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Just Me and the Kids: Part Two

Hailey is a rooster; up with the sun and when her wake-up call for “daddieee!” crowed before the clock read six I was in no mood to spring out of bed. Drowsily I crawled out from under the covers and tended to Hailey’s needs; a fresh diaper, milk, hair brushing and some cuddles. It had been another sleepless night for me and even though I apologized to Olivia numerous times before she finally fell asleep I couldn’t forgive myself for exploding at her, making sleep an elusive dream. I may not have slept at all, trouble-shooting all the routine and behavioral issues we experienced last week, kept my mind franticly diagnosing and problem solving. I needed a band-aid, a quick fix, duct-tape. But really I needed Kim and she was not coming home for another week.

At least Olivia got to sleep-in and when she woke up, a little before eight, she coyly poked out of her room and saw me preparing breakfast. She ran down the hall into the kitchen, jumped into my arms and gave me a huge hug. Forgiveness or forgetfulness? She immediately reminded me “daddy made a mistake” and asked “can I have my princess watch on?” Wow, are all three year olds so forgiving? I reinforced the fact that indeed daddy made a big mistake and apologized again as we retrieved the watch from her bedroom.

 

That Sunday morning Olivia, Hailey and I went to Sam’s Club for some essentials, pull-ups, wipes, toilet paper, milk etc… When we came out of the store it was pouring down rain. Did I have their rain jackets? No. Did they care? No. Did I care? Not really. They thought it was great fun, being pushed at warp-speed through the deluge in the extra-wide double-kid-seat shopping cart. Having parked a half-mile from the exit, we were completely drenched by the time I hurried them into the Forester. Strange how Olivia’s forgiving nature and the soaking rain seemed to cleanse the bad-dad-funk from the previous week, refreshing my parental spirit, inspiring me and from then on our lives without mommy became manageable.

 

Determined to get our schedules normalized; I planned on strictly adhering to the daily routine, I cleared the calendar of excess activities, no more late night parties, and  I intended to get the girls to bed on time.

Monday was teacher training day at Olivia and Hailey’s preschool that meant no school. What a great start at attempting to stabilize their normal routine. Thankfully Bubie (my mom) agreed to take care of them. I dropped them off at her house and after a few hours she brought them home for a nap. I rushed through my workday without taking any breaks with the intention of greeting them right when they woke-up from nap. I was only an hour off. Still, in desperation to get their daily agenda perfected, we started dinner a half hour early and after clean-up, bath-time and story-time they ended up in bed right on schedule. That was it. No whining or crying. No bed-time child-induced parental tests. Just slumbering children. What took me ten days to figure that out?

 

Tuesday, after returning a stack of books to the library, we went to ‘the beach.’ Dubbed by Hailey “the beach” was definitely a favorite summer activity for ‘daddy days’ and with Labor Day looming close, sadly it was our last visit of the year to the water-park-type pool. The newer design pool, built toddler friendly, even with several attentive life-guards was still a dangerous place to take Olivia and Hailey solo. Twice this summer I saved Hailey from drowning. The first rescue happened to be our initial ‘beach’ visit of the season. She climbed the in-pool-playground, with the intentions of utilizing her favorite apparatus, the tube slide, before I could circle around and get set to receive her at the bottom of the slide she uninhibitedly slid down without my consent. Had she exited the slide with her feet down she could have stood upright in the two foot depth water, instead she hit the water on her back, parallel to the surface and dropped under. I swiftly hurdle stepped through the knee-high water to pull her up. She may have been under a whole half a second but it was enough for my heart to skip a ton of beats and for the life-guard to shift from leisurely sitting to almost jumping in after her. She didn’t even cry. After an eternal hug and short lecture she scampered back up the apparatus and waited for the thumbs-up to slide down again.

