By Gregory Keer
Lately, I’ve been teetering on a breaking point. Just last night, in the tiny bit of personal time I had to make notes for this column, there were relentless interruptions by kids who can’t sit next to each other without committing assault and battery, emails from work alerting me to additional classes I have to substitute for, and a dog with incontinence who needs to go out for the third time in an hour.
So when my wife asks me to switch with her this morning in taking the younger children to school, it’s just another crack in a week full of schedule-busters, including the toilet that won’t flush, the oven that won’t work, the lunches I forgot to pack the night before, the homework my eldest left at home that needs to be delivered to school, and the extra soccer practices for playoff games (am I the only parent who secretly roots for my kids’ teams to suck so the season ends on time?).
As I force-feed boys and backpacks into the car, a voice inside me whispers, “Run. Run very far away.”
I quiet the demon and take care of business. Five minutes into the ride, Ari (6) and Jacob (9) are actually following the car rules: no sudden or loud noises that might cause Daddy to drop his cell phone, orange juice, or notepad; and no hitting each other that would force Daddy to raise his voice and attract the attention of traffic cops who might frown upon the aforementioned phone, juice, and notepad.
Things continue to go well as we hit the final mile to school, a curvy jaunt through a tree-lined neighborhood, over numerous but gentle speed humps, and up a serpentine canyon road – the perfect stretch to realign Jacob’s inner ears.
“I’m not feeling well,” he says.
“Look out the front window so you can see the road,” I recommend, maintaining composure.
“I can’t,” Jacob moans. “I’m gonna throw up.”
“Not on me, not on me!” Ari cries out, cringing toward his door.
Hurriedly, I procure my beverage bottle. “Vomit in here. Don’t do it on the — ”
Too late. It’s all over the seat.
That earlier whisper pushes me closer to the edge.
“I gave you the bottle in time!” I yell.
“Eww! It’s sliding toward me!” Ari whines.
Grossed out, I pull up to the drop-off as a volunteer mom opens the car door. She looks at a green-around-the-gills Jacob and questions, “Is he going to school like that?”
“Yes,” I say firmly as I push the kids outside with the cars behind me honking insistently.
“Love you,” I shout as I drive off.
Within seconds, I suffer a barrage of guilt for having lost my composure, for not saying more comforting words, for not having parked the car and made sure Jacob would be OK. But the devil on my shoulder argues that I’m gonna have to clean the vomit, pick up those kids later, cook for them, get them to do their homework, plan their summer camp schedule, help with their college applications, pick out their wedding invitations — I really could speed far away from everything! Just leave the whole daddy package in the dust.
Then, the freeway congestion opens up and so does my mind. I won’t race off to an unfettered existence because, when all is said and done, what matters most in parenting is staying on the road well traveled. It’s rolling through everything from the car throws up to the MRIs for adolescent back ailments without taking the offramp.
In this new year, I resolve to take greater stock in the fortitude that keeps me coming back for more of this often grueling parenting endeavor. I truly feel that it’s no great shame to imagine life without the constant responsibilities children place upon us and it’s essential that we at least take breaks (date night, ball games with buddies, grown-up vacations) from the rigmarole for our sanity. But there’s great pride to be had in just showing up as a mom or dad, however imperfect we may be. Parenthood is more than a marathon; it’s a lifelong road trip that can bring subtle but powerful rewards if we allow ourselves to appreciate the power of just being there.