Five years ago when Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics we were having unseasonably warm weather that precipitated trucking in snow to stage the games. I didn’t need a groundhog meteorologist to predict what the budding crocuses have already told me. Spring is not only getting closer but by the temperature it’s pretty much here now. I don’t ever recall seeing the local ski hills being closer so early as they usually enjoy skiing into April. It’s just been that warm. Five degrees cooler and all the rain we’ve recently had would have assured them a great season but blame el-Niño again.
It was during this warm spell that challenged me as a father like never before. JoAnn was flying east to see family for a long weekend and it was going to be my responsibility to keep our girls alive for four full days. This also included the dreaded morning drop offs at school and the staggered afternoon pick-ups. This had me especially concerned because even though I hear her leaving and arriving home from my office everyday, I really didn’t know what time she was actually picking anyone up. She can tell me, sure but how long does it take to get across town mid day to get Dani at Preschool. I would actually be working so my hope was to leave at the last possible minute to maximize my workday. It’s possibly a bit sad that a dad that works from home hasn’t once picked his kids up from school and it’s February already. It’s just how the week seems to play out since most afternoons after school JoAnn has them off to Piano or dance or some activity she’s arranged with another mom. In the end I thought about just taking them to a local hotel for the weekend but decided I could handle this.
To catch her plane she was out of the house by 4 AM but I still got up to see her off, mostly hoping she was just playing me with this notion of leaving me and was really staying home. She was not and I soon crawled back into bed for a few more hours. She told me what time the girls normally get up, or what time their alarms would go off had any of them been set the night before, which of course they were not. I’d not set my own alarm in over a year and refuse to even set the time as it usually means we have a power outage within a few days so my clock blinks 12:00 most of the time. Morning came and I hit snooze, I hit snooze again and then one more time because I was so comfy. I mean I did get up at 3:30 to see off JoAnn. Alas by the time I figured out their alarms were of no use we were already behind the schedule that the girls usually follow. Everyday it’s a struggle to get them out the door on time and I’ve now just shortened my working time by 20 minutes.
From what they’ve all told me I was a bit harsher then mom in my wake up technique. Well I had no time to be sweet the clock was ticking loudly. I had to forfeit any thought of a shower and just go with coffee to get me through. My normal day generally starts around 7:15 to 7:30 depending when the screaming starts between whichever girl is most pissed off at their mother. Today I was first up and had the rest of them up in record time. Breakfast was fast (jut sugary sweet cereal) so now it was just getting them dressed. This too is pretty much automatic since they already picked out their cloths the night before but you do need to poke them to make it happen. Hair was the last huddle and probably my biggest fear. JoAnn is so anal about head lice she always has their hair up or in a braid. I didn’t know how to do either so it was off centre ponytails for all. I hustled them all down to my van, which was a treat for the girls as they always like to go in my car but being outside of their ordinary routine seemed to slow things down. Much to my surprise we made it to school earlier then the girls arrive normally. Since I didn’t know where everyone’s class was Dani walked me through the halls to show me so I could wish them all a good day. She may only be four but she’s made this trek every school day this year so she knows where she’s going. It still felt a bit odd taking direction from a four year old. We made it to her pre-school across town in plenty of time and by the time I got back home I was actually starting work about the same time I normally would though I felt considerably more beat then I usually do at this time of day. I got everyone picked up and even texted a photo of the girls to their mother just to prove I pulled it off. Now I just had a three day long weekend to keep them entertained and alive. How hard could that be?
I like to consider myself a fairly involved parent. I do more then just work to make the money to keep everyone feed and cozy. I will get in the trenches with no qualms. I’m balancing my level of involvement as a parent against myown fathers so if I grunt more then two words to each of them in a day I’m up for father of the year. We made it through that first day and I was never so happy to see them all tucked into bed. On most evenings this is when the volume on the TV goes down about 10 points and we as a couple can enjoy a show or two we recorded. When I say we enjoy, I mean I’ll watch while JoAnn naps through most of the episode but after today I see why. On a normal night I’m there to run interference. After dinner we’ll do the dishes together then she takes the young ones up for a bath and I can push the older girls to play piano or do homework. When you’re on your own you have to hope they’re doing what you asked when you head up to bath their sisters. I made dinner exceptionally early so we could have a movie night. When you have to prepare the meal, serve it and clean up on your own you realize there is a lot more too it. I still have 9 more meal times to get through. I’m basically a cook on the weekend sort of dad or through the week if it’s helpful but JoAnn rarely lets me through the week as I start messing with her grand plan. This weekend it was baptism by fire, I had to show up for every meal. Heck every snack, tear, tantrum, bedtime or late night scare that required a cuddle. There was no hand off, no rolling over in bed hoping the wife would answer the wailing call of one of our children.
On the second night Dani decided it she was all in on the concept of making me put her back to bed as often as possible. It took the better part of an hour to watch the first 20 minutes of the movie I started. After chasing her back upstairs countless times I ended up just scrapping the idea and went to bed to watch TV so she could then join me and pass out. Once she was asleep I put her back in her bed. And I did it three more times at 2: 18, 3:20 and finally at 4:58.
Other then the fact we had miserable weather and my boomerang girl kept me up most of the night I think over all it went very well. We did make it through with minimal flare-ups. I also put dessert out there as a carrot every night to keep the wheels greased so I got the things I wanted from them done. No one said you couldn’t bribe your own kids with sweets. It’s just creepy when it’s not your own children.
As I tucked them on the last night knowing their mother would soon be home from the airport I put my feet up and had a beer. I had accomplished something but I won’t say it was easy. It was not only a lot of work it was a lot of pressure and in the end I got a hug at bedtime. Seems like a lot for something I can ask for anytime but it really was an eye opener. I know I don’t help as often as I could and I’m going to be a bit more conscious of that now. I already know my wife is a super hero rock star. The only thing missing is her cape but I wonder how other single parents do this. When there is no option but to push on, work all day, look after your kids with no spouse to ever tag you out. I honestly never really gave the single parent a lot of thought but they were on my mind now. How do they do it? I can’t actually imagine how difficult it must be to balance it all with no one else living in the same house to support you. Most people don’t choose to become single parents, it’s thrust upon them by outside influences and though I know my team mate will soon be back but I’ve got to give to those that call what I just went through over one long weekend, their life. I just couldn’t imagine it. I’ve had nightmares about JoAnn having a horrific accident and I’d be lying if I weren’t a bit worried with her flying across the country and back. I don’t dwell on the negative but worst case scenarios always pop into my mind and her not returning from this trip fits that bill. Let’s be serious she has a far higher chance of getting hit by a car here in our own neighborhood then she ever does of being in a plane crash but it’s that sort of news worthy accident that few people ever walk away from that instill fear into us. We should all be more worried about going to the corner store for milk but if we did that we’d never leave the house. Most of my near misses have all been within 10 km of our home and JoAnn got rear-ended just two years ago with in that same distance. She’s actually safer in the air then we are at home but I still wasn’t going to relax till I heard the garage door opener grinding.
The key take-away for me this weekend was that I could actually do this on my own (for a short period anyway). I always thought I could as I’ve been watching and absorbing what my wife does for the girls but watching and doing are very different. I’m sure the girls are also much more then happy to get things back to normal with mom at the helm. The next time I meet a single parent I’m not sure what I might say but I may just ask them exactly how do they cope? I thought my wife was a super star but these people clearly are working on a different level then the rest of us. Hat’s off!