Thursday, May 28, 2009

Flying Solo

Husband has a great family-friendly career. The hours are reasonable and allow Husband to be home each evening. He does bring work home not infrequently, but he manages to squeeze it in between bike rides and swimming lessons. He works from home one day. As I say really good.

Except for the travel. About 4 or 5 times a year he needs to travel for 3 or 4 days. When J Boy was a singleton this was mildly challenging only because I lacked for adult company and would have to wait for the nightly phone call to tell Husband about how J spat his peas all over me or how cute he looked in the new onsie I bought for $2.99.

When S arrived on the scene, each Daddy road trip felt like a marathon. I would count the meals, the bedtimes, the days, until Husband would be home. In the earlier years, we would encamp at my parents house. Two doting grandparents and prepared meals made it all manageable. Of course, when the kids were young they do want a parent a LOT of the time so even with willing and qualified help, I rejoiced when I woke up on the last morning, knowing Husband would soon be back in the family fold.

I found as the kids settled into toddlerhood, they were used to having Daddy around and with each day they would miss him more and would express their yearning in the form of a whine-fest. Or tantrum-fest. Or both simultaneously.

Things have eased as they get older. Once I was back at work, the trips that occur overlapping my workweek became more tolerable only because the hours of solo parenthood are minimized to the evening. Of course it meant more shuttling to swimming and tae kwan do with an extra kid now. I admit even the weekend trips I do not dread quite as much.

This week Husband had a three day-er in Ottawa. I worked two of those days and had previously arranged to take the third day off to go on a field trip with a group of rowdy kindergartner's. Also, one evening I had a sitter arranged as I had my class.

You know, it all went pretty well. I felt so comfortable in the shallow water of the pool of single parenthood, I jumped straight into the deep end: I offered to take the kids to a sit down restaurant WITH NO BACK UP.

Our kids, well they have mixed success in restaurants. J's predisposition to wiggling and boredom, intersecting with a certain degree of impatience (he gets that from me) combined with extreme volatility when hungry (i.e. when you're about to eat) is recipe for disaster. S is a fussy eater and has been known to reject meals because the mac 'n cheese noodles are not the right shape or it's not "regular cheese pizza".

Before any restaurant outing, Husband and I often read the menu on the internet. So were arrive at restaurant and upon getting a cheery "How are we this evening?" and even before hearing about the chef's magical creation that evening (and sometimes before we sit down) we are prepared:

"We'll have one order of the kids' chicken fingers with plum sauce, one kids' cheese pizza, 2 kids sized milk with extra straws please, one Thai chicken salad, no onions, dressing on the side, a Cajun chicken burger with garden salad with the vinaigrette, one iced tea, one diet coke, extra napkins, 2 glasses of water. Do you know how long that will be? Oh and do you have any brown crayons?"

Then Husband and I have a well-ordered routine. We get the kids settled on the colouring/puzzles that invariably come on the kids menu. Once they have finished the mazes, word finds, crossword puzzles or similar, and they are starting to play with the sugar packets, we take a trip to the bathroom to wash hands and play with the automatic paper towel dispensers. If we are really lucky (and we're usually not) the food will then come. If not, Husband will gamely take the kids "on an adventure", which may include checking out a water feature in the entry, looking for rocks in the parking lot or looking at the bar stools in the bar. The latter only usually happens when there is a hockey game on. In a pinch, we'll also play guessing games, tick tack toe on on the napkins or a few rounds of "please don't pick your nose". The last arrow in our quiver is to threaten to never take them to a restaurant in their lives again. Or give them a treat. Or do anything fun.

It's not always un-fun, but it's a mixed bag of success even with two parents.

Anyway this evening, I bravely suggested, knowing J's improving life skills, we go to Frogstone Grill. On top of the usual kid-friendly things (nuggets, pizza, menu with puzzles) then give the kids a frog with their milk. These fellas can entertain for quite some time. Plus the bathrooms have the sound of frogs croaking which never fails to entertain.

