Much has changed with my growing boys this year. Max is now 5 and a half (that “half” is very important to him) and going to kindergarten while Dodge is now 3 and a half (could care less about the “half”) and just starting to lose the baby fat in his cheeks, giving us a glimpse into what he’ll look like as a big kid. They love Star Wars, wrestling, arguing, and anything that has massive potential to knock over everything in the house or accidentally burn the house down…so…they’re pretty typical little boys. Max is a tall, rule-following gallump who can’t stop wiggling and talking throughout the day while Dodge is a stocky, rule-breaking cuddle-monkey who prefers to play quietly alone and pretend he’s a baby kitty, or a baby fox, or a baby cheetah, or a baby…anything.
August has been a race to the finish line to get these kids back in school and out of my wife’s hair, who impressively this summer didn’t drown either of them in the tub, leave them on the side of the highway, or simply sneak away during nap time never to return again. They are great little guys…but being home with them all summer was a test of patience that Kate survived somehow. I would have lost my shit. No, patience is not one of my virtues and thus parenting is a lifelong challenge for me that I greet with both excited resolve and depressing defeat. This is about the latter.
Max has been counting down the days to kindergarten since Spring and telling everyone he saw this summer how excited he is. The mailman knows, so does the kid at the park we met that one day, the entire wait staff at Applebees, that homeless guy downtown… The kid was excited. His school is an international magnet school which is awesome, and they have a few very cool progressive things they do that were new to Kate and me. Notably, they do a roundup where you pick one of 3 days the week before school starts and your kid spends time in every classroom so all the teachers can observe and see which kids they feel will do best in which class and how to divide up the classes. Pretty cool. Much smarter than just assigning a kid to a class and seeing what happens. Roundup dates were TBD earlier in the summer when I scheduled a day-long meeting at my office with one of my vendors who flew their entire team in to meet with me. I work as a marketing executive for a national retailer so I take a lot of meetings like this at our headquarters. The meeting was scheduled for Friday morning, August 26. Max’s roundup day was then scheduled for Friday morning, August 26.
Flights and hotels were already booked when I learned of the conflict and my “family first” mantra was not looking so good. Kate and I agreed that it was Roundup and not the first day of kindergarten so I would go to work Friday morning and then Monday be there for the real deal at drop-off and pick-up. I teared up numerous times throughout the week looking at photos on Facebook of all my friends’ kids starting school. That classic picture holding up a sign that reads “My first day of kindergarten!” I couldn’t wait to do that with Max and see him go off to big-kid school. I began getting as excited as Max!
Then came Friday. I headed off to work for my meeting and Kate took a very nervous little boy to his new school. I was sitting in the conference room when my phone buzzed at 9:03 AM. I glanced and saw these 2 pictures along with a text from Kate telling me how he was very nervous but gritted his teeth and went in. He was so nervous and wiggly she couldn’t get a good picture.
That’s my Max!
Made me smile…but then made me very sad. I wasn’t there for him. Then Kate posted the picture on Facebook and the comments started pouring in from friends and family congratulating him on his first day of kindergarten. I…I missed it.
No…no. Monday is the first REAL day of kindergarten and this is Roundup.
That night I got stuck in the design department overseeing a project on a deadline and didn’t get out of the office till 8:30 PM. I went straight to my art gallery I am a co-owner of for a reception that started at 7 PM. I was late. A sitter put my kindergartener to sleep that night as I drank wine and chatted with patrons late into the evening.
Saturday we went camping which was a great relaxing way to come down after a stressful week. Sunday we came home and had a chill day at the house before going to a kid-friend’s birthday party. That night we put the boys to bed on time (8 PM) since it was a school night and they were full of birthday cake. I crawled into Max’s bed to cuddle him and told him I would be there with him tomorrow for his first day of school. “But Dada…the first day of school was Friday.” Max told me. I replied, “Well…that was Roundup. Monday is the first real day of school.” This didn’t jive with the Maxwell. He argued that kindergarten had already begun and I countered that it had but the first real day of school was Monday. The kindergartener wasn’t buying what I was selling…and I wasn’t sure if I was anymore either.
Monday morning Max was nervous all over again and I was glad to be there to talk calmly to him and tell him again about it being okay to be nervous. I sat down with him and calmly explained how scared I was when I went to school. I told him how I was scared my first day when I took the job I have now. He begrudgingly got dressed with a few whimpers. We took a picture on the front step of our house, as we have every year when they go to preschool, but he’s much taller now and rocking a Star Wars backpack. We piled into the car and headed to the chaos that is dropping your kid off to school. Once at school he switched from scared to nervous excitement. I held his hand as we crossed the street, Max in one hand and Dodge in the other. He showed me where he was supposed to line up, pointed out the playground where recess is, and that was when I snapped this classic first day of school picture.
This made me happy. A snapshot in time…or was it proof I was present as a parent?
