Monthly Archives: May 2010

Hasta La Vista, Lacrosse!

lax faceoff

Eddie, right in red shorts, in a faceoff during his final lacrosse game of the season.

I’m so glad to have my Thursdays and Saturdays back. Eddie seemed to enjoy his first season of playing lacrosse, but it really put a kink in the works around our house.

Thursday practices landed right in the middle of supper time – 6 to 7:30 – and I started out thinking I would just move everything up an hour or so. But to get supper on the table by the ridiculously early time of 5:15, I had to start fixing it by 4:30. That meant no playing outside after school – plus it seemed like we ought to save energy for running around at practice.

Supper devolved into heating up leftovers by 5:30 and joylessly telling the kids to eat faster. Not my idea of a family meal. And both children still hungry after practice anyway, so we would have a snack before going to bed late. A friend asked me, “So did you just fix them peanut butter sandwiches each week?” Well no, that would have been sensible. I prefer the hard way.

And then there was the problem of whether my Lovely Bride or I was going to stay at lacrosse versus who was going to bring Carla home. I half-wanted to be the one to bring her home so I could get her to bed on time for once. The other half of me wanted to stay at lacrosse so I could just sit in solitude for a few minutes after a rush-rush-rush kind of an afternoon. Lovely Bride switched her exercise class schedule so she could come directly from work to lacrosse, at which point we’d hash out which of us would stay. I wish we could have alternated or had some kind of a schedule, but I can’t let myself become that big a control freak.

My whining aside, I think Eddie enjoyed playing lacrosse for the first time. He started the season looking bored and dragging his stick behind him as he trailed the pack of players. The boys spent half their time clumped together in a big scrum, stabbing at the ball stuck amid clumps of grass. I tried not to be one of those parents during the games who bellow directions from the sidelines. But a few times when he happened to face my direction, I would holler his name and thrust both my open hands above my head – signaling to him: Hold the stick with both hands!

I didn’t do so well with getting him to practice on time. I also snapped at him to hurry up and not drag his gear – I want him to take care of his things. I don’t know why I was so rigid about making him carry the gear himself. Probably because I thought, “I’m not letting a 6-year-old tell me what to do!” I struggled to find a happy medium of gentle reminders and occasionally carrying his gear for him.

And I never did buy myself a lacrosse stick so we could toss the ball around and learn together. But now maybe I can buy a stick at cheap end-of-season prices.

In the end, Eddie seemed to like playing defense the best. He blossomed by the end of the season when he got to play goalie a couple of times, complete with the huge-netted stick and extra protector pads. He even made some good saves in a game. Riding home after the last practice, I asked him why he liked playing goalie.

“You don’t have to run around much,” he said. “And you can daydream.”

Worm Emergency

worms

We've got bunches of worms around my compost bin. Good thing for my son's first-grade class!

My son’s first-grade teacher called me at 8:45 a.m. recently – a before-school call from the teacher is never a good sign – and desperately asked for my help with a “worm emergency.”

“What kind of emergency?” I asked.

“Before you come to volunteer today, can you pick up some worms?” she asked.

“Uhhh… what for? What kind of worms do you need?”

She thinks I can send Eddie to elementary school, drive Carla to preschool, find a bait shop and get myself to school on time in 30 minutes?

It turns out they were studying worms, and that day they were using them in science experiments. They would test to see if the worms preferred warm or cold, wet or dry and rough or smooth. Her worm stash hadn’t fared so well overnight, and I was that day’s scheduled parent volunteer.

“It’s not going to be a lot of fun for the worms,” Mrs. S. explained. “Just regular earthworms will do.”

Compost Bin

This $40 recycled-plastic compost bin from Sam’s Club saved the day at school. Its valiant worms became martyrs for science.

“No problem!” I told her. “I’ve got a compost bin that’s loaded with worms. My kids love playing with them. How many do you need?”

I could hear her thinking “eeeeeeyew,” but all she said was that 15 or so would do.

“I’ll bring you two dozen. See you in half an hour.”

Once I reached the classroom, with worms in tupperware happily ensconced in some half-rotted vegetables, Mrs. S informed me that I was doing all the worm handling. She wrinkled her nose as I grinned down at my little martyrs for science. I handed out three worms to each group, which was supposed to figure out how to tell them apart and name them Worm A, B and C. The kids named them things like Burpy.

The worms went through their paces on a plastic plate as the kids saw if they crawled toward or away from an ice pack and a wet paper towel, for example, to check warm/cold and wet/dry preferences. To see if the worms liked dark or light, the kids put a folded piece of black construction paper on top of the critters and waited to see if they would come out.

