoman, an at-home mom, a recording engineer, a Vietnam veteran earning a master’s degree in pastoral counseling and a 30-ish woman who just found her birth dad.

And now my entire training class knows my wife’s ringtone. She called to tell me the pediatrician’s office – where I zoomed by this morning to drop paperwork required by the backup daycare place for tomorrow – needs her in for a hearing test at 4:20 p.m. I wasn’t sure I could leave training early enough, so my Lovely Bride was going to take her.

But the booster seat was in the back of my car.


The Census training wrapped early, and I made it in time to pick up Carla with plenty of time for the doctor’s appointment. But the day’s transit took me from home to preschool, backup daycare to fetch papers, to doctor’s office to drop them, to training, to preschool to pick up Carla, back to doctor’s office then home to cook kielbasa on the grill, biscuits from a can and corn from a freezer bag.

I’m pooped.

Why did I take this job?


Four People To Replace Me

And now for a bit of self-indulgence. I realized today that it takes at least four people to replace me. I’m going to Virginia – by myself! – for the weekend, and it’s taking four friends to help pull off the child care – and that’s just for one day.

I leave at 6 a.m. on a Friday for Fredericksburg, Va. There, the local garden club is having an Arbor Day tree planting in memory of my grandmother, who died last summer at age 90. (This was the woman who dubbed a kitchen implement “The Bobbitt Knife” in honor of the guy in the 90s whose wife cut off his you-know-what.) After lunch with my parents, I’m off to spend the night at my sister’s house in Staunton, Va. Then on Saturday, I return to the University of Virginia to celebrate the 120th anniversary of The Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper where I got my start in journalism.

Back in Baltimore, my wife can handle the Saturday part by getting Carla to ballet in the morning and Eddie to lacrosse in the afternoon.

The Friday part is another matter.

First, my Lovely Bride drops Eddie at 7:30 a.m. with neighbor A. He and I alternate walking each other’s kids to school, so this isn’t a huge deviation from the norm. Then Carla goes to preschool by 8 a.m., an hour early. Eddie gets out at 12:45 – school ends early because of the end of the marking period – and goes home with neighbor B. But she can only keep him until 5, so then he goes to neighbor C. Carla, meanwhile, might be going home with neighbor D, whose son goes to the same preschool.

I’m tired just thinking about all this.

But I’m grateful to have four friends and neighbors – and a Lovely Bride – to help me pull this off!

Thanks, team!

Jock/Not A Jock?

Eddie had his first lacrosse practice this week, and it left me rattled. He seems unfazed by his newness to the sport, trailing amiably after the pack of 6- and 7-year-old boys with his stick dragging the ground. I, on the other hand, am worrying how I’ll ever help him get comfortable with playing sports in a way that I never am.

I’m not looking to produce a scholarship-winning athlete – though I wouldn’t complain if that happened. I hope to raise a child who’s not afraid to join a pickup game of basketball, toss a football around with his college buddies or sign up for his office softball team as an adult. The thought of doing any of these things myself makes my stomach do flips. I even feel anxious during multifamily snowball fights on our block because my aim is terrible. (I’m trying to do better — I got football throwing tips recently from my wife’s 11-year-old twin boy cousins.)

At the first practice yesterday, we wandered for at least 10 minutes trying to find the right field. I settled down when I spotted some boys with jerseys the same color as Eddie’s. Then I spent 10 minutes getting him into all the gear, trying in vain to adjust his helmet. It mooshes his ears, and he can’t reach in to push up his glasses. (This reminds me of being the only boy in my elementary school class who wore glasses.)

Helmet adjusted and gear strapped on, I asked another dad if this was the field for 7-year-olds. But I’m such a newbie, I didn’t know if we were looking for “clinic,” “Tyker” or “soft stick.” Then I noticed the dad’s kid looked a lot bigger than Eddie. And I realized all kids in the league wear the same color jersey.

We were in the wrong place.

After another 10 minutes of wandering, Eddie shuffled onto the field amid his fellow first-graders. He looked bored. But he perked up when his coach picked him to do the faceoff to start play, where opposing two players kneel facing each other with the ball cupped between their sticks. The whistle blows, and you try to get control of the ball. Riding home later, I asked Eddie how he liked it. He gave the universal and inscrutable first-grader’s response: “Good.”

At practice, I overheard another parent remarking how talented one kid was. “I played with his mom in high school, and she was quite the lacrosse player then,” the mom told her friend. Sheesh. This is what I’m up against?

