Monthly Archives: January 2011

Occupation: Pick-Up Artist

Even though I’ve been an at-home dad for almost seven years, it still makes me wince when I see that line on a form: occupation. In person, I tell people — even my wife’s colleagues — that I raise children for a living. But on forms from now on, I’m going to put this: pick-up artist.

In a typical day, I pick up: my children at school (twice), the dry cleaning, leaves shed by our suicidal housebound ficus tree, pencils off the kitchen floor, school papers in the living room, kid clothes hidden in the bathroom and at least half a dozen dress-up costumes in the basement.

Come to think of it, I should probably promote myself to senior pick-up artist, because more often than not, I boss the job while the kids do it, extorting slave labor out of them before they get any screen time. Of course, this is almost more miserable than picking the darn stuff up myself.

I realized at some point that merely issuing instructions to pick up the basement playroom just wasn’t going to cut it. It doesn’t even work to ask, “What do you think you should pick up first?” Way to make Dad regret allowing choices every now and then.

So I have to say to Carla to pick up babydolls while Eddie picks up legos. Even at 7-1/2, though, Eddie just stands there like a tree.

“Eddie, pick up the legos.”

No movement.

“The legos. They’re right in front of you.”

Cue cricket sounds.

“Eddie! Pick up the legos. EDDIEEEEEEEEEE!”

“Dad, what?”

I realize he’s a very internal kid with an active internal something-or-other, but for Pete’s sake, when Dad says pick up the legos, PICK UP THE LEGOS! My favorite tactic is put on the timer and to threaten to get out the trashbag for what’s not picked up.

As for my job title, we refinanced our home mortgage last month, and I saw it again. That blank asking my occupation.

“Put writer,” my Lovely Bride said. “Or reporter. You’re a reporter.”

Yeah, two or three times a year, when kids are at school, a friend’s house, with a babysitter or asleep. When I’m not busy picking up the house.

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Moving To France?

French flagToday I sent a resume in for a copy editor job for the International Herald Tribune’s Paris bureau.

I troll journalismjobs.com maybe once a week just to see what’s out there. I used to fancy myself a prize-winning newspaper reporter who worked his way up to fame, fortune and a book contract. (Never mind the reality of the journalism industry – this is my fantasy.)

Then I became a wire service copy editor and realized editing came much easier to me. Need someone to grout your tub or rebuild your back steps? Don’t call me. But for help with correct usage of which or that (hint: is it setting off an essential or nonessential clause?), I’m your man. There’s no glory in spending your days separating other people’s compound sentences with a comma and a conjunction, however.

Really – do you know any famous editors?

Then I became an at-home dad and started freelance writing for magazines. Maybe this is it, I thought. I get lots more time on a story than in newspaper. And bonus I work from my guest room wearing blue jeans while other ink-stained wretches have to wear a necktie and go to an office. But the current article I’m writing for a magazine in Baltimore is making me nuts. I’ve interviewed a dozen people for the piece, but I just don’t have a sense of what the story really is.

So while procrastinating today, I found the International Herald Tribune needs a copy editor. In Paris!

I forwarded the listing to my Lovely Bride, who’s on day three of a five-day business trip. Hmmm, she says. She’s a fundraiser, and her employer has a Europe-based position she probably could get. So I fired off a resume, and as if I already had the job, my mind started racing.

When would we move? After the kids finish school?

Would we sell the house or try to rent it?

Would I go over first and look for a place to live, while Lovely Bride deals with house and kids and joins me later?

How on earth would I find a place to live? That would fit all our junk? In a kid-friendly neighborhood?

A year after a wrenching change of churches, how would we find a new one?

What would we do with our cars?

Would we buy bunches of adapters for our stereo and coffee pot and lamps and alarm clocks?

How long would it take to actually make friends?

How would we keep up with our old ones?

How would we find schools for our children?

How does quarantining work for bringing our pets? Would I foist our 18-year-old cat off on my parents but bring the dog in a pet version of Sophie’s Choice?

Would we even come back to Baltimore?

Is it selfish to want this?

Is my French so rusty that I can barely order lunch?

Am I really ready to end my time as an at-home dad?

You would think I had never set foot on French soil. Or moved to a new city. Or changed jobs. Or done anything that was actually hard. Like potty training two children in a house with no ground-floor bathroom. Or tried to teach manners to a 7-year-old. (Still working on that one.)

I first went to France in 1988 for a couple weeks with a sister-city exchange program in Frejus, then again in 1993 to Toulon for a semester in college. In 1996, Lovely Bride and I went for a week to Paris and came back engaged. Then in 2002, we went for the last time before having children. We rented a house in a fabulous Mediterranean town called Antibes and took turns as tour leader to my friends and family for a week and then to hers. I managed, en francais, to help my father buy a new camera after his shorted out the minute he plugged it in. I even took a train to Paris and back when I finagled an interview for a reporter job in my American employer’s Paris bureau. (Didn’t get the job.)

By lunch today, I had worked out a number of things. Cars were easiest: sell our 2007 Prius, but garage the 2003 station wagon at my parents. It’s not worth much, but might be good to have when we come back.

Job timing was next. They call me and set up an interview in February in their Washington office. They love me; I love them. They fly me to Paris to interview in early March. I get the job by April and start in May. Then we divide and conquer: I work by day and apartment hunt by night. My wife deals with movers and packing up the house in Baltimore. Family comes in June or July?

