Day Four – I GOT This…(Uh, Not Really)

So today I felt like the world’s greatest dad. Got the kids ready on time, managed the day fairly well with regards to meeting some deadlines and appointments, even prepared a home-made beef tips and rice dinner complete with microwaved broccoli with cheese sauce. I even arranged for a fantastic sitter to stay with the kids so I could slip away for a little me-time with the softball team.

So, after four days of single parenting, I think I’ve got this. I’m good. Single parenting, though challenging, isn’t so hard.

Horse manure.

And anyone who says otherwise is either lying or not telling the truth. Sure, I’m doing pretty well, certainly much better than I let on (because hey, it’s not as funny to say “Everything’s fine!”), but the truth is I’m struggling, folks. And I’ve been blessed with the help of my father, who’s babysat Jon everyday this week with the exception of Monday, my mother, who helped me with the kids during our revival at church, a gracious employer that allowed for me to have some very flexible office hours, and a wonderful friend/babysitter named Haley Davis who’s stepped in to help me regain some semblance of sanity.

In other words, I’ve had it easier than a career politician.

I cannot imagine, literally CANNOT imagine, what it would be like to do this act truly solo. No help from family or friends, no gracious bosses granting flexible hours, no church providing two meals out of five for the week. I mean, can you? Unless you are a single parent, trying to live off of whatever income you have with whatever resources you can muster, there’s no way to know.

Trust me, I know not every marriage is a picnic, and there are some folks out there who have spouses who might as well not exist. I get it, and it’s a tough row to hoe, and in some ways even tougher. But at least your kids have another person to go to on occasion. At least there’s another person there that you can talk to or discuss things with – even if the discussions end up in screaming matches, at least you were able to speak words into the air for another human being to hear and have to consider because they share your predicament.

But for someone who’s single, there is no one else. There’s only you and the kids and the walls. And the walls don’t give a crap if you can’t pay for them, because they go on being walls whether you live within them or not.

I had a good day, but only because I have a lot of help, and because my kids, by the grace of God, are pretty well behaved and easy-going. Sure, Ella can put me through the Death of 1,000 Questions, but when I tell her to clean her room, she does. When I tell Jon to sit down in his chair, he does (at least 75% of the time). What if my kids weren’t so easy? What if they had a learning or physical challenge to overcome? What if one of them required constant watching because without it, they would hurt themselves?

What would I do then? Where would I turn?

I know I don’t have it all together. I don’t even have it all in the same room. I mean, seriously, look what I did to my daughter’s hair tonight before ballet:

Does a man who has it all together do this to his child? Sure, I would probably get better with practice, but my gracious, look at her! I mean, Lord love her, she took my hand and smiled and said, “It’s perfect daddy! Just what I wanted.” But seriously, wouldn’t a mother know how to make the pigtails at least even on the child’s head? And I know for darn sure that her mother wouldn’t have made her wince in pain as many times as I did; you’d have thought I was giving her a jailhouse tatt with pencil lead and a rusty nail, she cringed so often.

And to make matters worse, when we got to ballet, she explained to her teacher that I did her hair. The teacher smiled, told her she looked beautiful and once Ella was out of earshot, looked at me and said, “Not bad for a dad.”

Not bad for a dad. You may think, “Hey, nothing wrong with that.” But the look in her eyes (that sad, knowing look that women get whenever men venture into historically feminine territory) combined with the tone of her voice told me all I needed to know: “Not bad for someone who doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing.”

And there’s the truth. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m winging it, hoping to heaven that I’m not hurting the kids in some unforeseen psychological way. I’m praying and trusting that my motives are clear: that I love them and would die for them and will do whatever I can to make sure their lives are good and clean and include broccoli because you can’t just eat crap all the time. I’m doing the best I can, only I know that my best isn’t – and could never be – the best there is. There’s a reason why men and women tend to drift towards one another and flirt and woo and fall in love and settle down and make a home and have 2.78 kids.

Because that’s the best – for the kids, for the individuals, for the world. It doesn’t work that way in a broken world unfortunately, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it. It just means that we should treasure it when we see it, thank God for it when we live it, and shut up and grant grace to those who maybe weren’t so fortunate in their lives, but are now doing the best they can with what they have.

Because I guarantee you this: if it ever happens to you, you’ll understand.

The Passage of Time

Today has been a good day (so far). Ella woke me up as usual, right at 7:00, by flushing the toilet in my bathroom. I don’t know why she’s suddenly decided that her bathroom is off-limits for pottying in the early morn, but I’m hoping she’ll break the habit once Rachel comes back.

Of course, the thought has occurred to me that she’s had this habit for a while now, and I’ve previously either slept right through it or sub-consciously decided to let Rachel handle it. Either way, the thought of my daughter habitually creeping into my room to pee while I slumber is creeping me out; it makes me wonder who else might be peeing in my house without my knowledge. Stevie Wonder? Dick Cheney? Special Agent Oso?

It boggles the mind.

