For What It's Worth
I stage-whispered, “HEY!”
There was no response.
I whisper-shrieked, “HEY!”
A small head leaned into my room and said “Good morning!” sweetly and loudly.
I indicated her father, still sleeping and indicated my pillow, which still had my warm head-dent and said, “It is very early for adults. Please do not make noise and wake the pets. If you’re hungry, grab an apple and read quietly in your bedroom. If you let me sleep for another half-hour, I’ll…”
We both waited to see what I offered her. My brain, mulishly holding on to a REM cycle, offered up nothing. Daughter said in a hopeful tone, “…give me candy for breakfast?”
“No,” I said flatly. “But something nice will happen later.”
She accepted this and said, “Okay.” She then disappeared from the door. I slid gratefully back down into my pillow and tried to fall back asleep. I was just feeling the gentle somnambulent threads tugging me downward when someone said, “Hssst.” I opened one eye. There was a child in my doorway, holding a cat.
“May I have buttered toast?”
I had to stop and think. A year ago, the answer would have been an unequivocal “NO!”, but she had shown real care and responsibility with objects both sharp and hot lately. She wasn’t stove-ready yet, but she was toaster-ready. I allowed buttered toast with a regal wave of my hand. She disappeared and I shut my eyes.
This time, however, there was no sleep, because I heard a scraping sound in the kitchen. Why was there a scraping sound in my kitchen? It sounded like wood on wood. I kept my eyes shut, perversely pretending I was just about to drift back to sleep, but in reality my brain was racing. The kid was dragging a chair across the kitchen. Why was she dragging a chair across the kitchen? Oh crud, that’s right. The bread is on the top of the fridge. It lives there, along with the Kitchen-Aid and a coffee-pot because counter-space is rarer than titanium in this house. Since I can reach up there, I rarely think about it. Since she can’t reach up there, a chair was being dragged, which would probably only work if she decided to put it on three telephone books and then stand on her toes; the resulting trip to the ER would fill in the rest of Saturday. The noise had also awakened the dog, who was now whining to go out and pee and I could hear the cat stomping from my bedroom. Sighing, I got up.
I’m nearly a decade into parenting, if you factor in pregnancy (and I choose to, because I view pre-natal vitamins as the preparation for a lifetime of sacrifice). So it’s embarassing to admit what just occurred to me as I doled out food that morning to various mammals: parenting is the only job besides combat soldier where you wake up on the job. Sure, many occupations work punishing hours and many professionals have been known to sleep at the office on occasion, but no one has ever walked into their bedroom in the dark of night and demanded a position paper on tort reform.
As a parent, not only do you wake up on the job, you frequently wake up to information which would make a lesser person try to hide in the box with the ski-clothes. Which parent among us hasn’t awakened to the fact that: a) There’s a lot of vomit in the house, b) It’s someone else's vomit, and c) It’s your job to take care of both the vomit and the person who is currently generating more vomit.
And need it be said that a sleepless night or two with children hosting an especially energetic stomach virus – one that causes the washing-machine to actually die from overuse – should result in a little extra bonus in ones parenting paycheck? Of course, in the real world, the little extra bonus is the parent getting the stomach flu herself, which arrives the morning she signed up to chaperone the field-trip to a pig farm.
In her entire life, I’ve been away from my daughter less than six nights, total. That means I’ve spent nearly three-thousand days with her. Averaging that we’ve been in close proximity at least ten hours each day, that’s thirty-thousand hours. No wonder it feels like such a slog on some days. And no wonder I think most of the parenting I do is pretty average; that’s entirely too many hours to hope for greatness. Parenting experts use to talk about quality time; it seems I went for quantity. I recently estimated that if you divided the hours I’ve worked on the book against what I’ve been paid, I’d have earned more money per hour steaming cappucinos. In Ghana. This merely proves that I’m either doing this because I love writing or I have a terrible sense of personal economics. Candidly, I think it’s both. But I never doubt that the things which take up the most time in my life are those things which matter most to me, and I’m damn lucky that way.
The child ate her toast, grudgingly accepting some peanut butter. The dog ate, then went out to have a luxurious morning peeing and sunbathing in the back yard. The cat ate her breakfast and stalked off to Daughter’s bedroom to harrass some shoelaces. Consort stumbled out of the bedroom, blinking. He kissed us good-morning and asked me kindly, “You been up for a while?”
“Oh yeah,” I said, clutching my tea.
“You can go back to sleep, you know. I’ll take her this morning.”
I looked around at my family and said, “I’m good.”