No speech was given, no money raised. No company started or sold. This is merely a day in my life, chopped up and pieced together over several sittings and written into a story.
It begins with a whimper or sometimes a wale. Our youngest daughter is at the age now where she’ll sleep through the night but wake up too early (5am or so) and get too worked up to fall back asleep. My wife Melissa will dutifully get her and bring her into our bed.
I briefly open my eyes, recognize what’s happening, and roll over onto my side, facing away from the two of them as I try to get back to sleep. An hour later, it’s over. Youngest daughter is awake again. For real this time.
She’ll crawl to the edge of the bed, jolting both of her parents into protective action, and casually slide her belly down the side of the bed. She’ll run in a patter of tiny steps to her sister’s door.
“Hiweo-wee. Hiweo-wee” (Translation: “Hi Lily, Hi Lily”)
She pounds on her sister’s door with the palm of her hand. We listen from our room as older daughter shuffles off her covers, scoots off her bed, and walks towards the door.
Our house is small and has squeaky floors so we hear all of it.
“Hi Norah, you can come in my room.” She struggles briefly with the doorknob and pulls it open. More patter of feet and some giggles. Then they both come back into our room and are lifted onto the bed.
This family cuddle lasts for only a few minutes before one of them, usually Norah, heads for the edge and with an emphatic “Woowoom,” (Translation: “Blue’s Room,”) and pitter patters to the living room we named after our dog, Blue.
The alternative scenario starts the same but ends poorly: competition for mom’s early morning attention spiraling into tears and me trying to coax the younger sister to Blue’s Room so the older one can get some mom time.
Which way it goes is a bit of a crapshoot now. I can’t predict it.
Blue Boy usually is waiting for us at the foot of the door to the kitchen which separates the living area from the bedrooms in our house. We keep it closed at night so he doesn’t barge into our rooms and wake us up. He’s a big chocolate lab and has an odd habit of shaking his upper torso to break the silence. His shakes sound like a bunch of wet clothes tumbling in a high-speed dryer so we keep him away from our bedrooms at night.
He greets us with a rapid thump-thump-thump of his tail against the kitchen floor. Norah stumbles past him and I open the kitchen drawers to get the coffee process started: grinder, whole beans, and filter. Fill the carafe with water and pour it into the coffee maker. Press the button and wait.
The girls run to their brown wooden kid table and we ask them what they’d like for breakfast. The menu is always the same: eggs, cereal, pancakes (the tiny frozen round ones), or waffles (the Eggo knockoffs from Whole Foods). My younger daughter likes cereal and my older one likes waffles with peanut butter. They settle in and watch “Dora” or “Paw Patrol” while Melissa and I take these few minutes of morning calm to slurp down coffee and our own breakfast from the same daily menu. Whatever’s left over goes into Blue’s food bowl with a half scoop of kibble.
We give them a few more minutes to relax and finish waking up before the day really begins.
My daughters right now are not-quite-two and not-quite-four years old. They go to the same preschool, just over the hill from our little creekside house in Saranap. It’s exactly two miles away and takes me twenty minutes to jog it pushing a double stroller. The first half of the trip is a 200-foot climb in three sections, from the lowest point in our neighborhood, where we live, to the highest point where a bridge spans the nearby freeway. The first time I attempted this run I nearly didn’t make it. My lungs were bursting and my legs were burning. I was pushing the stroller up the steepest part of the hill with Blue’s leash wrapped around my right wrist and had to stop. I must have looked like a mess.
These days I can clear the summit without losing my breath. I look forward to it. Cars driving up or down the hill honk or give the thumbs up in approval. I’ll often hear a “Way to go, Dad!” as the cars crank up the hill. I do it twice a week and supplement those runs with a weekend stroller jog to the playground. It’s great for me but just as importantly, the girls love it. They sing and jabber and point out cars and every once in a while we’ll cross the bridge just as a BART train passes below us. Sometimes they sit quietly, lost in thought and the potpourri serenity of mornings in this part of the Bay Area. The oaks and grasses are most pungent in the mornings. I love it.
I drop the girls off at school and jog the empty stroller back home, the front wheel skipping along without any weight in the seats. When I get home I hit my pullup bar, take a shower, and start my workday from home.
My worktime starts after my shower at around 9:30am. The structure of my workdays has been in constant flux since I left my office job about two years ago. I now work for myself, by myself, on my own projects which are primarily these three websites: FindEmails, TrackJobChanges, and eNPS. How I prioritize them, my own writing, and guitar playing is still a work in progress and an ironic source of stress (aside: I’m reminded of the quote, “Your problems fill the space available.”) Now that I have the open space to control my own time, I’m worried that I don’t use it wisely enough.
I try to do my writing first. Whether it’s personal, political, or writing blog posts for my businesses, I’ve found that it’s easiest for me to write in the morning. It will take anywhere from one to two hours to ramp up and wind down my writing brain. Sometimes I will get distracted by an email notification or remind myself of something urgent to do. Then it will take a longer.
Most of the time I work outside or in the backyard in the morning. If I really want to focus, I work in our little guest house. If I don’t mind being distracted by my wet dog, I’ll work from the creek where Blue will anxiously wait for me to play fetch every few minutes. I also have Adirondack chairs and a picnic bench to choose from. Too many options: yet another nice-to-have problem.
