Sunday, August 14, 2016

This American Strife

And now for a very special guest post from Luke about the last two weeks he's spent with the girls. I love all this detail because inevitably all the rough moments of these days get worn down into a vague memory of 'it was difficult'. We are hoping against hope that beginning school - schedule, discipline, expectations - will stabilize their behavior and sleep patterns. To all the people who take care of kid(s) full-time:


For the past two weeks Julie has been busy starting her new job and I have been staying home with Clementine and Josie, whose daycare does not start until August 15. Meaning this Monday. Oh happy day.  

It’s been a very difficult, frustrating, and exhausting few weeks. The girls are having to adjust to a new house, a new routine, and new sleeping arrangements.  I’m having difficulty being patient. Having kids has revealed just how impatient I am. It is debilitating and, frankly, embarrasing. 

I’ll walk through a typical day. 

I have been somewhat lazy and sleeping as long as I can before the girls get up. Sure, it’s nice to shower and have my coffee before they rise, but it’s also nice to lay in my bed and relish the quiet of the morning. The calm before.

The girls wake up between 7:15 and 7:30. I’m alerted by Clementine bellowing and grunting loudly and Josie jumping around jollily, eager to get the shit show on the road.

Sometimes Clem tells me she wants to get out of her crib, but refuses to let me pick her up. She slumps in her bed and wants me to coax her out by pretending to go downstairs without her. And the games have begun.

Eventually, I either get her out of bed or she climbs out. I replace Clem’s sleep diaper with panties, tag in the back, and discuss whether she woke up wet or dry. Then I put her in a dress usually with pants or tights underneath. She has been relatively easy to dress compared to how stubborn and irrational she used to be when choosing her outfits. 

Next I change Josie’s diaper and put her in a dress and pants. I typically don’t bother with socks as they inevitably get pulled off and strewn all over the house and vehicles. Also, Josie gets frustrated and screams/squeals at her inability to quickly remove them when she wants them off.  So no socks. 

Down the stairs we go. Julie and I drink our breakfast, bullet proof coffee, as Julie finishes getting ready and heads out the door.  

I prepare breakfast for the girls. Eggs (large chunks as finger food, they won’t eat little shreds of eggs), salami or ham, bacon, cottage cheese, apples, banana, strawberries, raspberries, oranges, popcorn cookies (“cackorn cookies”),  and grapes for dessert. 

They slowly pick at their food. Josie puts everything in her mouth and chews it up, but only swallows about 40% of it.

Clem finishes her food and usually asks permission to be excused from the table, a lesson that has taken several weeks to instill. Sometimes she even clears her plate to the kitchen sink. 

I clean off Josie’s hands and face with a wet paper towel, but I won’t get her out of her highchair until she says two words together in a phrase - “down please.”  Her language is delayed and this is a phrase I work on every day.

Breakfast typically wraps around 8:15. The girls head downstairs to the playroom while I clean the dishes in our surprisingly shallow kitchen sink. I do all the dishes by hand. I don’t trust our dishwasher. For some reason removing dirty dishes from a dishwasher after it has run a cycle infuriates me.

We need to be out the door before 9:00 to make Clem’s 9:30 swim lesson with Ms Sarah at the JCC (“the J”).  After the dishes I get myself dressed and pack the diaper bag for the J, including a snack, Clementine’s swim suit, and a swim shirt.

Hair by dad:

As all parents know, getting out the door is needlessly goddam difficult. Transitions are precarious.  Lately setting a timer and racing against the clock has been a great way to motivate Clementine. Josie follows Clementine’s lead. I set my Apple watch for 2 minutes, Clemmie presses the green start button and away we race. Once they get their Keens on-one of them always has them on the wrong feet, I tell them to go outside and line up against the house while I lock the door. They hold hands and line up quite well. I assume they did that regularly at their previous daycare. 

After locking the door, I take them each by the hand and we walk together to the van. I put Clem In the van first and then Josie. Sometimes Clem insists on climbing around in the van and pretending to drive. Eventually they are both strapped in and we leave for the J. I turn on NPR and Josie complains that it is too loud. At any volume. It’s too loud.  Diane Rehm usually. Josie impatiently screams “go!” every time I stop at a light. And at every light I explain red means stop and green means…..”go!” interjects Clementine. We repeat this conversation about 4 or 5 times on the 12 minute drive. 

