My wife, Kristin, works weekends. It’s a 24 hour shift starting Friday evening and ending Saturday evening. Everything in between is called Dadderday (Dad + Saturday). I’ve always tried to be an involved father so when she started the job I was excited about the prospect of spending lots of quality time with the kids.
All the same, I didn’t want the kids to feel anxious about weekends without mom, so we tried to frame Dadderday like a fun vacation with Dad rather than a whole day away from mom. Let’s accentuate the positive, I thought. We bought fun heat-n-serve food for us, and I decided discipline and clean-up could wait till Saturday night.
We had gobs of messy fun. But it came with a price. It meant that when Kristin got home, she found every baking dish, spoon, plate, bowl, cup and diaper piled in the sink from baking chicken nuggets and pizza and from scooping ice cream. While she was gone, the two kids and I would pass from one area of the house, fill it with clutter and move on to the next until finally there was so much junk on the floor that you couldn’t move anywhere without stepping on a Lego.
By the end of Dadderday I felt like I was living with two ketchup-lipped feral-haired seagulls on one of those beaches that periodically gets covered in super-painful stinging jellyfish (you probably connected the jellyfish to the Legos, but you might be wondering why my children became seagulls for this simile. They are always trying to eat fries off the floor, making inarticulate squawking noises, and getting caught in old six-pack rings. I stand by my seagull/children analogy).
Anyway, here is a list of the first sentences uttered by Kristin or me upon her return from her long shift.
1. Me: “Your turn.”
2. Kristin: “You know, just putting Ellie’s hair in a ponytail makes her look about 90% less homeless.”
3. Me, after Kristin returned from a double shift: “Thank goodness you’re home. I haven’t had time to defecate in 36 hours.”
4. Kristin came in and told me how good the kids looked because I had done my three year-old daughter’s hair. Me: “No, that’s the same ponytail you put in Friday morning.”
5. Kristin: “Hey, everyone has pants on. Is the president coming over?”
6. Kristin: “Wow. You did some dishes, if CPS walked in, they probably wouldn’t take our kids away. Thank you.”
7. Me: “Hey, you’re home! The baby’s poopy. ”
I hit rock bottom several weeks into our Dadderday schedule when I asked Kristin if she could get us something easier to eat for lunch than chicken nuggets. When she said such a product probably doesn’t exist. I realized that when I came home from work on weekdays, the house was not a sticky tornado, the children had brushed their teeth, the baby was not poopy, and no one was on the verge of a tantrum. The problem wasn’t that I couldn’t tie a ponytail or put the Legos back in the bag. The problem was that I was so busy trying to make every Dadderday feel like a snow day; that I was acting more like a fun-uncle than a parent. They needed more than a fun-uncle, they needed a dad.
This means that now we put most of the Legos away before we get the blocks out. It means we have chicken nuggets only once per weekend… as it turns out, my kids really enjoy helping me cook something that’s good for them. It means even though my three year-old girl doesn’t like to have her hair brushed, I brush it anyway. And even though making sure everyone has pants on seems superfluous, you never know when the president might come over.
That doesn’t mean that the house is perfect when mom gets home. But it does mean that we can say “hi” to mom and tell her all about all the adventures we had on Dadderday before she steps on a Lego.