I have great kids. They are smart and funny, kind and caring. They can immerse themselves in their own imaginary worlds for endless hours of creative play merging Lego’s, Playmobil, Hotwheels and My Little Pony. They can amaze Melissa with their intuition and ability to help out when she needs it most. The three of them develop a rhythm to their days and weeks that is somehow both orderly and zany.
And then I get home from work and they freak-out like ninjas on crystal meth.
We’re going through a phase. Mel tells me it is a phase. Or at least I hope it is a phase. Typical day:
I get up before the kids. Shave. Shower. Caffeinate. Usually around the time I am ready to leave for work they wake up. If they wake up early enough I give each of them a cuddle before I go. This is when the trouble begins. I come into the room and I’m like a piece of bloody meat thrown into a shark tank. The Wolvog and the Chickienob bolt out of bed and shoot towards me — whoever arrives first grabs my leg with one arm and invariably throws a “good-morning “elbow in their sibling’s face. Tears ensue. To prevent this I have taken to setting in advance who gets the first cuddle on alternating days — a decent solution, if only I could remember from day-to-day whose turn it is. This method works best if I enter the room forcefully and announce who gets the first cuddle before they can launch themselves on an intercept course. Fifty percent of the time it works. The other fifty percent one of the following occurs:
a) I screw up whose turn it is (they never forget) and the (rightly) aggrieved party throws a fit. When I backtrack to the award the proper recipient the cuddle, the other child feels (rightly) screwed and throws a fit.
b) I correctly announce whose turn it is, but one of the kids, probably still smarting from the time when I told them it was their cuddle and then backtracked and said it wasn’t, freaks out and throws a fit.
c) They accept the determined cuddling order, but hover over each other in such an obnoxious way that hostilities ensue. Elbows are thrown. Tears are shed.
If there is time before I leave, we move onto breakfast, but not before arguing over who gets to hold my hand with the wedding ring as we go downstairs. If there isn’t time before I leave, someone will throw a fit that they wanted Daddy to give them breakfast. I do or do not give them breakfast, hand out hugs and kisses, and attempt to escape from the Chickienob’s joking-but-not-so-much-a-joke grip as she robotically chants, “It’s the Daddy-trapper. Trapping Daddies.” Sometimes howling and beating of chests accompany me as I walk out the door.
And then I leave and according to Mel, everything goes back to normal. They stop throwing tantrums and get on with their day.
“It’s totally for your benefit,” she tells me. They pull all sorts of crap with me that they don’t try with her. I wasn’t sure I truly believed it was as simple as that until this encounter the other day:
The kids have to eat a vegetable with their meal. Usually it’s carrots. This was a battle for a long time with the Wolvog, but he has grown to accept and even enjoy his carrots. Except when I give them to him. He insists that I cut them up into smaller slivers for him. When Mel is feeding the kids she doesn’t indulge the Wolvog in this game. He eats his carrots as they are given to him. I however, have been obliging him in this because, frankly I just want him to eat the damn carrots. But the other day, after several morning tantrums and a lunch that he drew-out endlessly and the carrots were still uneaten and he announced that he would not eat them unless I cut them for him, I called his bluff.
“You never have them cut when I’m not home,” I announced in my best J’Accuse!
He looked at me with round, innocent eyes full of love and confusion and said, “But you ARE home.”
And this is the plight of the dad: to be loved so much you’re a little bit hated for not being around enough. Was I this way with my dad? I don’t remember it that way. My dad was loving, but also a little remote and when he had to work, he had to work. I understood not to try and compete with that. I’m not sure what I’m doing that’s different but I have created a different expectation in my kids, and it is sometimes like a knife in my chest. It also gives me some sympathy for the stereotypically emotionally remote fathers of yore — why be an involved dad when you can only do it on a limited time frame?
But I don’t want to be emotionally remote. I love being in my kids’ lives and putting them first whenever that is an option. And every parent has to accept that they’ll have to act as a punching bag for their kids as they struggle to figure out the imperfect choices we have to make in life.
If only I could consistently remember whose turn it was for the first cuddle in the morning…