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Monday, June 13, 2011

Juggling babies: The transition from man to zone defense

Having three kids requires learning to juggle. But the
cargo is a little more precious than colored balls.
I'm pretty sure it was Confucius or some other wise philosophy type guy that once posited “When your third child you have transition to zone defense you must.”

The syntax makes me wonder if it was Yoda.

Who cares? I'm learning after our third child arrived last week just how true the principle is. Before, my wife would take one child and I would take the other, keeping mischief to a somewhat manageable minimum in the process. However, after my wife delivered our newest daughter with some complications, the man defense has been tossed. Now, my resting wife's zone happens to be a very large armchair with a sleeping infant on her chest. Since she's on doctor's orders to rest, relax and recuperate, I'm pretty OK with that, if not a little jealous.

Let's just say my zone covers a little more ground. Today, my zone starts in the kitchen, where the wife feeds me orders on how to cook up her favorite multi-ingredient oatmeal. She gives me the directions mostly from between snatches of slumber as she cuddles our snoozing baby daughter on her lap. It's the first time in history oatmeal has taken more than six minutes to prepare. I think I take an hour and burn the bottom layer. The process is something like this:

Me: What do I do here?
Her: Umm...zzzzzz
Me: Yes?
I wait five minutes, then remind her I asked a question while gently awakening her with a hand on her arm. Breakfast is her request after all.
Her: Oh sorry. One cup oatmeal and one cup water.
I pour oatmeal in the scalding hot pan and watch smoke drift dangerously close to the fire alarm. Then I add water.
Her: Bring the water to a boil before you add the oatmeal.
Me (to self): Now she tells me.
Me (to her): Then what?
Her: Get some Craisins and put them in after the oatmeal softens up.
Me: Where are they?
Her: Buried in the pantry somewhere.
Me (to self): I gotta go into that mess? We've only got like nine square feet of space in there under our staircase, which means the roof is widely variable in height, and we have six months of food storage crammed in there.
I find the Craisins stashed behind a box of graham crackers which is behind a can of unsalted peanuts which is underneath a 50-pound bag of rice.
Me: How many Craisins?
Her: Like a handful.
Me (to self): Does she mean a me-size handful or a her-size handful or a kid-size handful? These are hugely varying portion sizes in our household. I try to guess what her hand would pull out of the bag and scatter the Craisins into the oatmeal like a farmer tossing seed around a fertile field.
Me: Is that it?
Her: No. Two tablespoons brown sugar, a dash of vanilla, the rest of the can of evaporated milk and chopped walnuts. Use the small food processor.
I pour in the can of milk and realize I've drowned the poor oatmeal.
Me: Is it supposed to look like a few grains of oatmeal are throwing a pool party under a cow's udder?
Her: Add the other ingredients and see what happens.
I dutifully toss in everything else. Now it looks like the oatmeal invited some risque walnuts going shell-less at the milky pool party.
Me: Should I add more oatmeal now?
She's back to sleep so I repeat the question.
Her: If it's runny add just a little.
I wonder if the pool party counts as runny before I toss some more uninvited guests into the ruckus. It luckily thickens up and I feed it to my wife. Somehow she approves.

Long tangent aside, the kids aren't awake for the cooking time, or it would triple my already ridiculous time in the kitchen. When they do wake up my zone becomes feeding the two kids who don't want food while my wife occupies her big comfy chair snuggling seven pounds of perfection. Not that I'm complaining. I saw what she went through this week between childbirth and complications. The chair is hers dangit.

Then my zone shifts outside where I take the kids to the park. I get steamrolled, grass-stained, jumped on, slid upon and more. My kids ask me to climb the playground equipment in a different place, which means doing it all with upper body strength. I dutifully ratchet myself up some bars going across a bridge, only to find I have seriously strained some muscles in my neck and shoulders, giving me the equivalent of a kinked neck after a week of camping on sharp granite boulders without a pillow.

Park time is over, but the zone defense has only just begun. Returning home, I fertilize the lawn while doing my best to keep stray children from swallowing the weed pesticides in the lawn feed because they look like yellow Nerds.

