Zachary is in camp every morning, living it up with his peeps as they tie-dye shirts and holler “What time is it Mr. Fox?” It starts so early that I leave the other two kids – still pajamaed and just sitting down to breakfast – with our au pair while I drive my eldest to UCLA’s campus. He chatters in the car. Pretty much incessantly. About so much shit that, later in the day, I will find myself trying to multi-task: drive, carry on a conversation, and think about something I actually give a crap about at the same time.
Much as I hate to admit this in public, a good chunk of the time I just don’t care about what my kids have to tell me. I know I am supposed to be enamored of every word that comes out of their mouths, provided it isn’t obnoxious, but good lord, my kids never shut up.
Zachary’s earnest chatter is charming, and first thing in the day I usually am interested in a good deal more of what he has to tell me than I am by evening time. We have some serious conversations about why one shouldn’t put things in one’s ears and the way that Winnie the Witch got caught in a traffic jam because there were no stop lights in a book that his friend, James, owned back when we lived in England a year and a half ago.
He gets out of the van, still talking, as we arrive at camp, and I am relaxed as I take his hand in mine. I am not feeling anything urgent, which sounds strange except for the fact that usually I am. Usually I am hurrying or tense or frustrated or something intense. So, the absence of that kind of stress is worthy noting as I walk my son to his camp group, easily carrying on a conversation with him. I am not trying to mediate between warring parties or skin carrots or figure out how to fit their haircuts plus Benjamin’s requisite three-times-a-week swimming into our schedule. I am just chatting with my kid as I walk him to camp.
Sometimes, I squeeze his hand. A series quick squeezes, returned in the exact same pattern. We’ve never talked about this game we play while holding hands – a call and response that amuses us both for our very refusal to acknowledge it. Lately, Benjamin and I have begun this game, too, but neither boy knows that I do it with his brother.
Zachary is so easy to drop at camp or school. There is no clinging, no crying. He just sits down to the activity, eager to get going, after giving me a sweet little kiss. I take comfort in this, hoping it is a sign that he is secure and I haven’t fucked him up too much yet by being a rolling ball of anxiety tied up with a bow of impatience.
Then I go home, trying to quietly sneak my purse in the door so I can go running before I need to take on one or both of the other children. Already, I am testy if one of the kids sees me, screwing up the schedule because now they want my attention.
By 9:30, I am ready to take on the younger kids. Some days, I have both, but I have arranged our au pair’s schedule so that Benjamin and I can have several mornings a week just for the two of us. We go here or there – the science museum, a playdate at the beach. As we get out of the car, we play a little game. I squeeze his hand, a few quick times. And he returns the pattern, giggling a little. Neither boy knows I play this game with the other one, too. If they find out, I’ll know you told them.
Ben is so enthusiastic about everything, even his anger. Our mornings together are delightful as we jump in waves. Yet, I find myself getting impatient as the morning wears towards lunchtime. Three-year-olds, they repeat themselves a lot. They ask the same question 79 times, just to see if the answer is going to be the same each time. While it’s adorable to hear about the “big, BIG puppet” time and again, it’s less amusing to have to respond to “Mommy, why we got two Diego cups?” every twelve minutes for three days running.
And he gets bored so goddamned easily. Now, don’t get me wrong, he’s actually quite self-sufficient about amusing himself. But, unfortunately, what he calls “entertainment” is usually classified as “destruction of property” or “self-mutilation” by everyone else. He needs to be doing something all the time, and if not provided with an activity that he likes but that the adults deem acceptable, he jumps off of things or dumps out things or breaks things.
Not to mention that he fucking whines all the time.
Which is all to say that only a portion of our special mornings together is actually any fun for me. I want to be having these delightful adventures, filling his bottomless cup with the affection he never tires of. Our trip to the puppet show was like that. But, then, the next day, he is bursting into tears at every provocation and complaining all the time and I am testy and I wonder why the hell we are doing this.
I want so badly to believe that he needs to behave like this, to let off the steam in the time we are alone together. I want to think that our time together is helping him in ways I just haven’t seen yet. I want to convince myself I am helping them grow up happy and secure.
In truth, there is no fucking way to know whether we are good parents or bad parents. We all lack perspective on what we do with our kids. Are we yelling too much? Being too lax? Inconsistent?
And how much is too much?
So, I do what I can do, and I hope they will remember the wave-jumping and the patient conversations, not the frustration at 6:45 when I yell at them to stop interrupting me for a minute so I can get a sentence out because really, did you need to tell me right at this moment that earthquakes are strong? At 8:15 A.M., I honor how, to them, the things they have to tell me are important. When I am doing the dinner dishes and they are leaping off of furniture and the au pair is trying to catch them to brush their teeth, I snap and it must cut them to the quick.
By the time this goes to post, it’ll be another day, and there will be a whole new batch of patience waiting somewhere inside me. But as I write this, late at night, I am numb. And I’ll tell you something I find both frightening and shameful:
I’m so busy getting to the next part of the day, so busy making sure my kids are enjoying themselves, that I am having very little fun with them myself. I just hope like hell that perhaps they don’t notice.