They rang the bell and in we went. His teacher welcomed him and we helped him find his seat. He slung his backpack over the back of his chair, started exploring his desk, and then switched from nervous excitement to good ole excited…and suddenly I was super uncool. I was hugging him and kissing him profusely, the things he normally wants when he is scared, but now they were embarrassing him. I could see it in his eyes, he wished I wasn’t there. He was ready to be Joe-cool at school. So I kissed him one more time, took Dodge by the hand, and we waved goodbye as we walked out the door. Kate was teary. I was holding it in. Max was a kindergartener.
Kate headed downtown to the gallery and I took Dodge to preschool, a much different experience full of shy hugs and hiding from the teacher for a few minutes. Usually, I make a clean break knowing he’ll be fine…but on this day I took every hug I could get. When I got to my car in the parking lot of Dodge’s school it hit me…the tears came easily and I cried alone in the driver’s seat.
At work I shared my picture of Max with everyone in the office that would look. I posted it on Facebook and Instagram like the proud papa I was, texted family members, and did everything shy of hiring a sky-writing plane. Max’s first day of kindergarten. My staff knew I was going to be late that morning and leaving early that afternoon. Nothing was going to keep me from dropping him off and picking him up on his first day of school! A little after 5 PM my wife called and I excitedly answered the phone to coordinate picking the boys up from school…but there was a sound in the background I recognized. It was my boys. She had picked them up without me. She forgot I wanted to pick Max up because in her mind, Friday was his first day of school and today was Monday. I missed out again.
I took the consolation prize of letting Max pick anywhere he wanted to go for dinner and getting last snuggles that night when tucking them in. However, goodnight tucks didn’t go very well – there was a lot of arguing, whining, and wrestling. I had to raise my voice to get them to stop wrestling. So I sang one song instead of two, kissed my boys to bed, and went downstairs to watch the baseball game. Tuesday morning, we were right back into the nervousness as Max adjusts to daily school instead of 3 days a week as he did in preschool. Kate and I both cuddled him and she suggested I take him to school. This got me very excited! I love when I get to do one-on-one things with either of my boys and this was a great way to spend some time with him at school and get some cuddles in as well. Except, he replied that he really wanted Kate to take him. I told him how much fun it would be if I took him…and he nodded in defeated agreement. He got up to put his shoes on and erupted into tears. I hugged him and asked what was wrong and he could barely say the words, he was crying so hard, “I just want Mama.” I tried to calm him but he was very upset. Kate came in and asked what was wrong. “I don’t want Dada…I just want Mama.” He went to her. She hugged him. My heart sank. Then my temper rose and a summer’s worth of frustration boiled to the top…I lost my shit.
Fine. Have your mama! There she is!
I had a few over -the-top expletives of frustration and went to the next room to finish getting ready for work. I left without saying goodbye my family, childish as it was on my part, but because I felt completely cast aside by them and removed from the emotions that bind us. I felt alone. I felt betrayed.
When I was little I terrorized my mother. I was wild. I knew her buttons and would push them at will just to see what would happen. Each day she managed successfully not to murder me and each day I pushed her farther until I heard the words, “That’s it…wait till your father gets home!” My dad would come home, assess the situation, and then talk to me about my behavior. My dad was one of those guys who seemed super calm, because he was, but he was a big bomb with a reeeeeealy long fuse. I’d seen the bomb explode and knew (to an extent) it was better to get the fuse. This meant, my dad got to be the mediator and solver of most fights in our house…which means my mom got to be the bad guy. My mom was a blackcat firecracker, a long string of pops that would scare the crap out of you, but eventually lost steam if you ran away fast enough. In my house now, as an adult, Kate is the one home with the kids…but she is the same long fuse like my dad. At the end of her fuse is a smoke bomb…it looks intimidating but it’s really a bunch of smokescreen that if you get too close to will make you cry. Me? I’m the string of blackcats like my mom with a giant bomb at the end like my dad.
I’m the bad guy.
My blowing up Tuesday just reinforced that with Max. I feel like a really shitty dad. I go to work to make money so we can afford to go camping together, go to a nice school, and have the house we call home. My sacrifice is missing out on many of the daily trials and tribulations and thus becoming the secondary parent to our kids. Kate sacrifices her personal space both physically and mentally by giving herself to the needs of our kids and being a full-time provider. We each have things the other wishes they had. I have personal time. She is number 1 in their hearts and mind. I am okay to be number 2…I just don’t want my kids to cry when they are “forced” to spend time with me.
When I started this blog I obsessed over every parenting decision I made and worried about the lifelong affects it would have on my kids. Then I relaxed and realized every decision would (and wouldn’t) affect the rest of their lives…we just started parenting freely and more naturally. Now I am reaping the outcome of certain parenting decisions I have made and left feeling completely deflated and lost. Adults can reason. Adults have perspective. Adults understand when someone is doing their best. Kids don’t. Kids just know you missed their first day of school, scolded them at bedtime, are the “other parent,” and you will blow up if they say they don’t want to spend time with you.
I know. I need to just put it behind me and keep moving forward. I know. It weighs heavier on me than it does on Max. I know. There will come a time when Dad reigns supreme and Mom is the “other parent.” I know. I know. I know.
I just want to spend some solid Dad-time with my kindergartner…and I feel like I’m missing out and may never get this time back. They grow up too fast.
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