The second time I saved her from drowning was a few weeks ago. We had just got to the ‘beach,’ maybe five minutes in and then everyone got kicked out. Something of bodily origin was floating in the pool, I immediately checked Olivia’s suit for dirt-marks but she was clean, so it wasn’t her doing. Anyway, we decided to try the indoor pool. Olivia and Hailey were using those small black tight-fit air-filed training inter-tubes. Hailey intentionally threw her head back, kicked her feet up, effectively capsizing backwards and flipping herself underwater. Her tush was on top of the surface and her head below. Unlike the first water-rescue, this time I was nonchalant anticipating her error and as she flipped herself underwater I seamlessly rotated her 360 degrees using her own momentum. The life-guard probably thought we were practicing a stunt, later to be filmed and sent in to the show Jack A$$. Surprisingly and fortunately our last occasion at the ‘beach’ was incident free.

 

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we stuck to our routine. We woke-up around the usual time, got to school on time, I got to work almost on time, picked ‘em up, dinner, clean-up, bath, story and bed time all went unbelievably well. Olivia and Hailey really impressed me, I found myself congratulating their efforts ten-to-one over correcting any bad behavior. Even all the bathroom drama minimized. I was still having problems sleeping sans-spouse nonetheless I managed to pull it all together and make the best of our remaining few days without mommy.

 

Saturday morning Miss Laura, our stellar sitter, came over early to watch the girls so I could go play Hockey and then Nana (Kim’s mom) came over mid morning so I could clean house. Where did all this laundry come from? For six hours I detailed every inch of the house, I vacuumed, dusted, moped and folded seven loads of laundry. Rach, (my sister) came over to drop Sadie (my four year old niece) off for an hour to play with the girls. Rach mentioned that she uses a cleaning service.

 

Kim’s plane finally touched down around four in the afternoon. Olivia and Hailey were ready to go pick-up mommy and we were out the door within ten minutes. So happy to see her, I knocked her massive seventy-pound suitcase to the ground which stood in my way of a big hug. She was wiped out from the twenty four hour travel time and eleven hour time zone change. Yet she forced herself to stay up through the evening and tucked the girls in bed for the night before she crashed for twelve hours. It was nice having her home again.

In Kim’s absence, I found a new sense of admiration and appreciation for her contribution to the make-up of our family. I missed her cooperation, stability and companionship. I learned two important lessons over the past couple weeks; First, I can’t be the father I wish to be without Kim. Second, contrastingly I can manage parenting on my own.

 

Originally posted on BabyCenter 09/28/06

Just Me and the Kids: Part One

This week has been the most challenging seven days of my illustrious three year stint as a parent. Kim has been away on business. Far away. India. And we still have one more week to go without her. Olivia, Hailey and I dropped Kim off at the airport on Saturday around noon. A speedy goodbye, Kim and I held back our tears, for the sake of our children of course. We had been preparing the girls for weeks in advance. “Mommy’s going on a trip.” And “Mommy is traveling to the other side of the earth.” And “Mommy is going to be gone for a little while.” Did all the preparation help? When the sobs for ‘mommy!’ resonated, I was able to reference the fact “I told you, mommy is in India.” All the prep work comforted me more than the kids.

 

Later that afternoon I invited the neighbor’s kids over to play outside, Amy (six years old) and Kelly (almost four). My girls idolize and love to hang with them. Olivia and Hailey are border-line stalkers; they always take notice to our neighbor’s movements and if the blue blazer is in their driveway then Amy and Kelly must be home. That day; they swung on the swing-set, played house, went for a long ‘nature walk,’ played some impromptu games and drove the Barbie jeep. They didn’t even notice mommy’s absence until later that evening at the end of bath time, normally that’s when Kim takes Hailey out of the tub to dry her off and get her ready for bed. Hailey was all cleaned and rinsed, she is very observant to the routine and that is when she started to call, “Momma!” But I explained that daddy would take care of her. She didn’t protest. Our bath-time, story-time and bed-time ritual was slightly altered but the girls didn’t seem to mind.

 

Sunday the girls were so busy they didn’t realize mommy was missing. We packed a lunch and went to a local park that has a couple playgrounds, swings and a cool water feature. Then in the afternoon we went to Bubie’s (my mom’s) for dinner and Olivia and Hailey got to play with their cousins. My sister’s two kid’s, Louis, who is six and Sadie, she is four. Olivia and Sadie got along great they played doll-house, games and dress-up. Hailey loves to annoy Lou. She followed him around imitating his actions and Lou didn’t seem to mind her tagging along.