We arrive at the J and I find parking in a far corner where I can back the van into a parking spot. Otherwise I may have a difficult time exiting an hour later when the parking lot is completely full. I get out and unlock the padlocked rear of the van to retrieve our double stroller. The sun has started to beat down and I am sweating. The girls are good about staying in the stroller and I have not been strapping them in lately. I put the diaper bag backpack on my back and we head out across the parking lot. We head straight to the Kid Zone. The women working there are older and very sweet. They all know Josie by name and she has become fond of them. She used to cry when i dropped her off, but now she gladly plays with her familiar caretakers. 

I leave the stroller at the Kid Zone and Clem and I head for the family locker room. The family locker room is primarily full of mothers and children. I motivate Clem to get dressed by reminding her that Ms Sarah is waiting for her. Sometimes it’s a battle to get her to wear her sun shirt since it is often slightly damp from the day before and therefore too cold for her. Eventually I bring her to Ms Sarah in the pool at 9:30 and I head back to the family locker room to prepare for my light workout. It’s weird to be in there by myself, since there are signs up prohibiting use of the room without your children, but that’s where our locker is, so…  

I head to the gym and do squats, bench press, pull ups, and sit ups and before I know it, 10:00 rolls around and it’s time to collect Clementine. 

I arrive at the pool about 10:05 and watch the last 5 or 10 minutes of the lesson. There is usually another boy in the class named Brendan. He is acutely disobedient and disruptive. A terrible example for Clementine. I partially blame Brendan for the Clem’s recent trend of obstinate disobedience. 

We head to the locker room where I’ve convinced Clem how wonderful a hot shower can be. Mostly to get the chlorine out of her hair. She holds the shower head and we wash up with the cheapest, runniest soap and shampoo I’ve ever encountered. I shower in my shorts to spare the unwitting moms and children the ugly task of forgetting my hairy naked form should the shower door fly open. 

We dry off and get dressed. Another transition that is hard. I coax her clothes and shoes on. She races out the door and heads down the hall to the Kid Zone. There are two partitions in the Kid Zone - one for 3 and up and one for 3 and under. Clem heads to the 3 and under portion and informs Josie that it’s time to go and Josie comes running to me full of excitement and apparent affection. This quickly fades as she runs past me into the 3 and up partition and sees bigger and better toys. I let Clem and Josie run around in the 3 and up area for a few minutes while I await the next transition. 

Eventually they are coaxed to their double stroller with the promise of a snack in the van. We either purchase apple slices at McDonalds, grapes at the J’s cafe ($4 is a rip off for tiny cup of grapes, by the way) or we have the apple sauce that I pack as a snack in the diaper bag. I put them in the car seats in the 10:30 am heat. I lift the stroller into the back of the van, and start up the van, turn on the AC and distribute the snacks. 

The ride home is accented again by Josie’s impatient stoplight antics. We talk about the next segment of our day - playing, lunch, nap. 

We enter the house, the girls remove their shoes, and head downstairs to play nicely or wrestle, scream and fight. You never know. 

I head to the kitchen, retrieve the kiddie plates from the drying rack and fill them with the staples again: cottage cheese, salami, apple slices, orange slices, cucumbers, carrots, french onion dip (Josie only), olives (Josie only), chicharrones, strawberries, raspberries, bananas, tomatoes, and cheese slices or sticks. Grapes for dessert. 

Lunch is much the same as breakfast. Josie chomps most of her food and digests roughly half of it. The rest is mashed and spread over her plate and highchair tray. Clem eats all her food and wants several bunches of grapes for dessert. Josie eats 100% of her grapes.  

After lunch comes nap time. There’s a 50/50 chance I will have a few hours to accomplish household tasks (learn about new health insurance and health savings account, update car insurance, seek moving expense reimbursement, compile daycare documentation, pay bills, etc) or music tasks (schedule touring dates in Texas and St Louis). 