Then I started thinking – should my Lovely Bride even work while we’re there? Our son’s almost 8 – try plunking him down in a country where he has no friends and doesn’t speak the language. Gotta expect some problems. Our daughter would be easier – we could tell her Fancy Nancy only dreams of moving to Paris. (This book character swears anything in French such as mousse or chandelier is better than hair gel or light fixture.) I found myself wanting to be there for the children to ease the transition for them. Oh, but I’ll be the one at the office.

I had an office job once.

In 2004.

A really hard part would be saying goodbye to our friends in the neighborhood. One neighbor slept on our sofa to mind our son when I took my wife to the hospital in labor with our daughter at 2 a.m. I took another to the emergency room when he wiped out going down his back steps. A half-dozen families banded together for rotating pot-lucks so we wouldn’t go crazy during the Twin Blizzards of February 2010. Just this afternoon, I had six kids in my basement for hot chocolate while the parents and I kibitzed in the kitchen.

And I’d especially miss my at-home dad friends. These are the people who spared me from insanity when I had two children in diapers with divergent napping schedules. And who taught me how to get my daughter to go pee-pee alfresco without getting it all over herself or me.

Oh gee, and I forgot how my wife gets quivery at the mere sight of a moving box. Her dad worked for the Federal Reserve bank when she was growing up, and they moved six times before she started high school. Oof.

The mental wheels kept turning: maybe I’m not done with my children yet. Maybe I should do better with the time I have with them. Keep working with my second-grader on his handwriting (they just don’t teach that in first grade any more) and interrogating him after book time to help with reading retention. Volunteer in his school more. Have more tea parties with my daughter instead of making up excuses why today doesn’t suit. Quit whining about my freelance article and just bang the darn thing out. Finish some house projects.

Alrighty, time to stop navel-gazing and go clean up the kitchen.

You know, all I did was send in a resume. I didn’t sign anything, and I haven’t even gotten an interview yet.

On verra.

Do I Try To Get The Football?

Is it not obvious that the lego staircase, pictured, is doomed to collapse without better support?

To ease the pain of my Lovely Bride’s departure on a four-day business trip – to sunny Florida – on a federal holiday – when schools are closed, I decided to wipe out half the day with a museum trip. (Tonight’s forecast calls for an inch of snow plus sleet, freezing rain and a coating of ice. Shall we just cancel school right now?). It only seems appropriate to visit the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.

The kids and I were moving slowly this morning, and Eddie, who turns 8 in April, got deeply engrossed in playing legos instead of doing pretty much anything else. Getting dressed. Eating. Answering when I ask him something. The usual. But then as I pack lunches for the trip, there comes a wail and cry from upstairs.

“DAAAAAaaaaaaaddddDDDD!!!!”

“OOOhhhhhhooooo!!!!” Then loud sobs.

It’s just not sinking into Eddie’s brain that legos are not the most structurally sound building material. If you make a staircase of 2×4 pieces, overlapping on just one row, it will buckle under the slightest touch. And if you attach said structurally unsound staircase to a large flat piece held up by 2×2 pieces – by sticking it to the underside – it just might not hold up so well.

Ya think?

So Eddie was having a meltdown because his legos were giving him fits.

I’ve tried to explain patiently that if you press really hard on lego creations that aren’t well-supported, they will come apart. I’ve tried to convey that the road to avoiding frustration is to build it another way.

Realizing that this was no time for a lecture, I carefully constructed what was driving him nuts. (Come to think of it, did I just set him up for future failure? Is he now thinking: Dad just built what he said I can’t, so (a) why shouldn’t I keep trying? or (b) Dad is a total liar and a fraud.) I wanted to get it done and get to the museum. Crisis averted.

We had a fine time at the museum – aside from the challenge of trying to explain the civil rights movement to my 5-year-old daughter. In less than 30 seconds. In earshot of African-Americans. Except as we were hurrying to leave and make it on time to haircuts scheduled at noon, Eddie notices he’s missing his 3-inch plastic toy football. I didn’t even realize he brought it in the car, much less in the museum.

“Well, Eddie, you should take better care of your things,” I say.

“But Daaaaaaad! It’s my football!” he answers. “Can we go back and look for it?”

“No, Eddie, you shouldn’t have brought a toy into a museum, anyway. Now come on, we’re going to be late for your haircut.”

We leave the museum and walk toward the car. Then the histrionics begin.

“But Daaaaaaaadddddddd! Puh-leeeeeeeease! I want my football back! It was my faaaaaaaaavorite!”

What? Before this morning, I’d never seen it before.

“No, Eddie, now come on, you’re going to make us late.”

For the next few minutes as we walk to the car, the conversation repeats ad nauseum. I almost snap. I almost spank him and tell him to quit it. I almost stomp back to the museum and look for the darn thing. I almost call the haircut lady and ask to swap for a later appointment. I tell myself that if I lose my patience in a big way on the first day of my Lovely Bride’s business trip, it’s going to be a looooooong week.

“Maybe,” I say, “we can call the museum this afternoon and see if anybody found it.”

A tiny toy football that some kid probably pocketed the minute he found it in the “Freedom Sisters” exhibit.

Right.

So we get to the haircut, get home, get Carla down for a rest and I get some bread mixed up to rise for supper.

What does Eddie do? He starts with the legos again. This time in complete peace and harmony. Go figure.

I really don’t want to call the museum to ask about this silly toy. Especially now that he seems to have forgotten about it. And especially because I’ll sound like an idiot. But the guy who answers the phone there will never see me again, so who cares? And my son will eventually remember that I said I would call, and I didn’t.

Guess I better call.

Quote of the Day

“Dad, you’re like Cinderella.”

–my daughter, now 5, as I wipe out the spice cabinet