 

The only real concern which had been a problem well before Kim’s departure was Olivia’s refusal to sit on the potty to make pooh-poohs. For a month or so she’s been hiding out ‘riding dirty’ soiling an average of five pairs of underwear a day. This trouble of hers was really becoming problematic; changing her physical play, altering her sociable character and modifying her friendly attitude. I made it a priority to call the doctor in the morning and get this control issue of hers taken care of.

 

Monday our day started off a bit behind schedule due to a video call via MSNLive from Kim. It was great to finally hear from her. However that first call may have saddened everyone. Kim was so happy to see the girls she cried. After a few long days with daddy, Olivia and Hailey were extremely excited to see mommy and asked when she was coming home. I mindlessly blurted, “Not for another two weeks” then Kim started sobbing which upset Olivia and Hailey. From that point on they noticed mommy was gone and questioned her whereabouts at all times. ‘Way to go dad.’

Being a ‘school day’ and typically a long day at work for me, I managed to get Olivia and Hailey to preschool around eight, so they were preoccupied all day. Right at nine o’clock I called Olivia’s pediatrician, I ended up talking to the nurse, the same nurse who three weeks earlier told me to ‘change Olivia’s diet and wait and see.’ So I explained the escalating problem of her refusal to sit on the toilet and eventually managed to get a prescription for a stool softener. After an exhausting day at work I rushed to the pharmacy to get the prescription, then beat the six o’clock deadline for pickup from preschool, make dinner, eat, clean-up, bath-time, story-time, and bed-time. We ended up at least an hour off schedule that night.

 

Tuesday’s ‘daddy day’ started good with a video call from Kim. I kept my mouth shut today and let the girls gab. After ‘breakfast with mommy,’ Bubie, Louis and Sadie came to pick us up. Our destination was a newly renovated playground at a park with a carousel and a butterfly museum. We had a great morning. The playground consumed the bulk of our time, most of which I bounced from pushing Olivia in the swing to honing in on Hailey’s countless ever-changing locations. At one point I paid Louis a dollar to find Hailey for me. After an eternal hour or two of light-speed playground maneuvers I tactfully suggested to Louis we go to the butterfly house. He tried to get more money out of me and I almost caved in to his business like negotiations however I countered with the ‘bug card’ and he forgot all about money. Once Lou was on-board with the butterfly house plan the others sheepishly followed. A fifteen minute informational movie about the life of butterflies was cut extremely short because of Hailey’s antics, she was running up and down the aisles, greeting every stranger in the mini theater and her compulsion to bat at the video screen prompted us all to leave before the butterflies made it out of their cocoons. The living sector of the museum was impressive. A massive greenhouse-esque structure with golf cart paths, to many little nooks for the kids to hide from me and tons of swarming butterflies. Hailey was told by a couple different attendants not to chase the insects. Olivia and Sadie had to spot every single butterfly categorized in the museum’s field guide. Blue Morpho popularized by Diego captivated everyone and the butterfly hunt was the highlight of the day.

 

The rest of the week I struggled with the normal routine. Wednesday night we had a pool party at an aquatic center for Sadie’s Birthday and we didn’t get home until around nine, well past bed-time. The reason we stayed so late; Olivia’s prescription stool softener finally started to work. We made several trips to the bathroom over the course of a couple hours, I was glad we weren’t home for that mess, the modest plumbing at my house may not have been able to cope.

 

Thursday we were so late getting to preschool, almost ten, once we got there I had to track down Olivia’s class who were out on a walk. Also that morning while on a video call to India, mommy witnessed Hailey’s first pooh-pooh on the potty. Thanks to a combination of video, wifi and laptop technology Kim didn’t miss the milestone. That evening I finally got a break. Kim’s mom, Nana, came over for dinner also to watch the girls so I could go play Hockey. But when I got home around nine Olivia was not in bed and Hailey was still up, in her crib talking to herself which lead to another long night.

