The Bitter And The Sweet
Having your days revolve around potential human beings significantly younger than you are can make for some difficult dilemmas.
For instance, if it comes down to a choice between baking chocolate chip cookies and going to the dry cleaners, which one are you going to choose? Most dads new to the stay-at-home-dad game are likely to choose baking the chocolate chip cookies.
Provided, of course, the idea of chocolate chip cookies coming out of the oven rather than from the grocery store actually occurs to them. I know it didn’t occur to me for a long, long time.
Still, that’s the rookie’s choice. That’s the choice made by someone who’s really only a potential stay-at-home dude, who hasn’t yet mastered the art of being around kids all day without becoming one himself. Which isn’t as easy as it sounds.
But the thing of it is, there are some things you’ve got to do and they take precedence over the things you only want to do. So the correct answer to the question posed above is, dry cleaners in a big hurry and then break out the premixed cookie dough and turn on the oven.
Learning to make those kinds of decisions is one of the most important lessons you’ll teach yourself as a stay-at-home dude. It’s also one of the hardest. Because when you’re around kids all day, you begin to see things through their eyes. You begin to lose your ability to delay gratification for more than a minute or two at most because you waaaaaa-aaaaannn—ttttt it sooooo baaa-aaadddd.
For years (stick with me here as I do have something to connect this next bit with the previous bit), my grandfather had a place at Crescent Beach in Florida where we’d go as often as possible. Living next door to my grandparents was a retired gentleman named Milton. Now, Milton was a bit younger than my grandfather and, thus, more mobile. He loved to go out seine fishing in the ocean.
The way seine fishing works is with a net. You get one person on shore holding a large pole to which is attached a long net. You get a second person deep in the water holding a similar pole attached to the far end of the net. The person on shore stands still and keeps the net anchored. The person in the ocean gets to go as deep as possible and drag the net along the bottom, against the current, as quickly as possible.
Eventually, the person in the ocean would get back on the beach. Then the two seine fishers would drag the net out of the water and they could inspect their catch. I also loved to seine fish because I could catch a lot of delicious fish rather quickly. Well, I loved to do it the first couple of times. And then I realized that I would always be the person working the net against the current will in the ocean.
I asked Milton why this was the case and he just smiled. He said there are two ends. The bitter and the sweet. The sweet gets to stand still and not work as hard. The bitter end is just what it sounds like. He would always get the sweet end because he’d been around longer, had learned from all the bitter ends he’d had to gnaw on during his life and, mostly, because he was the adult, I was the kid and he owned the seine net. So there.
If I wanted to eat the delicious (and sometimes surprising [as when we captured a skate we didn’t know was an electric skate until I touched it. Twice.] fish), I’d have to suffer through the bitter end. All the way to the bitter end.
I had to do something boring and difficult before I could do something I enjoyed.
Much like what we try to teach our spawn every day. We want them to understand on an instinctive level that life isn’t about always having fun. Sometimes you have to work before you can have the fun. Sometimes you have to endure the bitter before you can enjoy the sweet.
It was hard, though. Darn hard. When I first set out to run a household and rear three male spawn, I thought it was going to be all fun and games. All naps and snacks and movies during the day and TV and football and soccer in the front yard. And I’d get a chance to do the boring, but necessary, stuff later.
Life, as my wife (known to me as She Who Must Be Fed Good Food More Than Only On Occasion) would eventually teach me, doesn’t work like that. Even when you’re around kids all the time.
We parents have to learn to say no. No to the action figure they want to buy even if it is really sweet and has a tiny Silver Surfer in a clear lucite ball to fit into the hand of that giant Galactus. No to five more minutes goofing off in the yard when there’s cooking to be done. No, in other words, to the sweet until the bitter gets done.
These days, my wife (known to me as She Who Must Be Placated Every Once In A While) will look at our youngest spawn and ask, “How can you say no to that cute, little face?”
And Hyper Lad will make with the puppy dog eyes, certain he’s about to get what he wants.
“It’s easy,” I will tell her. “Practice.”
I’ll turn to Hyper Lad just in time to watch his little look of delightful anticipation crumble into the certainty of knowing the bitter end is coming much sooner than he’d hoped.
“No,” I’ll say to Hyper Lad before turning back. “See? It’s easy. Once you get the hang of it.”
It’s a tough lesson, but one we have to practice until we understand it and live it ourselves. After all, if we don’t want to be doing laundry for our grown spawn for the rest of our lives (just a for instance), we’ve got to make sure they know how to do it themselves.