I am endlessly fascinated with the minutiae of other people’s lives. Not the big picture stuff, but the day-to-day stuff. I want to know what you had for dinner last night. Did you cook? Did you order in? What time did you wake up this morning? Because I happen to have kids, I am particularly nosy about households with little ones, but I am an equal opportunity imaginer of what, precisely is going on at your house, regardless of how many people live there.
I become especially curious when things at the homestead are particularly dark, like when the kids are sick, or it seems like it will require a military intervention to get dinner on the table, and I have this image all of you are sharing a plate of cheese fries at Sidewalk Café and your kids are all having this awesome time at the pool.
That gets me thinking about the minutiae of my own life, and I’ve realized that when you reach a certain point in your life, especially when you have kids, we all pretty much go through the same thing.
And even if you don’t have kids, we all still have the same wish – to sit on the couch, eat a f-----g bowl of Lucky Charms and watch the Hills with no one bothering us. But like Moonlight Graham said in Field of Dreams, my wish will have to remain a wish. Instead, I can give you a look at one of our recent weekends and put your mind at ease: You are not alone.
NOTE: This is a bit longer than I originally planned. What can I say? Print it out and take it to the bathroom.
It's go time! Another workweek has come to an end, and we're on our way to the preschool to collect our beloved offspring, who will undoubtedly carry with them the stink of daycare. It's that weird combination of preschool funk and the stench of guilt of having them there in the first place. My wife scampers off to gather our daughter, and I make my way for the boy. His class is outside on the playground. One of my favorite things to do is watch him playing on the playground before he sees me so I can see what he’s really like when we’re not around.
In a strange statistical quirk, my son’s class is comprised of 15 girls and 5 boys. Needless to say, the boys are a tight group, bonded the way a group of survivors might after a zombie apocalypse. As they always are, the boys are involved in some game that looks suspiciously like Calvinball, for those of you who remember the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. My son calls out something to the effect of: "the sun went behind that cloud. Your touchdown doesn't count!" His buddy briefly considers my son’s official protest and then runs off to the monkeybars.
Friday is the one day when the sticker shock of taking the kids out to dinner is outweighed by that sense of relief you get when you settle into the booth and realize someone else is doing the cooking. Forty-six bucks for two cheeseburger dinners and two kids’ mac-and-cheeses? Awesome!
That being said, you had damn well better include milk with the kids’ meal. All local restaurants that do so, take one step forward – NOT SO FAST, Glory Days on Ridgefield Parkway! Seriously? Four bucks for two milks? Yeah, we’re done. It's not me, it's YOU.
Home. When our ten-year-old dog sees us, she starts jumping up and down as if she’d been wrongly informed that we’d all perished in a car crash. A sense of relief washes over me in that we've made it through another week and nothing disastrous happened. I think that’s a controlling theme in our lives, especially while the kids are so young. Just get them through the week. I’m a worrier by nature, and it always seems like an accomplishment when you pull up the drawbridge on Friday night and release the crocs into the moat.
For the eleventy-billionth time, I ask my son to go change into his pajamas. He interprets my request as follows: "Daddy really wants me to get my Millennium Falcon and see if, in fact, it can make the Kessel run in twelve parsecs."
Son (internal monologue): Suck it, Han. I made it in 10 parsecs.
Lights out. The kids are down! The kids are down!
Daughter: Mommy, mommy!
Son: My bug bite itches! I’m scared.
As a side note, I love monster movies like Dawn of the Dead and Cloverfield, but it has occurred to me that if we ever did face a zombie apocalypse, my son would literally never sleep again. We’d be traipsing across the post-apocalyptic wasteland, trying to make a can of black beans last a month, and he’d keep reminding me that he was right, there are such things as monsters, Daddy.
“You told a lie, Daddy, and that wasn’t a good choice. Now hand me the shoulder-launched RPG.”
The kids are finally asleep. Finally, some grownup time. Maybe some wine, a late snack, a movie.
My wife is asleep on the couch. I fire up the laptop and stare at a blank screen. Someday, I may come up with an idea for a best-selling novel. It won’t be tonight.
