When my wife’s cancer diagnosis was in, and a treatment plan was put into place, I knew that some things were going to have to change. I was going to have to step up, and take on more responsibility in home life, especially as it pertained to our son.
Of course, knowing you have to do something and actually doing it are two entirely different things.
My wife had always provided the structure for our child. She was the one unafraid to use that two-letter word, “no.” She took him to school and picked him up. She made sure homework (yes, even 6-year-olds have homework now) was done, permission slips were signed, lunch was packed and materials for any projects were provided. She made sure he got to soccer, basketball and all of his other activities.
I, on the other hand, got to play the role of fun dad. My only duties were to show up at extracurricular activities, handle the evening’s hygiene regimen and read a bedtime story. I got to walk through the door after work toting Legos or Beyblades (may your child never get into that) or Iron Man action figures.
All of that has been turned on its head.
I get up a little after 6 a.m. to start getting the kid ready for school. One night I went to bed at 11 p.m. — my usual time to retire before all this started — instead of 10 p.m. The next morning, I regretted it terribly. Why was I so tired? Had I been uprooting trees by hand the day before? Why did I stay up an extra hour?
“Can’t do that,” my wife said, with a broad smile that told me she was enjoying this little experiment entirely too much.
We’ve always been thankful that our child is a sound sleeper. The other side of that coin, though, is that he’s not one to hop out of bed, dress himself and throw up jazz hands declaring he’s ready for the day.
I’m not sure who taught this kid passive resistance techniques. For a wiry bean pole, he sure can turn himself into dead weight with the skill of someone much his senior who has been hauled out of many a GOP senate office. I’m not sure why, but it’s way harder to get clothes on someone who refuses to move at all than someone who is thrashing about.
It’s also difficult to get him to understand the relevance of time as it pertains to the school day or anyone else’s schedule. “Bud, we really have to get going,” imparts no sense of urgency, especially when you’ve been the fun parent for most of the kid’s life.
The actual hard part for me, though, is making sure he has everything for a particular day and remembering where he has to be and when. I’ve had trouble with that my entire life, and now, suddenly, I have to figure it out for someone else? I forgot to pack a juice box two days in a row. He let the first one slide, but by the second day I got the “Dad, you’re doing it wrong” talk, which was delivered with surprising patience and understanding.
I’m good at making sure he plays well with others, that he knows to treat other people kindly and with respect and that he realizes he can’t watch TV with his eyeballs half an inch from the screen — you know, big picture “I can’t believe I’m sounding like my parents” stuff.
Turns out, that’s easy. It’s the “please recognize that I still love you even though I’m speaking in brusque tones and hauling you over my shoulder to get you to the car” moments that are difficult.
My respect for my wife, which I’d like to think was fairly high before all of this happened, has tripled. And if she gets a kick out of my shoe-on-the-other-foot situation, that is fine. She deserves it. It’s always satisfying when someone else suddenly appreciates everything you’ve done as routine for years. If I can hack it, maybe she can even de-stress a little, safe in the knowledge that I’m not going to accidentally take the kid to an abandoned warehouse instead of the soccer field. So far, so good. Now, where did I put that thermos?