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Having one kid is like standing in front of a mirror. You see yourself the way you’re used to seeing yourself. It’s not perfect, but it’s a close approximation to what you think you look like. Having 2 is like being in a dressing room with one in front, and one more on each side. Not really what you thought you looked like. Hunched shoulders, unforgiving hairline, and you’re suddenly looking a little larger than you remember. I can only guess 3 or more kids is like standing in the mirror room of a fun house.
Sticking with the 3 mirror scenario for a minute: with 2 little ones, an infant and a 2-year-old son, I can see for the first time what my job as parent has become. I’m a time keeper.
“Daddy, why are we walking so fast?”
“Because we should have left the park 5 minutes ago when I said we would and now your baby sister is screaming her brains out because she’s been in her carrier too long.”
“Daddy, why you mad?”
“Because I couldn’t get us out of the house fast enough to get back in time for your baby sister to eat.”
We’ve been talking about opposites lately, my son and I. “What’s the opposite of someone who is a living, breathing clock, my guy?”
“A kid!” I imagine him exclaiming then scratching this post for me in crayon and construction paper so I can do something I actually want to do with my time, besides record what I’ve been thinking needs remembering before I have no sense of what this blur in my life was about.
Serendipity is the agent of fun. Whim its muse. What could be a bigger enemy of fun than a timesheet?
See, a kid has a job too. It’s to squeeze every last drop of fun out of any situation. If it’s not fun, what’s the point? Serendipity is the agent of fun. Whim its muse. What could be a bigger enemy of fun than a timesheet? It’s true. Parents today are encouraged to create a schedule, a routine, and stick to it. The 10 percent of me that thinks of himself as iconoclastic creates wiggle room for fun and free play and exploration enough that I am impressed that I can keep the trains running at all. I can even pull a dad trick or 2 and create farce out of the ordinary.
Three things I did just in the last hour (that took energy and made me more tired): I argued with my son who likes 10-foot high slides that a 3-foot slide was enormous. He found this ridiculous and thus hilarious. I grabbed a pot behind our kitchen island by miming walking down an imaginary set of stairs. He laughed so hard he asked me to do it 5 times. Try it, your back will hurt too. I put a stuffed animal on my head and pretended it wasn’t there.
“What’s it doing up there?”
“What are you talking about? There’s nothing on my head…”
Fun stuff for sure for a little guy, but this doesn’t change the truth.
In the end, I’m going to disappoint my son. I’m going to kill the fun. Every time. We still leave the park before he wants. We still change his diaper when he doesn’t want to; me clenching my jaw and blowing fire from my eyes when 3 minutes before the massive poopsplosion could have been avoided when I prompted him to go poo-poo in the potty. I’m still going to end his dinner after he lazily munches away at it for an hour. I’ll still turn the screens off long before his heart is content.
This little crumb is the one I want to leave behind here: we’re going to fail this age group. We’ll do it despite our best efforts at giving them the room and time for fun and creating fun where there wasn’t any. I’d love to tell myself there’s a chance he’ll remember the effort I put into being goofy and fun in-the-moment in spite of the overall fun-killing posture. Based on his frequent bouts of outrage and sideways scowls of indignity, however, I know the truth. I killed the fun.
Along with being a fun-killer, Justin Stone is a writer.