 

I woke the girls up early Friday morning attempting to get back on schedule. Lethargically they made it to school just in time for breakfast. That evening we had dinner plans at our friends Tony and Marni’s. Tony and I have been friends since kindergarten. They have two boys, Spencer who is four and Tyler who is two. After dinner the children ventured parent-free downstairs to the cavernous play room. They played so well together and I was so relaxed and comfortable hanging with adult friends that I completely abandoned the timeline of leaving by seven-thirty. That was a mistake, by eight-fifteen Olivia learned a messy lesson that while on her medication it was going to be impossible to hold-in her pooh-poohs. I thought Marni was going into cardiac-arrest, she clutched her chest and stagger-stepped sideways knocking her body into the door frame as she entered the guest bathroom, in her hand a zip-lock bag for Olivia’s dirty undies although it was to late for an easy bag-em-up cleanup as the soiled princess underwear were already floating in a murky-water-filled sink.

 

My schedule and routine problems were getting worse. Saturday morning a brilliant sitter, Miss Laura came over from seven until nine so I could go play Hockey. Hockey is cheap therapy. I had to wake the girls up early and they were both cranky, I didn’t mind at the time because I was on my way out but I paid the price later.

Mid-morning we had a parents-as-teachers ‘back to school’ party at a neighborhood park to attend which we almost missed due to bathroom drama. Olivia and I were at a stand-off. I caught her ‘riding dirty’ so I told her we were not going to the party until she tried to make a bowl movement. The confrontation lasted at least an hour. Finally after numerous reminders that we were currently missing a party, she sat on the toilet for three minutes with no success, at that point I wanted to ring the pooh out of her, instead I told her ‘good try’ for encouragement. Conversely, while Olivia was stonewalling, Hailey, proud of her new potty-using skills, repetitively perfected her method. One attempt at scaling to the top of the elongated bowl, (she thinks the training-potty is a novelty and refuses to use it), she fell off smacking her face hard on the floor. She didn’t cry or shed a tear, I think she was embarrassed. She jumped up and persistently climbed right back on that potty.

A half hour before it was over, we eventually made it to the party but that was all we needed to make an impression. During the pet-rock-painting activity Hailey tinted her hair red and Olivia’s predisposition to cleanliness vanished as she took to the nearest mud puddle caking her self with sludge. One parent remarked something to the effect of ‘your letting your kids make a mess of themselves?’ and I calmly retorted “that’s what a bath tub is for.” One parent-teacher-volunteer asked “what is your wife going to think when you get home?”

 

That night was dreadful. A combination of mommy’s absence, extreme routine alterations and my sleep deprivation/insomnia issue, (I could not sleep without Kim, it was like having an infant in the house again, my sleep so light that every little noise would provoke me to hop out of bed and check-on the kids), brought out the monster in me. I tried to get the girls back on track that night, we stayed in, had an early dinner and I had them in bed by their respected bed times. Hailey eight o’clock and Olivia by eight-thirty. Except, they didn’t fall asleep. Hailey was not so much a problem being that she is still in a crib; she just talked and eventually cried herself to sleep around nine. However Olivia’s night turned into a nightmare. She kept testing me, asking for ‘one more of this and I need that,’ also using the potty excuse several times to get out of bed. Her Disney princess watch became a huge dilemma. She wanted to sleep with it on then off then on again and then off again. I finally took it off and said that she couldn’t have it back until the morning. She howled non-stop for over an hour carrying on and on over the stupid watch. I sat in the other room and folded laundry with the TV blaring, her cries eroding my sanity. This went on until eleven o’clock. We were two prize-fighters in the twelfth round of a title bought, fatigued and stubborn, either willing to give-up the battle. I could hear her in her room; she scooted a chair over to her dresser and opened the top drawer looking to retrieve the watch. This was the knock-out punch. She has trouble getting the watch on her wrist; still sobbing she opened her door and asked for my help. I flew to her room, snatched the watch from her, I got right in her face practically head-butting her and screamed as loud as I could “no means no! You’re driving me f_ing crazy!” She took a big step backwards. Being the first time I have ever lost control and scolded her so harshly she became extremely frightened and temporarily bewildered. In the pause, I could see that I had lost her admiration and trust. Then she started to wail over and over “mommy!”

 

Originally posted on BabyCenter.com 09/20/06

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