Two Hours with the Kids

by Site Author

To come home to young kids after a busy day at the office is to face a mixture of refuge and persecution. On the one hand, you—with your drooping eyelids and sore neck and keyboard-driven carpal-tunnel problem—are made to drop the burdens you’ve been carrying all day and devote yourself entirely and fully to your eldest daughter’s desire to have dessert before dinner. You are made to endure a lengthy argument consisting mainly of her shouting “I want the cupcake!” over and over. Meanwhile, the younger one, whom you have been ignoring, has pooped into her diaper and is currently trying to eat an ottoman. On the other hand, on some days the two kids will cheer as soon as you arrive and will rush to hug you. You never know what’s in store.

There are, after all, two sides to being a parent—it’s “all joy and no fun.” You have to remember that when you approach those hours between relieving the nanny and goading, forcing, cajoling, and inducing the kids to go to sleep.

My wife and I have a deal that we have stuck to since the oldest was born four years ago. I get to go to work early in the mornings, but then I come home early to relieve the nanny. The deal has given me what I most need to get good work done: mornings in my office without having burned up all my brain power on the herculean task of getting the four-year-old to eat breakfast. In exchange, though, I face two hours each evening that stretch from the time I arrive home and the nanny, much relieved, rushes out, to when my wife comes home and we put the kids to bed together. It’s two hours in stopwatch time, but seven hours in tantrum time.

In those two hours I do a whole lot of parenting. I have to persuade the older one not to give herself a manicure with a blue marker whose ink, it turns out, is not washable. (“Markers are for paper—not our skin!”) I build pillow forts out of our gray, L-shaped couch. (The older one calls the forts cottages, and asks for a bowl of cottage cheese, which she likes to spread across the couch’s pillows.) I cook dinner, and coach both daughters through the trauma that is eating when you are under five. I carefully wipe those dinners off of the one-year-old’s person. I arrange FaceTime calls with the girls’ grandparents, who very much enjoy chatting with the kids when they don’t have to clean up after them.

When it’s gotten a bit too much, occasionally I’ve resorted to handing the four-year-old an iPad—an action that teaches me how primatologists feel when they tranquilize a great ape. One way or another, I hold on and make it to the moment, much anticipated, when my wife arrives home and bath time begins.

I realize that there will come a time when the two girls will be angry teenagers, entirely uninterested in spending time with me. Eventually, they’ll move out of the house entirely. These two hours, now so frantic, will become dull. And one day, I will look back on this time and remember it much differently than how it feels now.

But until then, I must remain vigilant, snatching away uncapped markers from the one-year-old while cleaning out the humus that she has spread on her forehead. I must do this quickly, so that the four-year-old does not begin to think that I am ignoring her (which can trigger tantrums) and before the one-year-old wises up and realizes that she, too, can throw tantrums.