I asked a friend and fellow stay at home dad to write a guest post for me because I admire him as a dad and as a writer. John Beeler is the father of two girls: Cosette (Cosi), and Winnipeg (Winni) and has another baby joining the family any day. He lives in Indianapolis in the house directly behind our and John and I spent many an afternoon pushing our strollers through the neighborhood and discussing the deeper meanings of The Wire and childhood development. Enjoy the longer but beautiful post below:
It is 9:09am and we are driving down Fall Creek Parkway. It’s rush hour. To most everyone else the time is only important because they are nine minutes late to work. But to me, 9:09am is a different kind of important: all three of us dressed, fed, and on the road. This is a major achievement.
Our windows are wide open and the sharp spring air is sprinting through the car. Coldplay’s “Lovers in Japan” is blaring from our speakers, its third repetition officially making it an anthem for the day (“Lovers, keep on the road you’re on”). In the back seat are my two girls. Cosi, my nearly-four-year-old, is facing east. Her eyes are closed with intensity and I think I know what she’s doing: she is seeing but not seeing. The bright morning sun is running with us and the trees from Fall Creek are casting a strobe effect into the car and then through her closed eyelids. Light and dark at the same time. I remember this from being a kid.
Winni, my younger one, is looking west out her window, her eyes following one car, then the next, then the next, then the next…. They are both unusually quiet. (“Sometimes even the right is wrong…”) In the quiet space between the song and the wind I wonder if Cosi is experiencing a memory; the first thing she’ll remember without the help of me or photographs or stories.
We are moving at nine miles over the speed limit to what is supposedly a massive seasonal sale at Macy’s. The girls need spring clothes. The day is golden, it feels ripe and plump with possibility. Everything is right, right now.
It is 2:40pm. I am sitting on the naughty chair. My eyes are full of tears, my cheeks flush. Cosi’s are, too; at various points in the past 45 minutes we’ve both misbehaved, we both know it, and we are both paying the price. She is sitting in my lap, quivering and heaving. What we did doesn’t matter anymore. We are just here, on the chair.
She turns around quickly, tears streaking little highways down her face, and, with all the honesty and sincerity that only a three year old can muster, she tells me between deep breaths, “Daddy. -breath- You can go. I -breath- will stay. I have forgiven -breath- you.”
My tears burst tenfold and my hands go to my eyes to hide my shame. Where does she find these words? I wish I could say they come from me.
It is 10:38am and we are driving northwest on Michigan Road, a few miles from downtown. We dropped Momma off at work and delivered chocolate chip cookies to Grandmum. Alexi Murdoch’s “All My Days” is on the stereo this time, and the sun is again keeping pace. We three are quiet in the car, the girls are again staring out their respective windows. (“I’ve been tryin’ to find, what’s been in my mind.”) If you took a snapshot you’d think it’s a perfect morning.
It is not. I feel like a great, historical failure in the history of parenting. Name a way in which the morning could have collapsed into chaos and it has. Thoughts are running through my head as fast as I am trying to drive. I am thinking: I believe that women can really do this job better than I can. I am thinking: women are far more biologically in tune with their children than I will ever be. I am thinking: They are more compassionate and graceful than I. I am thinking: I am not cut for this. Me? I can carry eight grocery bags and a two year old in the other arm. That is my special power.
Not only am I aware of the myriad levels of inherent sexism in my statements, I want to curl up in them and disappear forever, like a morose Big Lebowski scene.
I am headed somewhere other than home because home is a dumping ground of laundry and dirty plates and unswept floors. I imagine a legion of mice sprawling from the basement and feasting like mouse royalty. I can see the mildew greedily spreading across smelly kitchen towels like a time lapse Discovery Channel video. I do not have dinner planned. I do not know what we will eat for lunch. I have snapped like a shark at my children all morning. I pretended when I kissed my wife. I spent the early morning shitting on the toilet while reading blogs by homemakers like myself, but unlike myself are able accomplish so much in so little time. I resent them all. Fuck arts and fuck crafts. Fuck playgroups and parks. Fuck life lessons. Fuck the fucking incomprehensible phonics of the English alphabet and our obligation to teach it to our children before the age of four.
I am ready to Work. To be the Distant One, the One who has an excuse to leave the house early (and picks up a latte on the way out). To be the one who works into the evening with good reason and for the betterment of the family. The one who makes appearances and cameos. The one for whom the studio audience claps for upon entrance. (“Many a night I found myself with no friends standing near.”) I covet the concentration of time that absence affords. As the bright sun burns the morning into our car, I seethe deep into my front seat with jealousy, thinking about all these things, over and over.
We are not far from the bustle of Michigan Road but then, by just turning a corner, we are in a strange place in the middle of the city, a section of the city with affluence seemingly protecting it like a castle wall from a barbarian encroachment of stoplights and traffic and strip malls. It is hilly and trees and fields are everywhere. There is a small farm up ahead, just over the rise. “Look! Horses, Daddy!”
It is 3:14pm. The three of us are sitting on the sidewalk, our backs leaning against the brick storefront of Joe’s Cycles. Heat is simmering from the pavement and melting ice cream is freefalling from our chins. Good ice cream, too, made at the creamery just outside the city, free-range cocoa, grass-fed vanilla beans and so forth. It tastes significant and hearty. Even though this stuff is by no means cheap, my girls charmed Joe into doubling (tripling?) the scoop size. “Chalk-oo, too, please, Chalk-oo, too, please!”
We’re quiet, a celestial event with a four and a two-year-old. But there is plenty of sound to go around: a parade of passing cars, the occasional laughter spilling out of Joe’s shop, and the soft splatting of ice cream hitting the sidewalk.
If I imagined a perfect scene as a stay-at-home dad before I became one, this is it. As I elbow my way in for another bite of ice cream, I feel like I have given my two kids a gift today, and not just the ice cream that was priced like a gift. The ice cream was just the delivery method for something else. The pavement. The cars. The hot sun. The jokes bouncing off walls inside the bike shop. The dandelions peeking out from the cracked bricks. The smiles from passersby. The ant carrying a crumb across the sidewalk. My gift to my children is to have accidentally carried us into these rare collaborative moments as bestowed by the world. Beauty in the mundane, shit like that.
And good ice cream.
It is 8:21pm and the sun is barely holding on. The neighborhood birds are pecking at the ground for one last easy meal before they find their nest again and sleep.
The days pass like cards flipping in the air from a deck fallen from my hand. A third child is on the way and I am sleeping less because I am worrying more. I need to find a preschool for my first. My second spent two weeks tied to a bed in intensive pediatric care one year ago, and lately has been looking up at me with those same deepset eyes murmuring, “Huhrt, Daddy, huhrt.” I am scrambling to find myself, to find my family’s self, even to just be.
I am digging in our garden outside. Everything makes sense out here. Plant this, water here, and, from the black, green appears. The dog across the alley is barking at someone searching for metal in our trash. I stand and he scurries to the neighbor’s bin.
When he’s gone, I hear my daughter crying through the windows of our house. I bend down to the soft ground and dig deeper.