It was one of those perfect, rare, crisp and sunny mornings of early fall that you’d sell your kid for in the middle of January, and I was eager to get outside. I grabbed Jack in one arm and threw his doggie backpack around the other as I stepped out the door, cringing from the sharp stabbing feeling in my shoulder. I never had aches and pains until Jack was around. Now, I have the rotator cuff of a worn down major league middle reliever. I stepped off the porch, taking a deep breath of Omaha autumn and noticed that things weren’t going too smoothly next door.
“No, no, no, wait! Don’t connect that!” I yelled from across the front yard as I latched the belt of Jack’s car seat in the back of my Elantra. My neighbor and her friend were attempting to jump start a mini van in her driveway prior to our visit to the locally famous Vala’s Pumpkin Patch. I was still trying to figure out why Julia’s van even needed to be jumped after the mere ten minutes in my neighbor Lisa’s driveway when I overheard their clueless discussion about connecting the jumper cables.
“You have to ground that one,” I continued, as I left my son in his car seat, grabbed my bag of cables from my hatchback, and ran across our yards to help avoid the catastrophe I envisioned had they failed to ground the last cable. Truthfully, I couldn’t tell you what would actually happen had they connected all four clamps to both batteries, but I knew finding out wasn’t going to be a great way to start our Monday. Lucky for all of us, I’ve had to jump start a few of my past vehicles more times than I would have liked, so the diagram on my jumper cable bag is tattooed on my brain. It’s one of the few automobile issues that I can actually remedy myself, sans instructions, but I figured the diagram would go a long way to convincing the pair that they were in fact doing it wrong.
“See, right here,” I said as I handed Lisa the bag and directed their attention to the front of the cable bag. “Maybe you should put a picture of that in your phone or something,” I offered with equal parts sincerity and playful snark. Julia proceeded to connect the cables correctly, as the three of us jump started the mini van like an awkward pit crew.
“How many stay at home parents does it take to jump start a car?” a voice yelled from behind us as Julia started the van. It was my wife yelling from our front porch. The Professor was standing in her green robe leaning over the side of the porch with a coffee cup in her hand, in no hurry to head to work since Jack and I were freeing up the house for the morning. Our little rat dog was barking hysterically from inside the living room window.
“You both need to shut up,” I yelled back, coming to the defense of my fellow “unemployed” parents and feigning a bruised ego. The Professor laughed and sipped her coffee as I walked over and kissed her before running back to my car where Jack was getting slightly impatient with the unexpected delay. He had no idea what the hell a pumpkin even was let alone the pumpkin patch happy fun farm that was Vala’s, but it was obvious that he wanted to find out and find out quickly. For the time being, he would settle for a piece of a granola bar.
As Jack slobbered over a chocolate chip fiber bar in the back, I followed the silver mini-van out of the city. In front of me were two moms, two boys under five, three girls under 4, what looked like at least three large duffel bags, two strollers the size of shopping carts, and a big bag of popcorn stuffed into every spare inch of the godforsaken soccer mom Honda, haphazardly changing lanes as they led me on I-80 towards Gretna, NE. Jack and I were blaring “Highway to Hell” from the car radio, as I was trying to show him how to do the metal horns with one hand and drive with the other. I would have bet my life it was a completely different atmosphere in the van ahead.
My neighbor Lisa has two little girls. Julia, Lisa’s friend from church, has two boys and a girl about Jack’s age. It turns out that all of Lisa’s friends are from her church. Therefore, most of the adults that I interact with on a daily basis, if any, are likely from her church. Lisa and Julia are Mormons. It only really matters because I am not. Not even close. The only thing that I really know about Mormons is that there are many different kinds of Mormons. Most frown upon alcohol and foul language. Some inspire HBO dramas. Some go to BYU. Others advertise on television. And if I’ve learned anything from those TV commercials, it’s that Mormons are pretty nice. The Mormons in my life are definitely that. They are also definitely not the polygamy kind of Mormons.
Though, I do find it quite humorous when Jack and I end up out at the zoo, the park, the children’s museum, or in this case the pumpkin patch, with Lisa, Julia, and anywhere from three to a half dozen other Mormon “stay at home” moms and up to a baker’s dozen or more of their kids. I always wonder if anyone ever thinks that the guy with the big beard is out with his “sister wives.” Little would they know that all of the women are in fact Mormon, just not those kind of Mormons.
