I am of a mind that the Sunday paper should be strewn gloriously across the house, a little everywhere – like leaves across New England, like lingerie across a bridal suite – and my wife, having now moved beyond the honeymoon stage of our relationship, thinks the Sunday paper ought to be stacked neatly in one single spot. Multiply that times 1,000, and you have a modern marriage.
The minister never said you have to agree on every little thing.
Most divisive, I suppose, are children. I never wanted any. She wanted four, so we compromised; we had four.
And now here I sit on the couch, amid more compromises than any one man deserves, the Sunday paper stacked neatly off to the side.
It’s been a busy, tumultuous week. Aren’t they all? Think back to when your kids were really young. That was supposed to be the cute, satisfying, golden age of parenting, right? But didn’t the laundry pile up in big heaping snowdrifts, and wouldn’t the sink clog at the worst times? And by the end of each day, wouldn’t total exhaustion settle over you like Banquo’s ghost?
I remember one car trip, checking into a motel after a nine-hour drive and discovering upon returning to the car that I’d just strolled up to the front desk and checked in with one of the kids’ lollipops stuck to the front of my britches.
“Daddy, a lollipop!” one of them screamed to rounds of car-trip giggles. People from two states away could hear it. Then someone vomited.
As one friend noted, as we shape our children, they are shaping us as well. The golden age of parenthood? All of it.
There are stages to parenting, of course, and we are in the third and seventh stages all at once – an 11-year-old and two 20-somethings all under the same leaky roof. It is a glorious dynamic. It is a glorious life.
Last week, the little guy saw the fifth-grade sex and hygiene movie, and hence the whole life cycle begins again – lust, marriage, kids, car trips.
By all accounts, the movie was tastefully rendered and thoroughly screened. If there was even the hint of inappropriateness, a death squad of mothers physically smothered it months ago.
Yet the little guy came home with a few questions. For one, the only eggs he’d ever seen were the jumbo ones his mother buys. If chicken eggs are that big, how big are human eggs? Like smoke detectors? Like bowling balls?
Even his friends on the playground couldn’t explain that one, so he turned to the next best egg expert he knew (a dad so thoroughly middle-aged that he reads Celtic poets by candlelight).
Using crayons, I did a portrayal, with little dots that grew to be a tadpole, then Kermit the Frog. It was representational yet effective.
Then my wife, Posh, insisted on getting all literal about how human cells split and then resplit over and over, and by the time she was done she’d drawn a shirtless Matthew McConaughey. Which was helpful too.
“Look, every child is a miracle,” I assured the little guy.
“Really?” he said, because he’s met a lot of them.
In addition to the movie, the school provided sticks of Old Spice deodorant to each student, intended to address the fact that their bodies are indeed changing and some of them were becoming a little ripe by the end of a day (especially after watching sex ed movies).
The little guy took to the roll-on deodorant, applying it like sunscreen to all parts of his body, and extra heavy just before bedtime.
“You missed an elbow,” I told him.
“OK, Dad,” he said.
After that, all seemed well. The sex ed movie had left the boy only slightly traumatized. A cozy, quivering future awaited him. But he was in no rush. If he had more questions, he went to his buddies on the playground.
Then, just as life was returning to near normal, the little guy walked in on his older sister in the bathroom. Just out of the shower, she was wearing the exact same outfit she wore to her own birth.
He screamed. She screamed. The dog screamed. He screamed again.
Suffice to say there was rampant screaming. Then everyone vomited.
As usual, nothing humbles us like the people we love the most.