Then my zone hops in the swagger wagon and goes to the store. My kids beg to get their own little grocery carts to help me pick up a grand total of four items. I relent, thinking I can manage for just four items. I rejoice when all the small carts are gone from their normal keeping place. This is the last time I'll rejoice before bedtime in my zone. My kids then proceed to profusely ignore me as I ask them to follow me into or out of the pharmaceutical section, where the kid vitamins and tiny colorful bottles are kept at my older daughter's eye level. Then I have to make a trip to the baby aisle, where my daughter wants to check out the Cinderella sippies. My son sprints around the corner and out of sight as I call him to come back. I decide at that point he's just going to have to get abducted or find me again on his own time. A couple minutes later I hear him whining for Daddy two aisles down. Finally figured out he ditched me and I had stopped chasing him. The baby aisle only has one of two items I need, so I return to the pharmaceuticals to find the missing link. Nothing but a bunch of colorful eye-level bottles for my girl. I think about stepping in line to talk to the pharmacist about where to find it, but the line is filled with about six women who look like they are there to fill out prescriptions for STDs.

I then wander the store trying to remember the last item on my list and to find an associate that can tell me where to find the other thing. I call my wife to remember item #4 and tell her I already want to throw my phone across the store. At some points, I want to just drag the minions behind me, but my kinked neck hurts so much I can barely turn around to find them much less actually carry them behind me. I look like a sideways hunchback with my neck cocked to one side grotesquely. While I try to usher my daughter away from the cute little bottles, of which she wants to know the contents of every one, she informs me she needs to go poopy. Now.

Exasperated, I toss the two items I had managed to find on top of some feminine hygiene products and race my daughter into the bathroom, where someone had viciously sprayed the entire seat with man urine.

“Are you serious?” I say out loud. My daughter takes my exclamation up as a chant and turns it into a song, altering the words to her own as time goes on. “Are you serious, are you serious, are you pear hook, are you bear head...” etc. It's actually really cute, especially when combined with the potty stalling dance she's doing. So while she sings I do a quick wipe down on the toilet seat with a wad of toilet paper fat enough to choke Rosie O'Donnell. I rocket the singing and dancing girl into place on a toilet protector hoping it'll do it's job.

When all is done there – I won't go into detail – I go back and pick up my two items off the feminine hygiene shelf and usher my children off to find a store rep. I wander the whole store looking for someone available to tell me where the heck to find the item. No luck. I go back to the pharmacy (none of this is as easy as I make it sound – remember, two rambunctious children.) The line has dwindled and filled with old men instead of STD magnets, so I step in line and let my kids peruse baby shampoo while I wait. I get to the front of the line to be told by a crotchety pharmacist they don't know where anything outside their “box” is. He motions me toward the customer service department.

“There's a customer service department?” I ask him incredulously, practically slapping my forehead at my own scatter-brained idiocy. I go there. Two Russian associates seem to be flirting at the customer service desk. I interrupt without tact, asking for the rather unflattering, post-pregnancy item I'm looking for.

“If we have that it'd be in aisle 4,” she tells me.

“Nope,” I tell her confidently. “Just spent a half hour or more there.”

The flirty guy tells me just last week he was stymied when some woman asked for the same thing. Probably one of our friends. This enrages me because it means a trip to another store. One with toys. My kids like toys. I storm out of the store with three of my four items and get blown off when I ask my kids to hold my hands through the busy parking area. My daughter almost gets squished because of her refusal. I finally ignore my pain and bodily heft my kids off the pavement and throw them in the van. They throw a party in the backseat instead of obeying me when I ask them to get in their seats. I finally place them both, screaming, into their car seats.

I'm amazed by this point I have had the wherewithal to avoid making child-shaped holes in any walls. This is somehow worse than another time I went shopping.

I take them to the other store and, having learned from experience, I put them in a cart and wheel them directly to the baby portion of the store, where I find the item immediately. My kids want to see toys. I take them to the toys. I spend a long time at the toys. I haul kids whining about me not buying them toys away from the toys. I pick up an enormous plastic jar of comfort food on the way to the checkout. When we make it to the car, the kids again get their fiesta on in back. Not wanting to chase them down with a sore neck in a cramped space, I do the only logical thing I can think of: I tell them I'm leaving and start to drive. Like mice sniffing cheese at the maze's end, they scurry to their seats, where I can then buckle them into place for the final push into the endzone.

Upon arrival at home, I feed them a hasty dinner of cinnamon toast and put them to bed alone while my wife cuddles our infant daughter on the couch, mostly asleep.

In case you hadn't figured it out yet, zone defense is a lot harder to play than man. I just hope it isn't like this every day, or I'll find a way to switch back to man, no matter what Yoda has to say.

1 comment:

  1. Well, my wife is pregnant with the second. Thanks for the share. It's powerful and inspiring. At times I thought even one can be challenging. I hope you're having a better time by now. Those that aren't parents well, can't really understand what it means until becoming. And then the rewards are truly unique.