Howdy, folks. James here.
This time of year I’ve got a couple hundred pounds of college applications to read, synthesize, and condense into a paragraph or two. I enjoy it. I’m pretty lucky to have the responsibility and opportunity. But it means I often go to bed after 1am. Last night it was 2am. Ashley picks up some extra house/kids duties, breakfasts, dinners and baths so I can hide in the barn-cave and chug through files while listening to techno… or whatever doesn’t have words to distract me. But she’s two-steppin’ in Texas right now so it’s just me and the gaggling gals of Cartwheel – 1 pig, 4 chickens, 2 dogs, and 2 daughters. Whatevs – I handle this like a BOSS.
Then there was today.
Hanna, our super-mutt who hasn’t whined since 2001 (despite being born in 2009), was whining. She kept at it so we went downstairs and I let her out. She didn’t do anything, of course, other than give me this I-woke-you-up-because-I-LOVE-you-and-want-YOU-to-PLAY-with-ME! look. Puppy eyes are always endearing. I’m pretty lucky to have a dog that loves me that much… Bitch.
Hanna’s downstairs now, but this must upset Gladden because now she’s whining. The bitches want to play.
Courtland rises. Because, why not. It’s not like she’s slept past 6am for the last 4 weeks. No, of course not…wait.
Courtland has been talking and singing in her bed while I’ve been hiding under my covers. It gets quiet and then I hear her come into our room and start climbing into bed. This is a new thing of hers, to climb in and snuggle with us in the morning. She asks for tickles. She tells us it’s time to get up. She plays with our hair. She rubs our backs. She tells us “it O-tay, it O-tay, you get up when ur ready. ” It’s fucking adorable. I’m pretty lucky. So as the sheets start moving and she crawls in near my feet I start smiling, awaiting her arrival…her pungent arrival. “Daddy,” she whispers, “I pooped pants, daddy. I pooped my pants and my hands.”
Glad you’re in my bed. Playing with my hair.
Fecal deposit disposed and sanitization completed I retreat to the comfort of routine – no real thinking involved, just coaching through the regular motions. I load up the girls and Gladden who’s coming to the office today. I’m pretty lucky I get to bring a dog to the office.
We make it to school at the same time we normally do. We’re 95% dressed, better than expected. We get the prime parking spot closest to the entrance, which is not normal. I unbuckle Sunny and ask her to walk in front of the car and head inside, which is normal. I walk to Kaki’s side. She, of course, has shoved her mittens in crevices I didn’t know existed, crevices filled with moldy cheerios. We don’t buy cheerios… but this explains why Gladden has been trying to crawl under the seat. I fish them out and debate the benefits of mittens with her for 10 seconds (normal) before I give up. FINE! Don’t wear your mittens! It’s 5 degrees outside. FREEZE! She smirks, knowing it’s only 15 yards from the car to the door. She hops out of the car, we close the door and then… normal stops.
Kaki and I are walking toward the door, and while I’m shoving the stale, oat covered mittens in my pocket Kaki asks “What Sunny doin’?”
“She’s going inside, where it’s not 5 degrees out. See, she’s right there… with her…tongue… on… that pole…”
And in a total of 0.2 seconds I went through the most complicated parental reaction I’ve ever had: shock to horror to smile to laugh to frown, so as to stifle laughter which comes out in some audible nasal exhale vaguely reminiscent of kitten sneezing … and finally regain enough control to feign parental concern…aaand continue walking. It was an emotional strobe light of confusion.
Sunny’s tongue was frozen to the stair hand railing. I mean Dumb and Dumber style, stretching like Gumby, frozen solid. She was a champ, crying for less than 5 seconds and then stood (like a BOSS) for the 4 minutes it took without a whimper or whine. Let me assure you that of the 60 children who attend our day care, 55 of them and their parents arrived in that two-minute stretch. The other 5 were home sick.
I couldn’t just forget Kaki while I tended to Sunny so I had her standing in between us as I rubbed Sunny’s back and told her it was going to be ok…. and restrained myself from taking pictures. Of course, Kaki, who after about 1 minute of debating whether she should copy sister, is now over it and realizes her mitten-less hands are cold. SO cold that she needs to tantrum. Now. And this toddler is so worked up that her words aren’t quite in order and so “hands cold. hands hurt, daddy” quickly becomes “Daddy. Hurts Hands… DADDY HURTS. MY HANDS. DADDY HURTS MY HANDS!!”, which of course she repeats at the top of her lungs, scream-crying, hailing the heavens to save her from finger numbing, soul crunching pain….IF ONL Y WE HAD SOME MITTENS!!!!!!!!!