Instead, they’re my kind of Mormons. I call them my “MorMoms.” At least two to four times a week, it’s just me, Jack, and up to a half dozen beautiful, friendly, young Mormon women who want to hang out with me, feed me, laugh at my jokes, and carry my kid around all day. Yep, on your average day in Omaha, no matter where we go, my son and I pretty much have all the moms to ourselves. The pumpkin patch would be no exception.
I followed my two favorite MorMoms off the interstate exit and onto a rural highway before having to slam on my brakes as they abruptly attempted a U-turn in the middle of the road. Thinking back to the directions on the flier I read while the moms were jumping the van, I knew we were on the right track and we just needed to keep going straight, but I followed suit, flipped on my blinker just the same, and spun the wheel around hard and fast.
“Hang on buddy,” I said to Jack as I completed a U-turn of my own. We backtracked a few blocks and then I watched as they took a pretty hesitant right turn. Soon, we were on a dirt path down a hill that I wasn’t even sure was a road, apparently taking the back way onto the pumpkin patch property. We pulled into two adjacent parking spots in the stripped plot of farm land, and I could see in their faces that the U-turn was not a planned maneuver. They blamed Lisa’s G.P.S. and were extremely and overly apologetic given the circumstances. They’re always so apologetic, especially when they don’t have to be. It’s very cute.
I grabbed Jack out of his car seat along with his backpack and walked over to lend Lisa and Julia a hand with the scene that was quickly unfolding next to us. I switched Jack to my good arm while I tried to wrangle one or more of the four kids who immediately leaped from both sides of the van before Julia could even remove her seat belt. Lisa yelled to her girls, both of them halfway across the parking lot by the time we even noticed their absence from between the two cars, as she yanked one of the two enormous strollers out of the back of the van. I helped with the second one as Julia stuffed it with diaper bags and her toddler. We all scanned the area trying to do our own head counts of the kids. There seemed to be more than we left with. They were like wet fucking mogwais. They were all over the place. I took solace in the fact that only one of them was mine. Not that that really matters anyways.
Lisa and Julia, though both younger than me, have been at this stay at home parent gig a lot longer than I have and it shows. They’ve got multitudes of offspring, yet they’re still chomping at the bit to take care of my solitary little man. I’m easily the hotshot parenting rookie in their eyes, the requisite hazing included. They make fun of my shoulder injury as they carry around kids twice the size of Jack, rubbing it in my face as they snag Jack with a spare hand and lift him into their empty arm while already carrying their own preschoolers in the other. They make fun of me when I leave play dates early to get Jack home for his regular nap time. I imagine them calling me the “nap nazi” behind my back, though I can’t be sure. They’re probably too nice for that. But it’s still like leaving the bar early when all your friends are dug in until last call. You never hear the end of it.
They laugh at the lack of junk food in Jack’s diet. They laugh at his early bedtime. They laugh at my grand aspirations for early potty training. They make me carry the equipment and push all the strollers. Most often, however, the hazing usually takes the form of them stealing my manageable, roll with the punches, sixteen month old, and leaving me responsible for keeping track of their sleep deprived, sugar fueled gremlins. While they pass Jack back and forth, giggling and flirting with him, I have to make sure that the rest of the kiddie caravan stays in line. For a newbie like myself, it can get pretty overwhelming sometimes.
Do you know how hard it is to keep track of a half dozen four year olds in the Kingdom of the Night nocturnal animals exhibit at the Omaha Zoo? It’s really quite the exhibit, and though I cherish the chance to silently chuckle when the MorMoms obliviously discuss their amazement over the “wet and weird looking beavers” and their “beaver holes,” it’s dark for fuck’s sake, and there’s alligators and shit. Let down your guard and you might have one less preschooler to worry about.
Vala’s Pumpkin Patch was a nightmare in that sense. Acres and acres of shit to get into, things to spend money on, animals within arms reach, contraptions to climb on and fall off of, stuff to ride on and fall off of, and plenty of places to hide. It was like one big game of hide and seek tag on acres of farmland that I didn’t want to play. Four year old kids are some crazy little fuckers. I was counting kids, catching kids, grabbing kids, lifting kids, chasing kids, and answering countless absurd kid questions, as my kid was off making cute special memories with the neighbor lady. As I tried to capture a few seconds of Jack throwing corn kernels from the corn pit on the camcorder, I noticed that he had something in his mouth. Assuming it was a dried kernel, I reached in to snatch it out and surprisingly found a barely eaten green fruit snack that Lisa had given him earlier that morning. Jack had somehow managed to chew on the same fruit snack for almost two hours! Of course, I didn’t even notice because I was otherwise detained trying to keep one of the little girls from stripping in the corn pit or one of the boys from trying to waterboard his little brother with the squirt gun from the rubber duck race game. Plus, it was almost an hour and a half past nap time! I was beginning to think I was just not cut out to be a MorMom.
