We have a birthday party at 2 p.m. on Saturday, so I start the process of getting my kids out the door on Thursday afternoon. In my earlier days of parenting, when they were just unprotesting blobs, I would have just grabbed the kids and run. But as a more experienced parent, I have developed an intricate system of bargaining, cajoling, demanding and begging that should move them the 50 feet from the couch to the car.
“Alright, everyone, we’re going to the car in five minutes,” I announce, as though my children can tell time.
My son insists on wearing the stylish firetruck shirt and peanut-butter-stained sweatpants he’s worn for the last five days, so he just needs shoes and socks. But my daughter demands a last-minute wardrobe change into a “Happy Halloween” shirt, to celebrate the fact that it’s now February. And she still needs to decide between wearing flip flops or snow boots, or maybe one of each.
After fighting valiantly against the shoes and socks, my son demands that he really, really needs to take a penny to the party, but not this penny in my pocket, and absolutely not that one on the floor, and not any of the pennies in his piggy bank, but actually that very specific penny that we left at the playground three days ago.
As we search frantically for a suitable replacement, my daughter asks, “Can I just finish the last few pages of this Junie B. Jones book?” Well played, daughter, well played. If I say no, I will stunt her love of reading forever, and she’ll never get into Harvard.
“Only read for five more minutes,” I say, convincing exactly no one, least of all myself.
My son marches around, somehow completely naked now, banging a pot with another, larger pot and making up a song featuring the chorus “Butt butt booty butt.” Like all children’s songs, it’s both impossibly grating and impossibly catchy. I start humming it while we get him dressed again.
Outside, the great wide world continues. New shoots sprout from the soil. Caterpillars become butterflies. The moon waxes and wanes. Couples fall in and out of love. Lindsay Lohan becomes relevant again.
But at the house, my daughter decides that she absolutely, positively must wear her fanciest Christmas dress, and can I get it down from her closet right now, please?
“Sure, but get dressed in five minutes,” I say, desperately channeling the tone of someone competent and confident — like General Douglas MacArthur, or my wife.
Somehow, my son is naked again, and he and the dog have both peed on the floor in a competition for kitchen dominance.
Somehow, my son is naked again, and he and the dog have both peed on the floor in a competition for kitchen dominance. As I clean up, I say, “Alright, we’re getting in the car in five minutes,” in an authoritative voice that my kids totally ignore.
While wrangling my 3-year-old into clothes, I receive 2,369 work emails. I miss all 127 Democratic primary debates, though I bet that Oprah does really well. “The X-Files” releases another reboot, which reveals that Mulder and Scully were aliens the whole time. Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Lethem and Jonathan Safran Foer all release acclaimed novels, and everyone reads them but me. I’m too busy adjudicating an argument over which child gets to hold a Sophie la girafe toy that neither has touched in years.
Then, because my children wail that they will definitely starve to death if we leave without a snack, I give them some fruit and wait for the length of the Watergate hearings while they contemplate eating a single grape.
The boy whose party we planned to attend has become a grown man now, with kids and regrets of his own. He sometimes wonders how his life would be different if he had received a Paw Patrol Rubble's Ultimate Rescue Bulldozer With Moving Scoop and Lift-up Dump Bed, for Ages 3 and Up. My wife had beautifully wrapped that very gift, but while I was looking for their jackets, my children tore through the present like hyenas dismembering a zebra carcass.
Like Lot’s wife, I avoid looking back, lest I prompt the children to return for something vitally important, like those three red Uno cards that my son loves to carry around.
No time to worry about the present now as I finally rush the children out the door. The sunlight burns our eyes, so long have we lingered inside. I prod the children to the car. Like Lot’s wife, I avoid looking back, lest I prompt the children to return for something vitally important, like those three red Uno cards that my son loves to carry around. My daughter won’t get in the car until she demonstrates several cartwheels. My son insists on climbing into the car seat himself. I watch. Glaciers recede. Empires rise and fall. Animal remains become petroleum.
But we finally load into the car. As we drive, my wife, who has finished running errands, calls to check in. “I think we’re going to make it to the birthday party on time!” I tell her, proudly.
“The birthday party? That’s tomorrow.”