Speaking of boggled minds, if this post ends up being really, REALLY bizarre, well – that’s what crazy tends to produce. And right now, I’m five shades of crazy, bordering on ludicrous (I had to really think about how to spell that last word there; my fingers wanted to type out “Ludacris”).


I was going to write about the passage of time and the theory of relativity, how one’s experience of time does not necessarily correlate to the actual movement of time. I was going to get all philosophical and sound smart and stuff, but my brain vomited into my nose and I just don’t have it in me to get all scholarly. Sorry. I know some of you Tech grads were hoping for a good laugh as a UGA grad tried his hand at physics, but we’ll have to get our laughs the old fashioned way: poop jokes and self-deprecation.

As I started out mentioning, today has been a relatively good day. After Ella flushed me out of bed, I was able to get both kids fed, dressed, medicated and happy with 15 minutes to spare. This is where the time thing kicked in: for most of the week (ok, all of this week) I have felt like a man with his hair on fire – running, running, running with no relief in sight. Every minute seems to press against the next one and my head has steadily grown more and more compressed with the various duties I’ve been trying to juggle. I have realized that part of the benefit of marriage is having someone to split the insanity with; fifteen minutes can actually feel like fifteen minutes when someone else is there to absorb part of the chaos.

Not so when you are alone. The chaos, even as sweet tempered as my kids’ brand of chaos is, belongs solely to you. The result? Time moves by wicked fast, where you barely get one thing completed before the next thing has finished and each successive duty or appointment only serves to drive the nail deeper, to pound on your head like a mallet until you finally disappear into the insanity.

That’s what made me notice the fifteen minutes this morning. I stopped and realized, for the first time since Rachel had left, that I didn’t have anything immediately pressing on me. Sure, we had to hustle out the door and on to school, but I didn’t HAVE to do that for another fifteen minutes. This is where my experience of time expanded, suddenly, like the guy who finally gets his fill at the China King all-you-can-eat buffet. Each second seemed bloated, like bread left to proof. I felt curious, as my brain screamed at me something needed to be done but my body felt free of all weight. It was delightful.

It lasted maybe 35, 40 seconds total, but that brief time of freedom from the clock was like a full night’s sleep or a restful swing in a shaded hammock. It made me think of heaven, and how eternity might not be as boring as we think (for those who believe heaven will be nothing but a non-stop sing-a-long of “Jesus Loves Me”).

The opposite end of the spectrum has been my experience with Jon’s diapers. I don’t know if I just don’t pay attention when Rachel’s around or if her absence somehow shrinks his bladder, but my goodness – that boy pees a LOT. It seems like every five minutes I’m having to change a diaper, which – praise the Lord – have mostly been pee-pees. The boy has a very healthy and functioning bladder, let me tell you. But pee-pee diapers, though abundant, aren’t funny. The solid laughs are in the poopies, and honestly he’s only hung one or two on me.

They’ve not been bad in and of themselves, certainly no worse than any other toddler deposits, but its the theory of relativity all over again when I’m trying to change him.

Let me say this delicately: the boy has quick hands. I don’t. So each exchange has been an exercise in horror as I try to clean before he can get himself into his mess. It doesn’t help that the baby wipe people know that there are frustrated fathers out there in a hurry to clean their kid, yet they still choose to manufacture wipes that take TWO hands to remove from the box. I literally have flung baby wipes up onto the wall in an effort to break one free before Jonathan escalates the situation. Ella walked in on the last service check and asked, “Daddy, why are you throwing baby wipes everywhere?”

Thus far, I’ve intercepted him about .1483 picoseconds before he scars us both for life. If I cut it any closer, I’d be sponsored by Gillette. I sincerely feel as though I’m moving like Superman – a blinding blur of blue light – and yet my eyes are telling me that I’m moving more like Miss Daisy. I know my days are numbered, and when it comes due, I’m positive things will switch suddenly and a moment that was moving too fast for me will suddenly decelerate into an eternity of horror. It will simply be a matter of perspective.

And after this long without my wife, brother – I’ve got perspective in spades.

Day Three – My Son, The Genius

Photo courtesy of Jodi Monoghan Photography

Wish I had a bigger picture to share, but unfortunately Jonathan is our second child, which means we quit taking pictures because we’re too freaking busy to remember the camera. I swear, the boy will grow up wondering if we bought him from gypsies or entered witness protection right after his birth.

He’s a cutie, though, and I’ve had more time this week (strangely enough) to notice just how smart the lil fella really is.

He’s a late talker (unlike Ella, who had mastered the entire OED by 9 months, and has graduated to all known English words ever uttered by sentient beings, usually at inappropriate and/or stressful times) so for a while now he’s been trotting out words for small things. Ice Cream. Ball. Milk. Car. Plane.

Of course, they don’t sound like that. They sound more like eyekeem, baww, mik, cah, pain (come to think of it, the boy sounds like he might be from South Boston; maybe we did buy him from gypsies…). My personal favorite of his is peetsies. Go ahead, take a minute and guess what that is.

No, seriously, take a minute. Heck, take two if need be.