I did secure their solemn vows to be "super-fantastically-extra-amazingly-good". We also went at 4:15 when I knew almost no one would be there but a few seniors and a few people having beers after work, which would mean a) faster service and b) fewer people to annoy.

The kids got into a serious Spy game on the drive over and the game bled over into the restaurant. I consented to their taking ONE tour around the restaurant searching for clues, which turned into ten. Then they said they weren't going all the way around, just going to the teleportal and they'd be right back (You have to hold hands to go through a teleportal, in case you didn't know).

I can't remember what required that they crawl on the floor, it was all very top-secret-hush-hush-need-to-know-basis.

Once I sensed the kids were getting too close to getting trays of nachos and beer dumped on them and sending waitstaff on Workers' Compensation, I convinced them to get to work on their puzzles. They were working hard, the food came, I was actually enjoying my meal, it was all going well. A little too well.
Then J made a mistake in one of the puzzles and erupted into tears. We had another kids' menu speedily delivered to our table, but by then the J Boy was under the table and definitely not in a super-fantastically-extra-amazingly good mood. He was growling at me.

To his credit he did recover without what we call a "forcible extraction" (pulling screaming/kicking child from under table and to van). I graded them an 8 out 10 on the outing. Saying they did pretty well, but they have room for improvement (S would not help collect up the crayons at the end, which is why she scored an 8 as well.)
The post script to this day are the five amazing things that happened at home:

1. I had homework to do for my course so I begged and pleaded to be allowed to do my homework. This not only required their not needing me, but not needing the computer. They generously granted me computer access almost the whole evening.

2. At one point I thought "what time does Husband get home tomorrow?". Then I remembered, he gets home TONIGHT. I don't just normally know what night he's getting home, but exactly when. Plus I calculate how long it will take to deplane, get luggage, take a cab so I usually know when the earliest he could be home. And I normally have a countdown clock running in my head "He should be boarding the plane now", "90 minutes till he lands". "He should be getting his luggage now".

3. J Boy came to the computer where I am working on homework and said "Is there a Kleenex box in here?". Now this is kindof strange because J is not a great consumer of tissue. He always has a sleeve handy for any necessary wiping. S came down with the sniffles that morning and I asked if he had a cold as well or if he thought it was allergies. "No, S asked for a box of Kleenex so I'm getting her some". This is very un-J. It's not that he's unthoughtful at all. He is just usually preoccupied with making his books, conducting science experiments or watching TV. He is not, to put is mildly, a great multi-tasker. So it's remarkable that he even HEARD S's request, let alone left the confines of whatever he was doing to track down some Kleenex. Pinch me, he's maturing.

4. We have a pretty set bedtime routine for J. He watches a particular TV show until 9. Then we tell him to turn off the TV before the next show starts. Quite frequently the show will be over and he'll head to the den and try to get a few more minutes on the computer. Husband and I will good naturedly tell him it's time to go upstairs. He spends the next 2 hours in his room doing his thing. When Husband and I are both home, one of us is usually on the ball enough at 9 to usher him upstairs. I was engrossed in homework I didn't look at the clock until 9:10. He hadn't come to try and sneak in some 'puter time so I went to the family room for the inevitable no-you-can't-watch-one-more-show showdown. The J Boy was not there. The TV was off. He was upstairs in his room. This is the stuff twilight zones are made of.

5. The final icing on the cake was about 10 minutes later. J decided he need to organize his (which is to say my childhood) collection of Nancy Drew books. He likes to have them in numerical order and he couldn't find some of them. So I was going through the piles of books on his shelf trying to find the #2 book which we know we have somewhere. He was a little on edge as he can get a little pathological about keeping track of stuff. (Don't know where he gets that from??). Then Husband walks into his room. I wasn't even expecting him. Normally, my ears would be peeled listening for the taxi arrival and car door slam. Progress indeed.

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