Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why am I a better parent when my kids are asleep?

For the past few months I have been leading a fairly erratic double life of substitute teacher by day, dance studio employee by night. (No, I don’t dance. I’m not nearly that cool.)  And lately I miss the days when my husband was at work until 7 or 8 and I was home with the kids, making fish sticks, hearing about handball bullies at school, drawing the lollipop card in Candy Land.

Until the occasional nights when I am actually home doing those things.

I know I should be pleased that the no-homework policy at my son’s school affords us more quality family time. But let’s face it: we don’t play chess, and Jack just got a new IPod Touch for which we can’t seem to hammer out acceptable terms. So family time derails quickly into the familiar:  
“Five more minutes?” 
“No, now."
 “But I’m almost done with this level.” 
“Turn it off now.” 
 We can go for hours on that conversation alone.  So much for quality.

Or there’s my four-year-old daughter whose new favorite game is Neighbor Picnic. Emma spreads a blanket, takes out every pink plastic spoon, fork and dish from her picnic arsenal, and we begin the game on her signal. 

First we double-kiss, Real Housewives style, and she offers me lobster, cookies and miso soup. Sometimes she brings her baby, Sparkle Starfish, for me to rock to sleep while we talk about her job at the pickle factory. I know what you’re thinking. And yes, the first 600 times we played it was super cute. But now, a few rounds of neighbor picnic and I start drumming up excuses to check my computer every 12 seconds, for example, to see if it’s going to rain. You know, in case we’re planning a picnic. She nods knowingly and I feel like a jerk.

Then it’s 14 reminders to brush teeth, and, no you can’t wear your toy pumps and angel wings to bed,  who taught you the word idiot, Halloween is O-V-E-R, don’t point the nerf gun at your sister, and my favorite, this apartment is TOO SMALL for Baby Knight (suffice to say that Baby Knight involves hiding, chasing, lunging  squealing, and eventually tears.)  By lights out (although they fall asleep with the lights on) I’m literally giddy. I know, I suck, but I’m giddy. For about five solid minutes.

Don’t know if it’s all that rich lobster or the emotional toll of being outwitted by angry birds at every obstacle, but these kids crash hard and fast. All’s quiet on the western front and in all that silence I miss them. Every night I come back in the room to shut off the light and watch them sleep. Wait on the edge of the bed for one of those tiny sleep sighs to escape in the darkness. Then I think if I had five more minutes I’d happily read one more book. Go over that student council speech one more time. Join forces with Baby Knight, pick up a nerf gun and fire away at invading dragons. Because tomorrow night I’ll be back at the dance studio. Shortly after that, they’ll be off on real picnics. And they won’t invite me to tag along.  

Someday I’ll learn.

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