“Are you ready for the biggest of all surprises, Dudicle?” I asked my ten month old son as I walked into his room after his nap. We were on day twelve of being home alone together without my wife. She would be arriving later that afternoon and it was sure to blow that baby brain of his. I couldn’t wait to see the look on his face. “It will be the best thing to happen to you since you’ve been born. Mark my words, Jackie boy,” I continued, as I opened his drapes to unveil the second of two sunny Omaha afternoons in a row, soaking it in along with the partially pacifier obstructed smile he was giving me.
We had done it. My wife had left abruptly when news that Momma Rita had taken a turn for the worse came in, but neither of us had expected her trip to last so long. It was getting to the point where we were all aching for a reunion, and now it was finally in sight. Plus, it was sunny. Until the prior afternoon, Omaha hadn’t seen a sunny day since she left town. I told her this during one of our many Skype conversations.
“Really?” she asked, thinking I was saying something sweet.
“Really. And though it sounds romantic and shit, it’s just the facts,” I replied as I tossed her a grin. I needed to see the sun almost as much as I needed to see my wife in the flesh. The sun showed up first, making for a perfect St. Patty’s day afternoon spent inventing the Black and Green (1/2 Guinness and 1/2 hoppy American IPA) with the infamous Dr. Sanchez. He would later send out blank text messages while being stuck in his own bathtub, while I pushed the limits of the warmth of the front porch watching the first brilliant sunset in weeks give way to a moon with a beard. Now, the sun was back again, and my wife would follow in a few hours.
“Yes meat paws, there will be much rejoicing,” I said to Jackie as I changed his diaper, “maybe there will also be tacos, and maybe if Daddy is lucky, there will also be some sex.” The last “maybe” was a big one, I thought, as I turned up the stereo and brought Jack out onto the front porch to get introduced to Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak while waiting for the biggest surprise of his little life. Sex or no sex, she was finally coming back and we were ready for her. She was coming home to better men.
Twelve days of twenty-four hour mostly unaided child responsibility is a bit like military boot camp for parents. It’s also a little bit like being the manager of Chuck E. Cheese except that you can’t leave and you have to sleep on top of a ski-ball lane. Imagine being one of those ER doctors on call and at work for twelve straight days. At the worst moments, that’s what this was like. Luckily, the worst moments were few. After coming out the other side mostly unscathed and better for it, I would recommend it to everyone. Though, be warned, it’s not for everyone.
If I wasn’t convinced that I could do this Dad thing already, the last twelve days solidified it. When I first became a father, I had no fucking idea what I supposed to do. After a couple of months of daddy daycare, teamwork, trial and error, and a father-son road trip, I was starting to feel confident in my abilities. I was proud of my parenting repertoire going into the experience, but now I felt like the Jason Bourne of fatherhood, and not just because we share the same first name. It was as if I had gone through rigorous montage training right out of a Hollywood blockbuster action movie, Kenny Loggins soundtrack and everything, and come out of it with powers I didn’t even realize I had. I was Bridget Fonda’s character in Point of No Return, with a beer belly and a beard instead of a gun and tight black dress. I was a full-fledged-multi-tasking parenting Jedi.
For one thing, I finally mastered how to put up and take down the cheap wooden baby gate. However, having now also mastered the art of hopping over it, it doesn’t really matter. We’re talking boy in one arm, full hot steaming coffee cup in one hand, cold bowl of cereal and strawberries in the other, full baby bottle in the pocket of my AC/DC pajama pants, and a CD or DVD in my mouth, over a gate and up and down stairs with grace, speed, style, and not a drop spilled or baby dropped. I couldn’t have done that a week before. In fact, I failed miserably on a few prior attempts over the gate resulting in coffee being splattered on carpet and wall alike, me bruising my tailbone as I slid down a flight of steps while Jack squealed in delight from the other side of the gate, and a Cheerios free for all with boy and dog scurrying for the spoils while I was left covered in orange juice and crying over spilled milk. Now, however, I’m some crazy combination of Apollo Ohno and Johnny Weir, but harrier. I’m 007 with baby toys.
I battled through a cold, a fever, teething, explosive diarrhea, and a junkie-like desire to climb stairs and handled them all on top of every single diaper, feeding, laundry load, nap time, bath time, rock-a-bye, and bottle washing. I did all of that, stayed up way too late unwinding, and got up way too early to do it all again the next day; for ten consecutive days. Then I spent two days cleaning the house for a day and a half visit from my parents. I was running around the house like Kevin McAllister, but this time I was home alone getting the house set up for The Captain and Tennille instead of the “wet bandits.” On top of that, I was stuck with the little kid that pees the bed. I filled the house with groceries after an eleventh hour shopping trip spent catching Jack as he tried to climb out of the shopping cart, I picked up all his toys, cleaned the bathrooms, swept the floors, constructed a guest bed, and vacuumed the carpets until my vacuum cleaner wouldn’t suck anymore. Seriously. I have the worst luck with vacuum cleaners. I cursed at it until it cried. I actually got pissed at a vacuum cleaner. Boy how my life has changed! But hey, it was the only hiccup in what would have probably been some of my best housekeeping work ever.
