Things That Will Definitely Most Likely Happen While I’m Out of Town

Let me preface this by disclosing that my husband has always been the most capable father. No duty of parenthood is too much or too overwhelming for him. He’s never shied away from the tough stuff. When the kids were little, it was middle of the night bottles, unreasonable tantrums, snot of a color not found in nature, explosive poop situations – Bob handled them all. Well, most of them all. Sometimes, the explosive poop stuff was a two-parent job. We always had a safe word when in a situation like this. I’m pretty sure most parents probably have this, maybe? A word you holler when faced with a predicament that is entirely too much for one person to manage? Ours was “backup.” We’d yell, “BACKUP!” when the situation was too horrific for just one adult. “Backup! BACKUP! BACK! UP!” It’s a marriage mandate that the other parent starts running immediately.

Anyway, my point is, Bob is perfectly capable but also he is not me. More than thirteen years of co-parenting with him has taught me this.

I’m traveling for the next five days which means Bob is free to parent in his… style. This also means, certain things are virtually guaranteed to happen in my absence.

1. A kid will throw up. This is number one on the list because it’s just science. I can’t explain it but one thing that is absolutely, positively, guaranteed to happen while I’m out of town is vomit. The very second the door latch clicks on a parent headed out on a trip, someone’s stomach begins to hurt. It’s like death and taxes. The last time this happened, Bob texted me a picture of throw up on Charlie’s bedroom floor so don’t ever tell me that romance is dead.

2. It’s a given that Bob will let the two youngest kids sleep on my side of the king bed every night while I’m gone and I’ll return to weird kid crud and my pillow will smell funny. There will be granola bar wrappers in the sheets. I’ll find Barbie parts and, seemingly self-replicating, stuffed animals all over the comforter. (But, seriously. Where do the stuffed animals COME FROM?) Brushing aside almost a week’s worth of kid flotsam before climbing into bed will not spark joy.

3. The two already overripe avocados in the produce basket will still be in the produce basket. Just five days ripier.

4. Bob will let the kids rent a movie on Amazon to watch that is either

a. One we already own on DVD or

b. Available for free on Netflix.

5. Every piece of storage Tupperware we own will be in the refrigerator. Every. Single. One. One will hold a single strawberry. Another, a single lemon slice. One will be crammed full with half of a pizza from the first night I was gone. One will, inexplicably, be an actual stainless steel cooking pot with a lid holding leftover oatmeal WHICH, BY THE WAY BOB, A POT IS NOT AN APPROVED LEFTOVER CONTAINER TO BE PLACED IN THE FRIDGE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND DECENT.

6. I’m going to be honest and say that the groceries could go either way here. Bob will either

a. Not go grocery shopping, just winging it until my return so the morning he runs back to the safety and quiet of work and I’m standing in front of the fridge trying to pack three lunchboxes and the only thing I can find is a Tupperware container with two mushrooms inside, I’m cursing him, his offspring, and his entire family line or

b. Bob WILL go grocery shopping with the kids and we already know how that will turn out.

7. There will be a full load of clothes in the dryer. There will also probably be stacks of folded clothes on the dining room table, too.

8. Bob will buy random things for the kids at Target, Dicks, and/or Walmart. So, true story about Bob. A few months ago, while on my way to work, I asked Bob to hit up Home Depot for a new garbage can. It was a relatively painless task and I even gave him a store credit to put towards it that we needed to use up. When I got home later that day, there was – and I’m not even exaggerating a little here – a pile of lumber in our foyer. Naturally, I was all, “Hey, can anyone provide some insight on the 2x4s blocking the front door?” From the basement, I hear Millie reply excitedly, “Dad’s building me a balance beam!” I deep sighed and replied, “Come again now?” But, it was true. Bob had purchased $80 worth of lumber, screws, and bolts to build Millie a balance beam of her very own. So cool, right! Such a Fun Dad. Counterpoint though, balance beams aren’t made out of raw lumber because: splinters. “We’re going to sand it REAL good,” was the absolutely expected reply when I expressed concern. When I asked about the new garbage can, Bob said he got overwhelmed buying the balance beam stuff and didn’t get the garbage can. “I also forgot about the store credit, sorry,” he replied while shrugging his shoulders. I can’t wait to see what I return to on Sunday. I can only assume Charlie will finally own that chainsaw he’s been after.

9. Like vomit, I anticipate a trip to urgent care for someone while I’m gone. This happened the last time I went out of town and I just figure this copay is inevitable. When I left this morning, two of the four family members I left behind had bad colds and a third is recovering from pneumonia so the odds are pretty good on this one.

GODSPEED AND GOOD LUCK, BOB.

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Thirteen

As of 5:22 this morning, I am the parent of a teenager.

That went fast.

I keep a set of pictures in my wallet. They’re of my children. One wallet-sized picture of each of them from every school year. I’m not even really sure when or why I started keeping them like that. No one seems too interested in school pictures anymore. I casually asked Henry if he wanted a set of this year’s photos to trade with his friends and by his absolutely bewildered reaction, I’m assuming students no longer do this. Just another industry killed by millennials or Facebook, I’m guessing they’ll say. But, on a moment’s notice, I can make the march of time tangible by pulling out the thin stack of photographs from my wallet, laying them all in a row, and marveling at how my kids have changed through the years.

I can see how my bespectacled kindergartner has become a bespectacled middle schooler. How he still, begrudgingly, after all of these years, agrees to wear the one collared shirt he owns on picture day. How he looks the same and yet so very different. How I think I can get a glimpse of what he’ll look like when another eight years pass. How I sometimes feel like I only know him in the present and have completely forgotten how he was in the past.