At lunchtime I’ll head back inside and eat lunch with Melissa, who also works from home. We’ll chat about the day and the upcoming post-school routine (see “Playtime” below). Then it’s back to the cottage usually for a final 2–3 hourlong push. This chunk of time is usually my programming time. There might be a bug to squash, a feature to push, or some new data to track for one of my marketing campaigns. This is the time when I do it.
On a good day, I’ll be done by 3pm and I can spend the last hour of my worktime doing something purely fun: watching YouTube videos (chess tutorials, guitar lessons, political debates), playing guitar, or reading on my Kindle. When I’m really on my A-game I’ll spend that hour in the hammock or on the old iron bench we put down by the creek enjoying some blissful personal quiet time.
Then the hour will be up, worktime will be over, and it’s back to being dad.
My girls come back from preschool with their booster rockets going on full blast. If our neighbors are out playing they’ll join until dinnertime, making chalk drawings, scooting or riding bikes up and down the street, or playing tag and hide-and-go-seek. If there aren’t other neighborhood kiddos to absorb their blasts of energy, the full force of their two and four-year-old needs fall on us parents.
Among the deluge of needs will be requests for milk, ice water, new shoes, old shoes, missing toys, pushes on swings, and scooter and bicycle rides around the neighborhoods.
My girls don’t come home and veg out to “Dora The Explorer.” Oh no. They are on their own adventures and we, like it or not, are riding shotgun. I brace for this and although it is sometimes hard, particularly when I didn’t quite finish that programming challenge before gang returned home, I look forward to these hours.
I’m aware that my being home with the kids for dropoff and pickup is unusual. Somehow we’ve made it work in this expensive enclave of California with neither of us needing to commute to an office. We both get to work from home, so we’re both here when the girls go off to school (Melissa does the morning stroller route sometimes too) and we’re both here when they return home (usually she picks them up while I’m just putting my guitar and/or Kindle away).
For the most part, we all enjoy these hours before dinner. If the girls are playing together in front of our house, I’ll often grab my guitar and sit on our lawn, noodling away on some fingerstyle folk riffs. Blue will join me and watch these two beautiful girls chalking, tricycling, and running through the idyllic afternoon hours we’re so very lucky to be able to enjoy.
Today we visited my grandma in Santa Rosa and my aunt and uncle joined the four of us. My daughters sat at the table and ate their bagels and cream cheese and fruit, answered questions about school and were really well-behaved. My aunt commented that she’d never seen kids at these ages behave so well at mealtime.
Thanks, I replied and explained it’s because we do it every day, and for that, I give Melissa all the credit.
I’m proud of our dinnertime routine. Our girls get a fresh dinner every night. Some are fancier than others, but we don’t have a single frozen dinner in the house (well, except for Amy’s Pizzas, which we love.) If we’re in a rush or just not feeling inspired, an easy fallback is quesadilla and/or black beans with melted cheese. Most of the time we’ll have fish or chicken, sauteed or grilled vegetables, and rice or couscous. We all eat the same thing and we eat the same time.
It’s not the routine I had growing up. I liked the randomness of how my mom and I had our dinners just fine. It was just us two and we ate different things at different times. Once a week we’d eat out and I always enjoyed that. Here at this home, with my own family, we’ve adopted the routine that my wife grew up with. We have family dinners and we look at each other and talk. I ask the girls who they played with at school, what they drew, which teachers were there. Sometimes Melissa and I catch up on our own days and talk about the fast-approaching bedtime routine.
I hear bedtimes are challenging, no matter the age. Getting these wound up kiddos to admit that they’re tired can be a battle. Some nights we let them shoot of steam as they run back and forth between their rooms, giggling, jabbering, and sometimes crying. Other times one of them will give in quickly and we can prompt the bath and pajamas without protest. Most nights it’s somewhere in between. They want to play after dinner, so we let them. If our neighbors are outside, it can be fun to knock out that post-dinner, pre-bath purgatory together, but we usually pay for it later. Playing outside after dinner just winds them up further.
Quiet play inside the house is the best option. We can guide them into the bath and then into pajamas and back into the bathroom to brush teeth. There’s usually another final spurt of energy and then we put them into their separate rooms, break out the books, and ease them into sleep.
We’re getting good at this, Melissa and I. A friend with kids the same age as ours shared the insight with me that we’re at peak child-rearing skill right now. There’s no other point in our lives when we’ll be as knowledgeable, prepared, or comfortable as we are around kids. I feel like I can handle anything short of an emergency room situation (which thankfully hasn’t yet occurred). I can tell when someone is hungry, tired, needs to go to the bathroom or already went. I know how to talk to kids (any kid, not just my own) because I know how to phrase a question to get a real answer.
Most of all, I enjoy being around kids. I feel it when I drop my girls off at preschool and hang around inside for a while. I like to chat with the teachers, and since I’m there pretty often, the other kids are comfortable around me. I’ll stack blocks and roll cars around until Norah gets jealous or protective and plants herself in my lap. Soon she’ll be off and pre-empting my departure will loudly declare, “Dada go work.”
And with that, I’m off. Another day begins and I look forward to seeing Melissa working at the kitchen table while I knock out a set of pull-ups and then fire up my laptop to start another blog post.