Having two kids under the age of five is soul draining. (If you have more than two, 1) Congrats for having the mental fortitude to withstand that onslaught, and 2) You may judge me for complaining about only two. Now, back to my plight.) It is impossible to fully illustrate just how much your life changes with children. And not from a personal standpoint—you are still you, your hopes and dreams (while sometimes crushed) are still yours—it’s the everyday that is completely altered. When you wake up, where you go, who you see, how and when you talk to your spouse—it all changes once you become responsible for another little human (I type this as I’m working my computer chair around Big Blocks in order to roll it closer to the keyboard).
The demands on my time are now myriad; time to and for myself is a quaint pastime that I pine for regularly (think Thomas Kinkade rendering of me in a bay window, looking longingly out across snow-covered hills). All of the free time that I used to have at my disposal I carelessly filled with frivolity, which could be why it was such a hard adjustment when it was supplanted by something of such gravity as the well-being of children. I at first readily, happily fulfilled the demands of my new role as a dad: I had the formula and breast milk all portioned out ahead of time, the wipe warmer was always stocked, I didn’t even pretend to be asleep all that often when they started to stir in the middle of the night! But the requisite tasks of maintaining that well-being progressed from the simple and sustenance-related to things like making sure I put the right color straw in the right cup for milk, that there’s the right kind of fruit snacks in the lunch bag, or putting sufficient space between dinner table seats that I’ll know it’s a lie when I hear, “She’s touching me!”
And it’s in those moments that I start to wonder just what the hell I’ve gotten myself into. These sacrifices of time and sanity are individually small, but after enduring them one right after the other, I end up in survival mode—worn down by the meltdowns of increasing triviality—wherein I’m willing to subject myself to just about anything to get through to bedtime. I never imagined I’d be one of those parents who cuts the crust off my kids’ bread—They can suck it up, I’d think—but I discovered that some battles you just cannot win; it’s like trying to stop a wave. So there I am at lunchtime, angrily slicing off the margins of grilled cheese sandwiches just to maintain the peace. I sometimes try to sneak in something on the TV that’s just for me, that might provide some mental stimulation, but it inevitably gets overruled. My solution has been to go find the most highbrow literature I have on hand and read it, just to prove to myself that my brain hasn’t turned to complete mush after 12 consecutive episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba!
But the strangest thing happens when the tablets are turned off and the kids are tucked away in bed: I feel guilty. How is that possible? We played and laughed and adventured throughout the yard all day; a tear comes to my eye as I look off into nothing, reminiscing. Then it hits me: I’m the problem, not what we did or didn’t do. I was distracted, I wasn’t all there today: I had that thing I was thinking about while pushing the swing, that text I had to check at the park, that news story I just had to read on the merry-go-round—all the while my kids were pawing at me for affection and attention, though I didn’t notice, not until I replay the day in my head. I did all of those things with them thinking it will be good for them—for us—but since I didn’t interact with them, it was if we didn’t go at all. I didn’t know that I was (unconsciously, in my defense) indulging in the things that I wanted to do and are pleasurable to me. Now I feel guilty for wasting that opportunity. This guilt, this regret that ensues when I know I didn’t do what I could have, is harder to grapple with than that of not being able to see them at all.
The mantra in my head to prompt me to enjoy the opportunity when I’m out with the kids is: “Don’t be absent in the moments that make life worth living.”