Sunday, July 23, 2006

Vacation Update

This is a pain in the ass. My brand-new Dell laptop is on the fringe of a wifi signal, which (I can only guess) is apparently causing it to gain and lose its ‘net connection every minute or so… and it won’t stop beeping, even when I mute the speaker. Am I going to become a Mac apologist, after all these years? I can’t stand it. An operating system should be an operating system, nothing more: not a fetish, not a sports team, not a girlfriend whose ways you have to learn, for whom you make allowances because you love her. Look: I’m a pretty sophisticated user. Not a computer geek, but I was a math major; I’ve used computers since before they were even available to the hoi polloi, let alone since they became standard equipment for everyone on the planet; I’ve used computers every day of my working life for the past twelve years in a very technically demanding field – and if I can’t figure out how to make my computer stop beeping at me every ninety seconds… well, that’s not a mature technology, is all I’ll say.

So SW is teaching, her yearly two-week out-of-state gig, and this time we decided that while she was gone I should take the kids with me to visit my parents. They have a place in central Idaho, a couple of miles from a nice little resort town on a lake – you know, scenery, wild animals, pickup trucks, and a chance, on any given day, that it might, for some reason, snow. Or else there might be a forest fire.

Yesterday was day… what… eight? of my stint as a (very temporarily) single parent. A very privileged single parent, too, what with my mother being on hand every day I’ve been solo with the kids. And this I’ve learned… my wife is a genius. They say that a genius can do easily what other people can’t do at all. She’s got the kids all day, most days, all by herself, and she’s a lot better at it than I am. She can manage other people’s kids, too, and she makes it look easy; she can see multiple moves ahead like a chess grandmaster (I know, I know, they say that’s not how grandmasters really play. Shut up) and always choose the winning line. I’m sure if there was such a thing as blindfold simultaneous babysitting, she could pull that off, too.

But back to me, patzer that I am. First of all, just so I shouldn’t sound like I’m a whiner, I will say that the rewards of having the kids all day are great. When they are good, they are very very good; and when I am good, even if they’re being bad, still I have a definite sense of triumph and good-deed-doing in helping them work out their problems, or (what makes me feel just as good, even if it’s not as useful in the long run) distracting them, successfully bribing them, or otherwise foreseeing and circumventing problems.

Boy has been practicing his hitting and throwing skills, and it’s a joy to see him enjoy it so much, especially because I honestly had no idea he was already so good at it. He’s working on writing and reading, he loves learning about animals and what they eat and what eats them; he thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the smokejumpers headquarters – especially after our tour guide had to cut the tour short because she had to suit up, get in an airplane, and fly off to parachute in somewhere or other and fight a fire.

Girl is accumulating language by leaps and bounds, exhibits a truly remarkable and perverse independence (“I can do it” is her constant refrain, in the utterly adorable singsongy way she has of speaking), and is beginning to originate her own ideas for make-believe. This afternoon I had to bring her endless cups of make-believe tea in a plastic cup, which she endlessly slurped down, imperiously and immediately demanding, “More tea!” (I also had to save her from certain doom several times in quick succession, when she insisted on standing up on her bench at dinner.)

So when they are good, they are very very good. But when they are bad… good God. And they have, through no fault of their own, been bad for the last few days. Because Girl has been sick – she threw up a few nights ago, and has since developed a nasty little cough and a persistent tummy-ache that has thrown her sleep schedule (among other things) out of whack. Tired and sick means clingy and irritable. Also we’re in the midst of a heat wave, up here, but until about… oh, this afternoon… the lake’s been too cold for the kids to enjoy swimming, so… long days, limited fun, endless opportunity for further irritation. Irritation, of course, feeds on itself; nor am I immune. Oh, no. When it’s too hot… I like to slow down. Way down. To the point, I am told, of catatonia. When I can’t slow down, I tend to get rather pissy, in the sort of passive-aggressive way that can’t be easily or obviously pinned on one. (“I’m ready, what’s keeping you?” “I don’t care, I’ll do anything you want to do.” “Or we could do this…”)

Now Boy, of course, likes to do some things that Girl doesn’t like to do, or can’t do because she’s two years old; but since Girl is at the moment clingy and irritable, it’s usually impossible for me to put her down, because she goes into hysterics if it even crosses her mind that she might not have my full attention – as, for instance, if I step into the water for a minute to play with Boy. (God forbid I should dive into the lake, swim out to a buoy, turn and swim back - elapsed time: 180 seconds.) So for the last few days I’ve had Girl clinging to me like a barnacle, which makes Boy feel slighted – because he is – which makes him whiny and irritable, causes him to pick endless fights, leaves him without the inner resources to handle the slightest setback, and renders him in general very difficult to take. (The fights he picks are mainly – though by no means exclusively – with Girl; and surely one motive, piled atop a raft of others, is to express his anger at me, through her.)

All of which, as I say, feeds on itself. Sheesh. Yesterday wasn’t a purely awful day, but parts of it surely qualify as awful. A couple of things I’ve learned…

  • when a five year old is tired and hot and cross, don’t ask him what he wants to do. He doesn’t know. Just figure out something that he’ll probably enjoy, then weather the slings and arrows of his outrage till you get there. Extra credit: make it something you’ll enjoy, regardless of whether he ends up enjoying it or not.
  • ice cream is always welcome, but for God’s sake, don’t expect good behavior after you’ve juiced your kids up on sugar. The hotter the day, the more welcome the ice cream – but the less likely they’ve had any appetite, the less likely they’ve eaten any real food within living memory, hence the more the sugar will effect them, the more you’d better brace yourself for craziness.
  • cough syrup with codeine is as good for the one not taking it, as for the one who is. (“What if it wears off, and she wakes up in the middle of the night coughing?” I asked the pharmacist. She glanced around, as if the doctor might be lurking nearby, and in a conspiratorial voice said, “I’d give her another half teaspoon.”)
  • it’s not always a help to have other adults along to help you. Sometimes you have to shed them – your well-meaning parents, for instance – and just do what you have to do, at the pace you feel like doing it. Come back late; no apologies.

And biggest lesson of the day: when I want to go jump in the lake, I’m going to bloody well go jump in the lake. They can join me who wish, they can scream bloody murder on the shoreline who will. I’ll feel better, regardless.


At 4:29 PM, Blogger LawMommy said...


At 3:23 AM, Blogger CM said...

Sounds like you came through it okay!

I hate Dells.

At 1:10 PM, Blogger rain_rain said...

Now you tell me.


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