My daughter cries out so hysterically that I think the smoke monster from Lost has slipped into her bedroom. Naturally, the moment my wife steps out of bed to check on her, she quiets back down and doesn’t make a peep the rest of the night. At this point, I’m tachycardic, and it takes me an hour to fall asleep again.
I briefly wonder whether there’s time for--
“Daddy, can I watch a show? I'm hungry. I need to go potty.”
I guess not.
I have an incredibly romanticized view of coffee. For some reason, it feels like people running around with to-go coffee cups, all cozy in their little Java Jackets, just have their sh*t together. I’m not sure why this is – perhaps it relates to my assumption that this person actually had time to stop for coffee. I barely have time to get my own jacket on.
I once heard a comedian say that the best part of waking up isn’t Folgers in your cup – it’s realizing you didn’t die in your sleep. Man, I wish I had thought of that one.
Either way, the acid in coffee hurts my stomach, so I drink tea in the morning. Tea. Whatever. I don’t care how many antioxidants or flavonoids tea has, it’s never going to be as cool as coffee.
Out the door to my son’s co-ed soccer game. He plays in one of the area’s large recreational soccer leagues. I think there are approximately half a million teams in the Under-5 division. At this age level, there are no goalies, and they don't keep score. And when I say “they” don't keep score, I mean that every parent is totally keeping score while pretending to not keep score.
Keep in mind that we’re worrying about a game involving a bunch of kids who occasionally forget what sport they’re playing. And yet, I won’t lie to you -- watching my son score (on an undefended goal, mind you) is akin to what I imagine one’s first line of cocaine is like. A spectacular high, quick crash, and then an overwhelming desire to watch it happen again.
He scores twice. They won, 8-3. Or they didn’t.
You ever notice how relentless mealtime is? Let’s assume for the moment that you’ve gone to the trouble of making a healthy breakfast. Suddenly, it’s four hours later, and you’ve got to come up with something for lunch. And if you’ve got kids – well, they couldn’t give a crap that you haven’t thought of something.
This might be the aspect of other people’s lives I wonder about the most. I really like to cook, but the fact that we slurp down in ten minutes a meal that took an hour to make is never far from my mind. It's reassuring to know that across this great country of ours, families are panicking every four to six hours.
Strange quirk of the week – my son turned down an offer of Chick-Fil-A for dinner one night. That was just weird.
We’re 30 minutes late to a cookout, and I can’t remember if we were supposed to bring something. Better take a bottle of wine and pray the couple that gave it to us isn’t the one hosting the cookout. Then again, if someone brought us a bottle of wine that we’d given them a year ago, would I notice?
Let me shake my Magic 8-Ball. VERY DOUTBFUL. Besides, we’re all in this together. We’re all thirty minutes late, and none of us have had a chance to get to the store.
Damn the torpedoes, we are watching a movie tonight. Thank you, inventor of the flat-screen television!
Quick dip in the pool. Since moving to our house a year ago, I’ve discovered there’s something strangely unifying about a neighborhood pool. I can’t quite put my finger on it. The cynical part of me suspects there’s something slightly elitist about it. We live in Richmond, after all, where elitism is like a national sport. My own kids look down on me because I wasn’t born here and they were. Then again, me without my shirt on is just about the least elitist thing you will ever see.
The cavalry has arrived. My parents have driven up for the day to see their beloved grandchildren. I don’t remember my parents ever being this excited to see me, so I can safely say that being a grandparent looks awesome. It’s probably pushing it to suggest I support teenage pregnancy.
Either way, my wife and I are out of the house so fast, my chair is spinning. The quiet in the car is unnerving.
The weekend is dying, and there isn’t much else to say.
Remember that show Our House with Wilford Brimley? I recall it aired at 7:00 on Sunday nights. I don’t know exactly what made me think of that, but I am confident that casting Brimley as DeVasher in the movie version of John Grisham’s novel, The Firm, is the single greatest casting decision of the last twenty years.
It simply doesn't get any better than this quote: “What do I look like, the f-----' night watchman?”
Anyway, Sunday evening means totally blowing off preparing our lunches in advance or really doing anything that would make Monday mornings go a little more smoothly.
Mad Men is on.
Next week’s Column: Germophobia