Parenthood vs. employeedom

Birds were chirping, sun was shining. and the dog was asleep at my feet. I was approving contracts, serving customers, troubleshooting a new product feature and running reports. I was a mutli-tasking Grand Master yesterday. Nothing was getting in my way.

Except that I forgot to pick up my son at camp.

You would think that more than a month into the summer routine, I’d have this work-from-home/parent-as-chauffeur hybrid role down to a science. In prior weeks, I had set specific appointments in my work calendar, blocking out a half-hour window on the days that my wife works away from home so that I would not schedule anything to conflict with our youngest son’s camp pickup needs. I even set 5-minute popup reminders, so if I were distracted by a spreadsheet or a phone call, I still could not fail.

It was a system that worked to perfection for street hockey camp three weeks ago, soccer camp two weeks ago and basketball camp last week.

But the system only works when you employ it. For whatever reason, I did not set the appointments this week for baseball camp.

While yesterday was an especially productive and efficient Monday morning at the home office (boss is on vacation, so no conference calls to disrupt the rhythm), I failed at being Dad, my most important job. What’s worse is I did not even realize until I was already 20 minutes late.

The phone rang, and I did not recognize the number on the caller ID. I figured it was a customer service call. I answered in my most professional voice.

“Mr. Polay?” the caller asked

“Yes?”

“I’m calling from the Bourne Braves camp….”

O. M. G. Red alert! Red alert! Commence blathering!

“I am so sorry….”

In the end, my bacon was saved by a mom who was headed our way from the camp and was happy to drop our son off at the house en route. Still, my Father of the Year nomination is likely being shelved.

It is the blessing and the curse of working from home. You try hard to be a good employee. You try even harder to be a good father. Sometimes, though, you fail at one or the other — or both.

Today is a new day, and a fresh chance to redeem myself. I’ll start with putting the camp appointments on my calendar.

Don’t make me stop this beat. I’ll pull this beat right over.

This 6-month-old video has likely made a few rounds through parental bloggers and other memes, but The Parent Rap from bluefish.tv appeared on my radar via Facebook on Saturday night. I have watched it at least a half dozen times since.

Look for these Commuterdaddy-ish moments:

  • “Got my second seat belt if we crash head on.”
  • “Traded in his Porsche for an old sedan.”
  • “Wrestle car seats into place without spilling my mug.”
  • “I’m off in the morning to make that cheese / You may not know yet that it doesn’t grow on trees.”

Conversations I have in my office that you don’t

Image

“Dad, we need some duct tape.”

“Why?”

“We’re making a spear.”

“Okaaaaaaaay,” I say warily. I fork over a roll of bright red duct tape while also eying the reed in Benjamin’s hand.

He walks out of the office, and I overhear him discussing next steps with his friend.

“We need some scissors.”

“I’ve got scissors,” I offer.

“Geez, Dad, you have everything.”

Indeed.

I hand over the scissors with this piece of advice: “Better take that project outside.”

As the screen door shuts I voice the next item on my mental checklist: “And don’t run with the scissors.”

Pause. That was a layup. Next item: “And don’t throw the spear at each other.”

“We won’t!” Benjamin and his friend answer in unison.

Pause. Next item: “Or the dog!”

At this point, I’ve crossed a line. Benjamin is indignant.

“Of course we won’t do that!”

Silly me.

Moments later, Benjamin returns. “Where’s the measuring tape?”

The good news? They are not on the Wii or other electronic devices. They are being creative, demonstrating their position atop the food chain by utilizing basic tools, opposable thumbs and problem solving.

They are also directly outside my office window, and there’s at least a half dozen unvoiced warnings on the tip of my tongue. I am keeping them to myself… for now. I am enjoying this reality program too much to spoil it with my influence.

Don’t tell mom

Versions of the fast-food scene and the one of the three kids eating giant sundaes in the back seat have certainly appeared in our family timeline. I’m not proud, but the kids providing a mouth-full mumble of “OK” cracks me up each time I watch this video.

With age comes weakness — and appreciation

Matt Wooodrum

Earlier this week, we were watching SportsCenter at the breakfast table — a morning routine staple this summer. Well, truth be told, I was watching. The kids were doing other things, waiting for Top 10 Plays to start.

Between highlights, they had an item that was labeled in the left rail of the screen as “Story of the Day” — or at least that’s how it looked without my glasses. It was a story about 11-year-old Matt Woodrum, who did not let his cerebral palsy stop him from competing with his classmates during field day events at his school.

Halfway through the story it became a little dusty around our breakfast table. Parents watching the video may experience the same effect:
Matt Woodrum, Run With Me

As it neared the end, our 11-year-old must have been watching the story while keeping an eye on me out of the corner of his eye.