As I hug them both with one declaring I’m abusive and the other – ACTUALLY PHYSICALLY FROZEN TO A STEEL BAR BY HER TONGUE, I’m ignorant and yet acutely aware of the judgement parade behind me. Parents, thousands of them, not watching where they’re going, tripping over themselves, their faces processing some version of horror/humor/shock/sympathy/constipation/relief-it’s-not-theirs… I’m sure they felt super awkward. How tough for them. I’m pretty lucky I’m not them…
Of course, I’m also wondering what they’d think if I asked them to take a picture? Would I be a horrible person to whip out the phone and IG this? — “Smile for the camera, Sunny!”, she responds “I Cawnt”. #HighSchoolYearbookPhoto
One of Sunny’s friend’s mothers came to the rescue, actually two of them – and my deepest thanks to them both. The first mom grabbing a warm wet towel to help unfreeze, and then offering to take the Little Mighty inside so I could stay with Sunny. The towel wasn’t quite enough so the second mother brought a cup of water and we were done. Sunny had recovered before we even got her off the bar, like I said – BOSS – and headed inside like nothing happened.
I stuck around for a while to make sure everything was ok, but finally as I exited the school I could feel myself calming down. Sunny’s calmness calmed me, and Kaki had transitioned into her regular school mindset without me even present. In their eyes it was a just another day livin’ the life and they didn’t feel any worse off for it – and they were right. I needed to let the embarrassment of my lackluster parenting slip away – life is good, the kids are safe, nothing beyond my ego was really hurt, and that’s a great thing. A wonderful thing. Looking up as I slid into the car I thought “Actually, I’m pretty lucky.”
And then I felt the dog pee on my seat soak through my pants. Thank you, Gladden. Bitch.
I tell the story to a coworker whose first response after laughing is “did you take a picture?” – DAMN IT. I SO SHOULD HAVE TAKEN A PICTURE!
Turns out Gladden is lactose intolerant. Sniper nabbed a cheese-stick and barfed chunks o’ kibble in the office. Awesome. She desperately wanted to eat it. Again. No one is surprised. My office smells like a chemical mix of dog vomit, lemon carpet cleaner, and car air-freshner. You’re welcome to visit anytime.
We live 3 miles from work and daycare (pretty lucky) but it now takes 45 minutes to get home because getting the kids out of school and into the car requires a Herculean effort of self-composure and usually creative bribery. But today no big deal, we’re not in a hurry. I hang out at a kids’ table, coloring with crayons — inside the lines (I’m so much better than any of them). After a few minutes I notice more smiles and nods from parents than usual. For some reason I’m getting more “hellos” and eye contact… and I’ll give you a hint: it’s not because my My Little Pony was colored in better than anyone else’s. It takes me a minute but it finally clicks. I am now the dad of that poor girl, that girl whose father wasn’t watching her, or more succinctly: “the guy who’s definitely a worse parent than me” and people I’ve seen several days a week for the last year who’ve never said more than 5 words to me, now want to start a hearty conversation. It’s always easier to talk to someone when you know you’re better than them.
Awesome! I’m single handedly raising the parental confidence level of daycare, and of our community, by leaps and bounds! My parental shortcomings are improving the world. One frozen tongue at a time.
30 minutes later we’re in the car to head home. As we pull into the house I’m planning the easiest dinner possible – our standard parental punt: Mac ‘n cheese with a movie. But nope. There’s a tree on fire. Because, why not?
Yep. Burning tree. At our house. Though, it’s not my house on fire, so I guess I’m pretty lucky for that, right?
The burning tree was collateral damage from a nearby brush fire the neighbors had started. Apparently that’s an acceptable way to landscape in VT: burn shit down. Technically it was their property and they knew about it so I left to care for the 9 dependents. The rest of the evening is a sleep deprived blur. There’s something with the chickens, and me chasing Penny back into her pig house. I have visions of toothpaste on the mirror and ceiling, and cough medicine in the toilet…maybe bath time? But what I do remember is the two girls in PJs getting ready for story time. Sunny helped Courtland into the bed, and they both had their bitty-baby dolls tucked right next to them as I came in from the bathroom. Gladden was curled up at the foot of the bed in a rare moment of calm, and the girls were just smiling and calmly giggling at one another, so proud that they were both ready.
Sunny beamed, “Look daddy, we’re ready for bed! Under the covers nice and cozy,” and Kaki repeated “yea, nice and cozy” as the two of them each patted their dolls. I smiled, picked up the story book and sat down next to Sunny.
“We’re pretty lucky, huh, daddy?”
“Yes, kiddo. Yes, we are.”
And as the scene fades to black, we group hug and kiss before gazing out the window at a rising crescent moon… And a burning tree.