Wracking your brain?

Think you have it?

Annnnnnnnd time! Go ahead, let me hear your guesses.

Pieces? Nope. Peaces? That’s not even a word. Feces? Not even close.

It’s pizza, his favorite food. Yeah, I know. I still stumble over it too. And honestly, there are probably 5,000 people out there who might hear this and think, “You think that makes your kid a genius? Dude, my son Chumba can quote the entire b-side to Rapper’s Delight. And Proust.” If so, you’re right – my son’s genius is not in his pronunciation of standard English words and phrases. It’s not even his timely use of context-appropriate standard English words and phrases; for example: I was discussing with Ella that Rachel would be home in two days. Jon, very quietly, as if to himself, points out the window of the car and says, “Pain. Home.” Then smiles at Ella and me.

No, what makes my son a genius is the fact that, at less than 2 years old, he looks at things with the perspective of someone who’s lived 50 times as many years. He’ll toddle into the yard and spend whole moments just staring at the grass, as if seeing something other-worldly in our weed-infested yard. Or when he gets out of the car – he always runs his hand along the bumper of our other car, coating it in dirt. It’s not the dirt he’s after (once he’s inside he turns to me and says, “Hands?” and points to the sink), and there’s nothing especially precocious about the act itself; he doesn’t burst into laughter, but gives off a giggle, like an elderly person who just rediscovered dancing in the rain after years of living in a rut. His smile isn’t full-blown, but a measured, observant grin that is directed at no one other than the God who made him. I know this sounds crazy because kids do sensate stuff all the time, but a 2 year-old routinely taking the time to create a pleasing tactile sensation that communicates to him on a level beyond just temporary pleasure?


What I think truly fascinates me about him is his capacity for love. It’s on another level. I know other sibling sets that get along well, or have a cute way of being around one another, but Jon really loves his sister. It’s almost super-human how much he loves her (not like he’s a mutant with super powers or anything, though that would be kind of cool) because you can see it’s genuine, and comes from his soul. It’s connected through him – it’s not just self-serving sibling baiting (“Can I get that for you, sis? Always happy to serve. By the way, that massive hole in your car window? Sorry about that…”), but a true and deep love of her, for her.

It’s beautiful to watch. He’s selfless with his toys, happily surrendering things to her when she wants them (most of the time; he is only 2 after all) without resignation or pouting; he honest-to-goodness just hands her what she wants and watches to see if it makes her happy (and normally, the answer is no). He gives because he wants to. Heck, from time to time, I have to step in and tell Ella to give something back that he’s just surrendered; I don’t do it to be mean, I just don’t want the boy to grow up thinking he has to let her have her way (she, however, would be just fine with that). But I’m slowly realizing that he’s not giving it over because he feels he has to (he’s quite capable of fighting when he wants something) – he’s giving it over because he wants to.

At 2 years old. He wants to make someone else genuinely happy and will surrender his momentary happiness for the larger gift of seeing someone else happy.

Did I mention he’s only 2?

It kind of freaks me out, to be honest. Where does that kind of love come from? I mean, Rachel and I do our best to make our home as full of love and laughter as we possibly can, but for Jon to have such a pure heart? That’s not something you teach; it’s something you are. Somewhere along the way I lost it. I watch my son live out of that purity and I marvel at how long he might hold on to it; I worry that someone will take advantage of it; the cynic in me begins counting the days until some facet of life comes along and crushes it right out of him. But for the past couple of days, I’ve just watched and been amazed.

And it’s not just Ella. While he’s not the most social butterfly, and certainly not always so uncannily advanced in his mannerisms and actions, there are times when someone asks for a hug and I’ll think, “When Hell serves ice water” and he’ll give that person a hug. You could call it toddler whimsy, but you would do so out of your ignorance; you would do so without fully comprehending the look on his face, or the carriage of his body language. And nine times out of ten the recipient will stand up, look at me, and say something like, “I didn’t think he’d really do it!”

And then they’ll say, “Boy, I really needed that. Makes my day a whole lot better.”

I really needed that. I believe, if I remember my science fiction/comic books/general dorkiness correctly, that a person who is capable of channeling and/or experiencing the emotions of others is called an empath (from the word empathy). Sometimes I wonder if that’s Jon.

I’m truly missing Rachel (the insomnia’s beyond old at this point) but getting to see my kids – really see my kids – has been fascinating. And scary.

My son, the genius. You may not see it, but that’s okay. I don’t think he intends for you to.

* A HUGE MEA CULPA: several people have commented here or in emails about the picture of Jonathan, and while I’m grateful you think he’s so cute, I have to confess that I boosted the picture from the photographer who took it – our official family photographer Jodi Monaghan. Jodi is a friend of Rachel’s from school, and she is one of the best photographers in the Atlanta area. If you have a wedding or event, or just need an updated shot of the kids or the fam, then please visit Jodi’s website – – and consider using her. She’s that rarest of things: a truly wonderful person who runs a wonderful business. You can also like her on Facebook.

And Jodi – sorry! Truly.