Now really, if you were being manhandled by a bunch of 7-year-olds, what would you do?

To the teacher’s astonishment (and mine) all worms were accounted for – and alive – 45 minutes later when it was time to leave for music class. I even had enough spare worms to give extras to the first-grade teacher across the hall whose worms were, in her words, “a little tired this morning.”

My worms had done a yeoman’s duty, and I liberated them in the azaleas on my way out.

I Don’t Have To Go To Work Today!

lunch on tghe porch

We can have lunch on the porch whenever we want (almost).

I occasionally have to remind myself how good I’ve got it as an at-home dad. While so many other parents spend their days hunched over a computer amid unreasonable bosses and arbitrary deadlines, I much prefer spending mine hunched over major appliances amid unreasonable children and arbitrary behavior.

My pay isn’t so bad (after groceries, mortgage, etc., we split the rest), and the benefits are unbeatable.

I recently spent the morning hanging out with my 4-year-old daughter at a park with other at-home dads. We enjoyed a picnic lunch beneath cloudless skies. Then I got to check out a friend’s new house and hit a new Sears outlet in search of a vacuum cleaner. The next afternoon, I pulled the patio chairs into the alley to gab with the neighbors while my kids joined a pack of a half dozen others who took turns dropping water balloons on each other.

What could be better?

Sure, it’s my job to make the lunches and do the laundry, clean the house and do the groceries. But I get to set my own schedule and work in my own little projects when I want/can. After seeing a Real Simple magazine article this month, I kicked into high gear and tamed our tiny garage. I didn’t have to wait until the weekend and then negotiate child-care duties to scrape together time for the job.

If I want to skip laundry in favor of spray painting mismatched boxes red for a uniform look in the garage, there’s nobody to tell me not to.

If it’s 4 p.m., and I want to stick my feet in the kiddie pool for an hour, I can!

If I want to have a beer while I’m ironing, I can!

If I want to talk on the phone with my sister for half an hour in the afternoon, I do.

If I want to eat lunch on the porch, it’s easy.

If there’s an emergency trip to the mechanic, I get it done.

If my wife has to work late, it’s no problem.  I don’t have to leave work early to pick up the kids.

If we have a sick kid, there’s no worry about who has to take off work to go to the doctor.

My primary goal, of course, is to raise our children into responsible, independent and thoughtful adults. And I want my Lovely Bride to have a worry-free home life. Her work gives her more than enough grief, so I need to make home a sanctuary for her. Sounds kinda 50s housewife, but this is the life we’ve chosen together.

When I trained to work for the Census for four days last month, I worried more about the child jockeying than I did about the actual instruction time. I dropped them off. I picked them up. I rushed to the pediatrician to update paperwork for the backup daycare place after the woman across the street fell through.

Don’t get me wrong – my 7-year-old’s hyper-criticism of his 4-year-old sister and her ready-in-an-instant fake crying make me want to shave my head. (The thinking here is: I can’t control my children, but I can control my hair.) And any freelance writing comes only after I’ve finished housework. But rather than drag the kids to Sam’s Club after school or eat up family weekend time with a grocery run, I can do errands while the children are at school.

This sure beats office work.

What a drag.

Rush-Rush-Rush

How ironic that on the final day of Census training, when I was running the latest I had all week, I arrived at the classroom the earliest.

It’s been rush-rush-rush all week. Rush to get dressed before the kids wake up. Rush to walk the dog and fix lunches. Rush the kids through breakfast and out the door by 8.

Ugh.

And then there’s the worrying all day about whether the neighbor-of-the-day will remember to pick up Eddie from school. Or I’ll get a call from the principal’s office saying they have my son. (That happened – only once, last year – when I got stuck in the dentist’s chair.)

Somehow, Friday was different and better. I slept in (for 15 minutes – woo-hoo!) until 6:30 and still had plenty of time for Eddie to open birthday presents and fiddle with his new Spider-Man digital camera without me prodding him to unwrap the next present. (He had his sister for that.) We had his favorite breakfast and were late getting him to the friend who was walking him to school. That got Carla to preschool later than planned, but somehow it worked out that I reached training early.

Maybe it’s because I got better at eliminating distractions (not reading e-mails or checking Facebook – who has time?). And better at making breakfast and packing lunches at the same time. But it still felt like constant rushing. Would it be possible to do this all the time and not feel exhausted by 9 a.m. every day? (It probably didn’t help that I went out for drinks with my at-home dads’ group on Thursday night.)

Or is this the reality of families where both parents work?

For more about how the Census job started, click here.