As I sat in my driveway after our pumpkin patch excursion, watching Jack from the rear view mirror passed out in his car seat with a half eaten piece of pizza on his lap and part of a tofu dog balancing precariously on his chest, I smiled at the thought of them making fun of me for leaving early again. I also thought about how much I am learning from my MorMoms. For one, I’ve learned to always keep a stash of never fail snacks on me no matter how short or long the trip out of the house is going to be. I’ve learned that tired kids make for terrible kids. I’ve learned that some kids do need a leash. I’ve also learned the great benefits of including the “1-2-3” thing into my disciplinary repertoire as soon as possible. I’ve learned just how powerful a “timeout” can really be. And, I’ve especially learned that I really don’t want to have more than one kid. Ever. Shit, being around the MorMoms so much, I’ve even learned to clean up my foul language a bit…at least around them.
Most importantly though, by hanging out with my “neighbor wife” and the other MorMoms, I’ve learned that no matter how little else you may have in common, it’s pretty easy to bond over the shared responsibility of 24/7 childcare. Lisa may prefer “movies with Disney type endings,” “books meant for (whispers) teenage girls,” and the most innocent and bland country music out there, but we can relate to each other. Despite the stark contrast between who we are as people, and the different ways we choose to raise our children, or spend our time, we completely understand each other. We’ve become unlikely fast friends. We watch out for each other. We help each other out. We make each other lunch. We fucking text each other back and forth all day long. Surprisingly, we’re the ones turning into sister wives.
So it was on a blustery fall day that blew garbage cans into streets like video game hurdles to avoid that Jack and I found ourselves on yet another play date with my sister wife Lisa and the MorMoms. Lisa got us into the Omaha Children’s Museum on her family pass, and it took about three minutes for Jack to find his usual spot in her arms while I was tasked with keeping an eye on all the more mobile little girls that seemed to scatter like my dog at bath-time as soon as we entered the first room. There was one in the fake boat, teetering on a ledge where I’m sure she shouldn’t have been climbing, while the other made a run all the way across the room to the puppet show booth. A third had her mind set on painting a watercolor and was asking me to find her a smock just as I caught the first one from falling of the boat. All the while, I’m trying to keep some sort of an eye on my own kid who’s leading Lisa around the joint like she’s his rickshaw driver.
Jack can walk just fine now mind you, but the MorMoms are his favorite mode of transportation on days like this. I don’t blame him. He is pretty much treated like some “golden child” or main Mormon Joseph Smith back from the dead in the body of a toddler. My son has the MorMoms, especially Lisa, in the palm of his little meat paw with the ease of a smile. Jack is more than fine with the arrangement. He’s all about me, unless his MorMoms are around. His instant love for Lisa, her daughters, and the MorMoms is how this whole weird friendship got started in the first place.
To the MorMoms, Jack can do no wrong. He gets what he wants. Everyone defers to Jack. Their sons and daughters have to share with him, though he’s not expected to do the same in return. Their children hear the “no’s,” Jack is showered with “yes’s.” Their kids have to wait for lunchtime, while Jack is stuffed with all the snacks he can eat. If Jack wants to hog the shopping cart or the popping lawn mower at the Children’s Museum and push it around for well over an hour, despite my objections, the other children have to adjust before the count of three or…well, you don’t want to know what happens when a MorMom gets to “three!”
I waved goodbye to Lisa and the girls as we pulled out of the Children’s Museum parking lot onto the one way street. I handed Jack a peanut butter cracker from my last emergency snack pack in the dog faced backpack, and headed back towards Benson trying to make it back home in time to salvage some sort of nap. Late naps are never good naps unfortunately, so I was prepared to just take what I could get. Nap time is Dad time, after all. No matter how much they scoff, or how much they try to prove to me otherwise, the MorMoms will not get me to back down from the regular nap schedule. It would be easier to convince me to join their church.
I fixed myself a bowl of the homemade soup that Lisa had brought over for me the previous day as I heard Jack finally fall asleep through the baby monitor. I texted a message of thanks to my sister wife for the soup, poked my real wife on Facebook, and settled into my welcoming couch with some headphones for what was sure to be too short of a time after all of that “shopping” and “mowing” with the MorMoms. As expected, he shit himself fully awake a mere forty minutes later, and spent the rest of the afternoon staring out the window at the house next door, longing for just one more glimpse of his beloved MorMom and her daughters with their jugs of chocolate milk.