The day started off promising enough. I’d just risen from my bed without disturbing the dog, my children, or my wife, a feat that earned me a few minutes of solitude before the day’s chaos began. There, in the pre-dawn silence I tip-toed into the shower, a smile slipping over my face as the hot water rained down.
And then, without warning, my privacy was interrupted by a New Orleans-style brass band parading through the bathroom, complete with tubas, trombones, and a drumline. By which I mean my young children and dog had apparently woken, ignoring every other square inch of our home and opting to take their shouting (and barking) to the bathroom.
“Somebody’s in here!” I hollered from behind the shower curtain.
“It’s OK,” my 4-year-old called, “you’re not bothering us.”
As the children fought over toothbrushes with the ferocity of rival street gangs, I reached for my towel and excused myself without even attempting to broker the peace. Doing so would require diplomatic skills I simply did not possess – at least not while wrapped in a towel without so much as a sip of caffeine.
This bathroom-barging soon became our morning ritual. There was always some battle worth fighting, my children decided, and there was no better battleground than the bathroom – preferably when I was in it. Thankfully, the shower noise generally overpowered my screams, though surely my frustration was palpable.
“Is it asking too much,” I wondered, “for a moment’s peace of mind?”
The alternative, I knew, was one’s mind going to pieces – a situation that seemed more and more likely with each passing day.
When the shower failed to serve as a refuge, I sought asylum in less conspicuous places inside our home. Surely there must be a coffin-sized crawlspace somewhere, I reasoned, or a bit of room behind the water heater.
Meanwhile, my wife retreated to the running trails alongside our home. Within a year of our second child’s birth she’d become a marathon runner – 26.2 miles was nothing compared to putting up with us.
Through all this hectic mayhem, the veteran parents – whose children had long ago flown the coop – often reminded us to cherish these “precious moments” while we could. “It’s all over in the blink of an eye,” they chided. I didn’t doubt them, but I wondered, too, if those veterans remembered what it was like to spend years of one’s life never being alone. If they’d agree that not every moment was as “precious” as they remembered, and that the “blink of an eye” seems pretty darn long when you’re living it. For me, this is the most difficult philosophical dilemma of parenthood: making a sincere effort to embrace the chaos when some days I’m just a click away from a one-way ticket to Tahiti.
While I know those veteran parents are offering me sound advice, in my more sleep-deprived moments, I can’t help but wonder if their rose-colored glasses are on a little too tight. Make no mistake, I don’t begrudge them their prophecies. And when they get that faraway look in their eyes and tell me how “the days are long but the years are short,” I know there’re speaking truth. I know, too, that one day I’ll become afflicted with that same faraway look, and I’ll parrot the same advice. This is the cautionary tale all veteran parents must preach: a reminder to the new recruits that our time together is short. And a reminder, too, that every diaper we change leads us one diaper closer to the last one; that there’s always a day when the soccer games run out and the dance recitals come to a standstill. Inevitably, there will come a night when nobody requires a story before bed. With each passing day, that inevitably creeps closer. Some nights my children close their doors and tell me they need their “privacy.” Their request is ripe for revenge – a perfect opportunity to burst in with a tuba in tow. But I don’t. Not ever. Instead, I scratch my head and wonder what in the world we are to do with ourselves when we’re no longer constantly needed.
What’s a shower, after all, without someone tossing your keys in the toilet?
I write this now from the bowels of my basement. Overheard, I hear the pitter patter of small feet. From what I can glean, somebody has apparently stolen somebody’s maraca. And somebody else believes that maraca is rightfully hers. Fighting ensues, followed by crying, and then some unexpected laughter. Suddenly, I hear the sound of two maracas, some off-key singing, and a yowling dog to boot. Here in this basement, it might as well be the tabernacle choir.
“What’s going on up there?” I holler.
My children ignore me.
Which is all the invitation I need to close the computer, barge into their band, and start beating the bongos as if all our lives depend upon it.
This essay was previously published in Brain, Child.