Nap time has been tricky because their cribs are in the same room. If I put them down together they will certainly NOT fall asleep. They will jump around and play and talk for hours. The strategy is to put Josie down with a bottle at 1:00, wait for her to fall asleep (we have a video monitor), and then put Clem to bed.  While Josie is having a bottle from 1:00 to 1:30, I always read Clemmie a book downstairs. Lately it’s been Aardvarks, Here Come the Ducklings, or Jumanji.  I have to tempt Clementine with a fun-activity-carrot to convince her to quietly take a nap. Usually this carrot is an evening bike ride or trip to the Millennium Park splash pad. Clem loves those activities and hates having them taken away. After our book I set another timer for 2 minutes and Clem and I race upstairs to quietly fall asleep as fast as she can. A trip to the splash pad or bike ride hangs in the balance! 

Recap: Josie down first, then Clem joins, and they both sleep for about 2 hours. In a perfect world. But this strategy is destined to fail since at least 50% of the time Josie will NOT fall asleep at all. In which case I put Clem to bed at 1:30 and get Josie out of her crib and put her in the pack and play in the guest room/office, which she can climb out of. Sometimes she falls asleep in there, but usually she won’t and I just let her wander around in the playroom all afternoon while Clem naps and I try to get some work done on my laptop. 

The girls (or just Clementine depending on the day) get up from naps between 3:00 and 4:00. They sit at the table and have a snack. Usually it’s fruit and a popcorn cookie.

Next we talk about mommy getting home and what we will do then - splash pad or bike ride. Julie arrives home between 5:30 and 6:00. Dinner is essentially a carbon copy of lunch. Same staples. Same routine. Same results. 

If Josie doesn’t nap, I take Clem for a bike ride by herself, over Josie’s emotional objection. If Clem doesn’t nap I take Josie for a solo trip to the playground. Again over Clem’s desperate objection. The 50% of the time when naps go well, Julie and I take them to the splash pad after dinner. They love it. 

After the splash pad or bike ride, the girls play downstairs while Julie and I talk about her new job and my day with the girls. Like nap time, Josie goes to bed first with a  bottle around 8:30. Ideally, she falls asleep and Clem joins her at 9:00. But lately Clementine has been staying up and refusing to go to bed until after 10:00. It’s infuriating, but I can’t put Clementine to bed when she’s throwing a tantrum, because she will wake up Josie. Once Josie is up, she won’t fall back asleep. A real nightmare. 

Bedtime is a real struggle. But eventually, sometime before 11:00, both kids are asleep. I go to bed about 12 or 1230 after winding down with some TV (The Night Of, Oz, Stranger Things, Flaked, BoJack Horseman) or reading in bed (Sapiens or Newsweek). 

7 hours later, we do it all again. Hopefully better than yesterday. But usually about the same.  

It’s been a challenging two weeks with my little girls. Emotionally exhausting. But I know I will look back fondly on these long days and short nights. All aboard the nostalgia express.

As I type these final words, I hear the wolves wiggling free from their afternoon slumber. Nap time is over.


  1. I loved reading this! Way to go, Luke.

  2. It's tough, no doubt about it. Churchill said - Never give up. Raising my two kids with my working wife was the hardest thing we ever did together. Building buildings was easy by comparison. I traveled a lot. When I got home I had to remember that my problems didn't matter to them whatsoever - they wanted me to listen to their problems right when I walked in the door. I had to refocus on them and get back to that rocking chair and reading to the kids in my lap, homework, bath time, and story time. My problems didn't matter to them. I don't know where that energy came from, I just prayed for patience and for one more hour a day. At home, my work and my pride didn't mean anything to my wife or kids; although, occasionally my wife would say she was proud of me. Wow! That was all it took for me to work even harder for another year. A little encouragement goes a very long way.
    My S
    on, when fifteen years old came up with a saying: "no one said life was going to be easy". Another of his was: "you don't have to like it, you just have to do it". I have no idea where he learned those jewels, but they stuck with me and I repeat my Son's words often. It does not take a village to raise a child - WRONG. It takes a willing team of a man and a woman and a lot of strength, perseverance and patience. A little prayer helps.