At thirteen, Henry has become a kind, interesting, funny, sporty, and (somewhat consistently) respectful adolescent.

I’ve found myself over the past several months asking other moms who have parented teenagers what the journey is like. I’m afraid I ask questions of them like I would the big cats caretaker at the zoo – a mix of earnest curiosity and inherit fear. The answers I receive are frequently mixed. For every, “It’s not so bad,” there’s a, “No comment.” One parent will speak fondly of the time while another just looks off into the distance, a little battle-weary. I’m always left with the impression that the teenage years are something to survive rather than relish.

And, we have many, many years of survival ahead of us. During a particularly challenging parenting moment a few weeks ago, when the dust from the frustration and the anger was settling all around us, I looked at Bob and said, “We have a full DECADE of parenting teenagers ahead of us. We didn’t really think this through when we decided to have three of them, did we?”

It’s strange to be beginning this journey. It makes me feel old in a way that turning forty never did. I’m old enough to have a teenager! I still remember being a teenager. It all feels like the start of something but also the end of something. Fun and exciting but also destined for frustration and heartbreak. But, that could describe every stage of parenting.

I suppose teenagers are just a different kind of difficult.

In A (Mini) Van Down By The River

Remember that one time? When I mentioned that my kids weren’t interested in extracurricular activities? Well, they changed their minds. All of my kids. Changed their minds. All at the same time. My kids are doing all of the activities now. There are no activities left because my kids are doing them all.

Henry recently decided that Sports is his thing. It wasn’t for a long time. Now, it is. Doesn’t really matter which kind. He will gamely try them all – in a row. This past fall, sensing our reluctance to let him play tackle football, he asked if he could join a flag football league organized through the city’s rec department. We agreed that it was a good way for him to try the sport while not risking a traumatic head injury so we signed him up. The teams were well organized, the coach was super nice, and Henry really seemed to enjoy himself. I liked seeing him participate and try new things.

That’s how we added flag football to the schedule.

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When flag football wrapped up, I was looking forward to a long winter of sitting on my sofa in front of the fire not having to drive anyone anywhere. Then, Henry asked if he could try basketball. I explained that I felt like we had already sported so much and basketball overlapped a little with flag football and are you SURE you’re up for that commitment and it gets dark at, like, 4:30 in the afternoon now and there are so many good things on Netflix have you seen all of the good things on Netflix and even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I could see my future and it did not involve my sofa.

That’s how we added basketball to the flag football.

Charlie wanted to participate in flag football this past fall because Henry wanted to participate in flag football this past fall. Why not, we thought. In for a penny, in for a pound! Charlie doesn’t share Henry’s passion for the more technical aspects of the game though and was mostly in it for the shenanigans. Namely, chasing the other players around on the field without grabbing anyone’s flag. Which, as Charlie’s coach was apt to point out, WAS NOT THE POINT OF THE GAME, CHARLIE.

Shortly after Charlie’s stint as troublemaking team member began, it became clear that sports was maybe not the right match for his skill set. Around that same time, Charlie found out that a bunch of his buddies were in Cub Scouts. Much like tackle football, we had some reservations. But, since Charlie basically spends all of his free time each weekend hiking, fishing, hunting, and carving those statues of bears out of tree trunks with a chainsaw in the garage, we thought, hmmm, some sort of outdoor-centric club might be just the ticket for this kid.

That’s how we added Cub Scouts to the basketball and to the flag football.

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Millie had talked about taking gymnastics classes with enthusiasm for awhile but we had always discouraged her from pursuing her dreams because it seemed like it would really add to our workload. I mean, at this point, we had gone from zero (0) activities to four (4) activities. Where would this fresh hell fit in? When we discovered her in the basement one afternoon, constructing her own balance beam out of half-empty paint cans and a discarded two by four, we decided we had better enroll her in some sort of tumbling program. We can still really play up her hardscrabble beginning with the paint cans though when she films her Olympic team intro video.

That’s how we added gymnastics to the Cub Scouts and to the basketball and to the flag football.

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I feel like I haven’t sat down since September. Unless you count sitting in my minivan as sitting. Then, I’ve sat a lot since September. In my minivan. While I wait for my kids to do their things. I wrote this entire essay on my laptop from the confines of the driver’s seat of my Honda Odyssey. I basically live here now. I’ve got blankets and canned goods and extra power ports. I just drive from one parking lot to another. If the weather were nicer, I’d set one of those pop-up canopies down and chat with other parents who are also waiting aimlessly in parking lots.

In fact, I had to drive Henry to a neighboring town for a practice this week and my friend happens to live close by and I thought to myself, I should tell my friend to meet me in the parking lot, where I’m sitting in my minivan and we could catch up. She also has three kids in activities and even though I bet you’re thinking it would be weird to hang out with your friend in their minivan, she would absolutely not think it was weird. She gets it. I was disappointed when I hadn’t thought to bring a little wine or maybe some snack cheese.

I suggested to Bob that we get one of those gas tanks installed on our property – like the ones they have on farms – so we don’t have to worry about where and when to fill up our car’s constantly empty tank but he didn’t think that was a wise use of money. Whatever. That idea has legs for sure.

I have no succinct way to wrap this up other than Henry is done with practice in about ten minutes and then I have to drive my minivan home and look longingly at my sofa on my way to bed. If you need me for any reason in the coming months, just come find my minivan. Basketball is done in February – I think.

Wait, what comes after basketball season?