“Dad, don’t cry!” he exclaimed.

“But it’s a sweet story,” I replied.

“Dad, you’re getting weaker as you get older,” was his immediate comeback.

I just smiled, doing my best to blink away my watery eyes. I simultaneously had these thoughts:

  1. He has no idea how lucky he is.
  2. I have a slightly better  idea how lucky we are, but still never completely acknowledge or fathom the enormity of that good fortune.

Stories like this — and the ESPN series of My Wish vignettes that they show over the summer — are a stark reminder of how blessed our family is. As we wind down the summer, and reflect back on all the petty sibling arguments that I often label as “suburban problems,” we need reminders from the experiences of Matt Woodrum and others that there are much bigger challenges out there.

A little dust at the breakfast table goes a long way toward putting things in perspective.

The original video showing the whole race:

Let your freak flag fly but hold the F-bombs

Mason, 11, asked me recently when he could start buying “explicit” songs, because he hates it when the clean versions cut out. He has no interest currently in using the language (he gets mad at any foul-mouthed classmates, teammates, or opponents). He just wants to hear the song as intended.

I was proud of his artistic integrity, though rendered speechless for a moment by the request. “Let me talk it over with your mother,” I eventually replied. Translation? “Time out!”

On one hand, I am the former lead singer of a rock band, for whom cussing was second nature. If I could sneak a syncopated swear into an angry song, it was cursing cordon cool. On the other hand, I am a prudish parent, who over the last few years has pruned the explicit tunes from his music collection so that there are no surprises when the MP3 players are on shuffle.

This happened at a recent cookout we attended. The well-intentioned hosts put their music collection on shuffle, and for the first few songs all was well. Then Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” entered the rotation, tearing the motherf***in’ roof off the family-friendly atmosphere. A mad parental scramble ensued to skip the iPod to the next tune.

I cast no stones at the curse-word glass house. I am not immune from inducing a wide-eyed, musical surprise now and then. I was driving Mason to basketball the other night, and he wanted some pre-game Maroon 5 to pump himself up. The first song was one from my cycling playlist: “Harder To Breathe.” Just before it launched into the chorus, Adam Levine reminded us we were not fit to f***in’ tread on the ground he was walking on.

It was indeed getting harder to breathe. I glanced sideways at Mason. His eyebrows were raised, with a slight smile curling from his lips. He sent a little nod in my direction, letting me know that he knew what was up.

He truly is a tween, striving to keep up with his older brother while still clutching his youthful innocence. He is the ultimate Peter Pan, declaring frequently that he will never move away from home. Yet he wants to soar among teenage eagles at the nearby basketball court whenever he sees a pickup game brewing. By our measure, he’s still in need of some shelter, but there’s only so much that we can provide for so long.

I’m still wrestling with his explicit request. He followed it up with an one-line email a few days later: “Can I get the explicit version of Castles by B.O.B.?” I’ve continued to stall, because he already bought the clean version, so it’s not about getting that particular song (though I’m not a fan of its drug references, regardless of language). I recognize that his real aim is to shed some shackles. The decision rests on whether we think he’s ready to be responsible with music that has more adult themes and language while continuing to refrain from course behavior himself.

I don’t want to stop Mason from ever swearing. A well-executed curse word can create just the right amount of shock, and/or emphasis in the right situation. I just want to prevent his younger brother, Benjamin, 7, from starting too soon. I had thought the parenting training wheels provided by Sam, our teenager, would better prepare us for how to handle these moments of independence exertion by either Mason or Ben. But the cascading education we had expected from raising three boys that are roughly the same years apart never has materialized. Every situation remains a new one, given their three very different personalities.

I want them to be free-spirited, of course. I want them to be brash in the right circumstances. I wish everyday they would be more expressive, conversant and mature. But I also want to preserve their innocence for as long as possible. There will be plenty of time for them to face the evils — benign and malignant — of the world. It need not start on their iPod.

Not to be rude, but no offense

It is not rude to deny entry to anyone without a key
Photo by Kate Tomlinson

Benjamin was firing up the Wii this morning, and “The Imperial March” was at a pretty high volume when “Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga” was ready for play.

“Where’s the remote?” he shouted.

“Next to the TV,” I replied from the kitchen.

“It’s too loud.” he said.

“…then you’re too old.” I added instinctively.

“I’m not old!” he shouted indignantly. “You’re old!”

Pause.

“No offense…” he added.

That addendum is commonplace in our house these days, though it’s usually said as a preface.

“No offense, Dad, but….” Even better is “I don’t mean to be rude, but….” There’s always a but.

The good news is they are trying to be polite and truthful — two behaviors we are working hard to promote. We are realizing, however, that those two altruisms may not always peacefully co-exist.

File under “Be careful what you wish for.”