Nobody played lacrosse in Virginia where I grew up, so I’m nearly useless as far as helping learn the sport. I don’t even know the names of the positions. I don’t know fine points of technique, but I do know you have to twist your stick back and forth so the ball doesn’t fall out when you’re running or another player whacks you with his stick.

Here in Baltimore, lacrosse is ubiquitous. Anybody who grew up here played it, and heard about perennial powerhouses Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland right in town. Kids in Eddie’s league have fathers who grew up playing and probably put sticks in their kids’ hands from the time they could manage a grip. I figure the dads relive their old lacrosse days through their children, who also pick up skills from big brothers and sisters.

I’ve got none of that.

Now if you want someone who can explain the difference between which and that or can use they’re, their and there correctly, then I’m your man. I even know when to use a semicolon (almost never – only to link short sentences with parallel structure). I even fancy myself a possible ski instructor, knowing how to plant my poles correctly, how to demonstrate a stem-christie turn and how it takes lots of practice to handle moguls well.

I could even pass on some tips in soccer, which I played as a kid in the county rec league. I made it onto the high school team, but so did anybody who wanted to play — it was a small school. And the sports I like best – skiing and swimming – are solitary and expensive. Nothing compares with the exhilaration of shussing down a mountain, which Eddie liked when we tried it in January. But when’s the last time you heard of a pickup game of super-G slalom?

I’m not truly wallowing in this, however.

My piano teacher Mr. Roberson made me realize I’ll never make it as a concert pianist. But he instilled in me a lifelong love of music – I played trombone in high school and college, and I sang in a church band for several years. With Eddie and sports, I hope for kind of the same thing.

What I can do for him is make it fun and easy. I can get him to practice on time. I can try not to snap at him about dragging his gear through sand pits (he played next to the high school track and the long-jump area). And maybe I can buy a used lacrosse stick for myself. Until he starts throwing the ball in the street on purpose (and I start losing my patience), we can toss the ball around in the front yard.

Maybe we can learn together.

I’m a G-Man!

I got a job with the U.S. Census! Well, really, I was able to answer yes to questions such as “Are you comfortable asking people questions from a form about their race and income?” and “Do you have a valid driver’s license?” After about 90 seconds and a couple other real toughies, the guy said, “You’re hired!”

When I took the half-hour standardized exam two months ago, I fretted that it would take too long, and I’d be late to pick up my daughter from preschool. I hope that doesn’t portend what it’s going to be like when I start the job.

A year ago, I tried out for a temporary full-time job in Washington at Agence France Presse, the French wire service. For two days, I spent two hours driving and taking two trains each way commuting there from Baltimore. I loved being a grownup and wearing a suit and my dressup shoes, not to mention using my brain to translate from French and synthesize articles about the Treasury secretary visiting China, the latest GDP numbers and the stock market opening comment. My wife rose to the challenge beautifully and helped with kid-care and house jobs. But it was clear to both of us that full-time work plus a terrible commute would seriously disrupt our family’s life.

The Census job, however, will only be about 20 hours a week for up to eight weeks in May and June. The Census office guy said I would work as an enumerator, going door-to-door helping people who didn’t fill out their forms completely or correctly. It would take some day work, some evenings and some weekends. It seems generally flexible enough to work for me as an at-home dad. They try to put you within five miles or so of your home, and the office guy said I’d probably end up working the Ruxton and Riderwood neighborhoods. Not too tough a gig. Those Baltimore County areas are where some people in my rowhouse neighborhood aspire to move up to single-family homes with big yards.

Step One is driving six miles from my house at the end of the month to attend a four-day training, from 9 to 5:30 each day. Problem One: Carla only has preschool only two mornings on those days. But we can pay extra for full-day coverage – and my neighbor with a son there maybe could bring her home when preschool closes at 5:30. And in-home daycare providers in my neighborhood could take her the other two days. Problem Two: Eddie’s school lets out at 3:45, and it would use up a lot of play-date points for him to go home with a friend each afternoon. The school offers “play centers” (day care) after school, but it’s filled months in advance.

And then there are the questions of: How are we going to eat supper and get kiddos to bed at a decent hour? (I guess do meal prep at night, lining stuff up in the fridge like ingredients for a cooking show. Or just pick up pizza.) How will I keep up with laundry and cleaning the house? (I guess that’s what weekends are for.) What if a kid gets sick? How will I ever see much of my kids when I’m not rushing out the door or in?

Welcome to the world of two working parents, huh?