Upon Grandma and Grandpa’s arrival I breathed a small sigh of relief. I opened the door and handed over my son. He took the brunt of it. A chorus of “I’m going to get you” exploded into his unsuspecting face. He looked like he was about to freak out. I laughed on the inside and let them have their fun, giving Jack a nod of assurance. It didn’t take him long to warm up to them again, and it took even less time for me to turn over the reigns for a few minutes. Reinforcements had come, and I was going to take advantage. Unfortunately, they were a bit rusty, and before too long my new found ninja-dad skills were on full display to counteract the Grandparents’ nap sabotage and senior moment forgotten diaper bags. Yes, I was now a ninja. A ninja in need of a vacation and many many beers.
What I received, however, was even better. First, my mom kept complimenting me on my parenting and my son. For someone so proficient in the field, I was honored. Then, in a random moment sitting in the basement watching TV with my Dad, he said to me in a voice and tone he doesn’t often use, “You’re doing a great job with your son. Probably better than what I would have been able to do. I want you to know how proud I am of you.” I never had to use so much effort to hold back tears. Coming from someone who uses heart to heart talks sparingly, it made every single second of sacrifice worth it. I had started the week not sure if I or any Dad deserved the compliments I was receiving from strangers for just being an involved parent, and now, at the end of what was a sometimes trying, and sometimes lonely twelve days without my wife, I was honored with a compliment that meant more to me than anything. It’s been quite the twelve days for this home alone hero, and I wasn’t the only one who had changed.
Jack was going through some growth and discovery of his own. For one, he would look slightly different when my wife finally got to see him. After a few slightly miserable days of his pain and my solitary agony, he now had two upper teeth to match the two on the bottom. These two were bigger though, straight from his mother’s side of the family, with the even bigger patented gap between them. It was our biggest fear. The one familial genetic abnormality that we both hoped he would escape had forced its way through his virgin gums. I texted my wife and gave her hell as Jack bit my thigh from underneath the kitchen table. “Back away you hideous midget!” I yelled, as a slimy stream of drool stretched from his mouth to the rug under the table. Four teeth down and sixteen more to go, I thought, as I snatched him up from between the table legs and gave him a bear hug.
Aside from sprouting new mouth ornaments, the final melting of all of the Omaha snow had allowed Jack to step outside of his comfort zone and survey the outside world for longer than a trip from the porch to the car and back again. He crawled around two different front yards, sat and rolled around in the grass, swung some sticks, sucked on rocks, chased a ball down a hill, and tried to eat tree bark, all in twenty four hours. He was now a full fledged explorer with four teeth and a confident look in his eye, but perhaps the most exciting transformation was that he had actually started listening.
I had been working for weeks on keeping him away from the dog’s food and water dish. I did not want to live in a world where I had to put the dog dishes on top of the refrigerator, and I know my dog was in full agreement. I gave her a knowing look and decided to kick up the discipline a bit. It didn’t take long. After a single afternoon of my “no’s” being met with dissatisfied pouting and crying, the next morning he actually listened to me. He stopped, looked at me, and crawled away from the dog bowls. He hasn’t touched them since. My dog was relieved. I was awestruck. I was proud. I was so hard core. I even thought for a second about attempting to potty train him next. Then I thought about something else.
Sitting on my front porch swing as we waited for the white Hyundai to roll down Bedford Ave. and into the driveway, I thought back to the first few days of this new job of mine; this experiment. I thought about my first few days in Omaha as a naive “Stay At Home” Dad with a three month old and my foolish early attempts at trying to take the boy and the dog on a run through the park. Then, I thought about the past twelve days and more specifically, the prior couple of hours. Just that morning, I had loaded up both boy and dog into the car, stroller and leash in tow, and drove to Benson Park to attempt what I had failed at months ago, before the weeks and weeks of snow and experience piled onto my existence.
After my first botched attempt at a run through the park with the dynamic duo almost 8 months ago, I wrote, “That’s right, this Daddy day care thing is going to be a piece of cake…a cake made of shit.” It completely backfired in my face. So much so, that I gave up the idea and did all my running alone on the treadmill until today. Today, it was a breeze. I Jason Bourned that run like a pro. I had actually gotten somewhere. I had actually learned some important lessons. I had come full circle. I felt unflappable, unbreakable, and unstoppable. Training day is over, let the games begin, I thought as I bounced Jackie boy on my knee as we rocked back and forth on the porch swing. Yes, I’m ready for the next challenge. When it comes I’ll roundhouse kick that son of bitch just like in the action movies, but first I need to hug my wife.