30 October 2010

I Think We're Alone Now

For the first time recently, I spent a day on my own, one-on-one, with the Doozer. Yes, he is two. And this was the first time I spent almost an entire day alone with my son. I almost couldn't believe that this was the first time. It seemed so unlikely, but it was actually true. From breakfast through dinner, it was just me and him. The boys. Alone.

Within fifteen minutes of my wife leaving the house in the morning, the Doozer took a header off an armchair in the living room. He'd been messing around on the chair, during Sesame Street, leaning over the side, as he is wont to do, as I'd witnessed him do a hundred times before. I was sitting nearby on the couch, surfing the Internet no doubt (I was probably perusing The Playlist, reading up on the controversy over the trailer for The Dilemma or the potential release date of Terrence Malick's Tree of Life—you know, something important).

He flipped off the side of the chair just as I looked over. I sprung into action (too late of course and only after I delicately set down the laptop, it is a relatively new purchase, after all). In the moment, I was convinced that he landed on his head and we were going to have serious problems. But he jumped right up and cried out about his back. He'd landed on his back. He asked me to kiss it. And then it was all better. No, really. If only that worked for adults, as well.

It did nothing to curtail the feeling I suddenly had that there was a reason I'd never spent that much alone time with my son. Because apparently I cannot be trusted in such a situation. But instead, the day just went on. Seriously, kids are crazy resilient. How does that happen?

Anyway, that afternoon, we had two attempted naps that both ended in failure. I found myself with almost no free time. Yes, I did manage to watch at least one episode of Bored to Death, wash, dry, and fold a load of laundry, plus empty and restock the dishwasher (I can be a pretty good husband sometimes). But when my wife returned around dinnertime, I did find myself complaining about the lack of naps and how I got nothing done (at least, nothing that I wanted to or thought I would get done). She rolled her eyes and did not respond. Though she did later inquire if the experience destroyed or deflated my whole stay-at-home-dad fantasy.

It didn't. It hasn't. Not yet.

Still, the whole thing got me thinking about how the modern, contemporary dad experience is not always all that different from the traditional, old-fashioned dad experience of earlier eras. While we've all heard that this generation of fathers is supposedly more engaged, more involved, than previous generations, it doesn't always feel that way. Seeing your child on nights and weekends can sometimes make you feel like an absentee parent, even if you're nothing of the sort. And it's not due to a lack of interest or desire, but rather outside forces conspiring against you (financial reality, society, the universe). It feels like those old 1950s notions of the breadwinner and the homemaker still exist, that our society hasn't changed all that much over the decades. Almost like you're a character out of Mad Men (except that I can't drink at work—where are those jobs nowadays? I mean, come on).

Because here's the thing. Kids are expensive. They cost a lot of money (and he's only 2!). So somebody's got to go out and earn the scratch to take care of him. Buy him the organic milk and the diapers and the toys and everything else. Sometimes ridiculously expensive. Sure, we could drop out and join a commune, abandon the consumer lifestyle, forget about a mortgage and a nice TV and groceries from Whole Foods. But somewhere inside, I guess, I'm just too addicted to modern convenience. I go to work every day to provide for my family, sure, to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, the necessities—but I also like to buy DVDs and Chinese take-out.

Sometimes, my wife complains about the fact that I don't appreciate that I get to be around grown-ups all day (a debatable point) and engage in adult conversations. I suppose I do take this for granted. With a two year-old you can't really engage in meaningful discourse about the genius of Aaron Sorkin's script for The Social Network or the awesomeness of Glee doing Rocky Horror, the midterm elections or the new album from Margot and the Nuclear So-and-So's or the irony of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom being chosen for the Oprah Book Club.

And she's right. To a degree. But there is one conversation that I will gladly have with the Doozer over any adult conversation I could have. It goes something like this:

"Hi, Dada."

"Hi, buddy."

"Dada came home from work."

"Yes. I did come home from work."

"Dada sit down and color with me."

"Sure, pal. Anything you want."

Mostly, I'm just relieved he actually remembers who I am.

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