Archive for September, 2021

Originally published in the The Santa Clarita Signal, 2003

Last Wednesday, I woke up in my wife’s body – sort of.

For starters, my 3-year-old daughter, Melissa, jolts me out of sleep by tugging on my foot – my foot and not my wife’s, as is her custom.

    The sound of running water informs me that Debbie, my wife, is awake and that she’s skipped the three or four steps in her morning routine that include feeding and watering our two daughters.

    Things are seriously out of whack at the Dickson house.

    Somewhere between “Daddy, I’m thirsty” and “Daddy, I want cereal,” I remember that it’s getaway day for Deb. She’s escaping to Orlando to see a friend get married and I’m skipping the next six days of work to play Mr. Mom.

    I promised myself and my kids an adventurous week of park trips and bike rides, but it’s already Saturday and the fact that I’m writing this story while the girls watch “Jumanji” in the other room is pretty clear evidence that I haven’t exactly followed my master plan.

    I should have known from the start that planning every detail would be impossible. My first clue came the first time I attempted to get my second-grader, Darragh, to school on time. The Interstate 5 was a parking lot. A mile or so into my crawl, I limped off in search of swifter passage – which I never found.

    The week has played out like a tug-of-war ever since, with myriad occurrences – planned and unplanned – anchoring one end, and me on the other, pulling desperately to hold it all together.

    I’ve torched a frozen pizza, spilled juice all over the car and, with Melissa, visited what seems like half the public bathrooms in Southern California.

    I’ve discovered the point of drive-through coffee shops and marveled at the predatory nature of mothers jockeying for position when it’s time to pick up their kids from school.

    Most of all, I’ve gained an even greater appreciation for the “soccer mom.”

    I never cared for the term to begin with because it reeks of a professional elitism I’ve always found distasteful, as if the woman who makes it her life’s work to manage her own home and raise her children sits lower on the totem pole than the woman who packs a briefcase instead of a diaper bag.

    Even before my head hit the pillow Wednesday night, I was convinced that Debbie’s job is much more demanding than mine. I work in a world of deadlines, but they are nothing compared to the pressure I’ve faced since my wife flew east.

    Cook, clean, feed. Drive, drop, prepare. Sort, stack, fold.

    Shop for dinner, but cut coupons first. Bathe the kids, but not too close to bedtime or they’ll go to sleep with wet hair. Check the homework, help with the school project and pick out tomorrow’s outfits. Just be sure to check the weather first or you’ll be adding a trip to the pediatrician to next week’s list of errands.

    The to-do list is endless and the stakes are so high. If I miss a deadline at work, I may hear some grumbling from my boss. But missing a deadline this week means Melissa goes hungry or Darragh misses a test.

    The clock is indeed the oppressor of the stay-at-home mom, but it is a necessary evil. Now I understand why every room in my house holds at least two clocks and why Debbie often wears her watch to bed.

    And the demands go beyond the obvious. Exactly where in your day timer should you make room for imperatives like “play with the baby” and “make sure your toddler knows you love him as much as the new arrival?” What happens to your precious schedule when your 3-year-old asks you to teach her the alphabet?

    “Soccer moms” do it all day. They do it every day. My saving grace is knowing my shift ends Monday night. I’m fighting exhaustion – that and the nagging sense that I ought to be doing better. But it all ends soon.

    Debbie and her fellow full-timers enjoy no such respite.

    I’m looking at the untouched stack of books I brought home for my “vacation” and I can only laugh – almost as loudly as I now laugh when I remember the Saturday mornings I’ve magnanimously agreed to “watch” the kids while Debbie rushes off to coffee with friends.

    I don’t mean to paint a bleak a picture of what a full-time parent faces. This week has been full of wonderful moments too trivial to put into print, yet monumental enough to remember forever.

    It’s been fun to hang out with my baby and discover that she actually does play with all the toys and games I’m always stepping over and insisting we should give away.

    It’s been great to ask my oldest for help and truly need it and even better when she gives it so proudly.

    On Friday we were all stuck in traffic coming up Highway 5. The delay was putting a crimp in my plans for dinner and forcing me to push back the kids’ bath until Saturday morning.

    As I was contemplating what to cook while wondering if I should take the Old Road, Melissa flashes me a flower she’s drawn on her MagnaDoodle sketchpad.

    “I drew something for you, Dad,” she says.

    Then Darragh speaks up.

    “You know, Dad, this week hasn’t turned into such a catastrophe after all,” she says.

    I smile in response to both of them and sit a few inches higher in my seat.

    The work’s been much harder than I ever imagined, but the pay is tough to beat.


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