For those who have been following the Lunchbox for any period of time, the laments about not having full access to my three sons are nothing new. Living nearly 1,300 miles apart for past several years has often been miserable, especially when throwing in the frustration from the futile attempts to find work closer to where they live. Well, that’s not the case now, at least until school starts, which is more than fine by me; I’ll take every minute I can get with them.
This marks the first week of an entire summer together. Five kids under one roof. What’s more, something has finally dawned on me—I have five kids. Five kids! Running around, hair on fire, playing, fighting, crying, laughing, eating (and eating a lot). It’s the zenith of craziness.
Over the last few months, my wife and I had been preparing ourselves mentally for this moment. Yet in all my excitement over having the chance to actually parent my sons for more than a week, I guess the idyllic images of us spending our days splashing around at the community pool and exploring the wonders of the children’s museum clouded more of the realities than I thought.
Instead of telling stories by the campfire, I’ve been distracted by pressing deadlines on several assignments, which have been further delayed by the constant interruptions of impatient kids wanting to know when I’m going to make good on my promises of summer fun. This is something of a catch-22, because meeting those deadlines translates into getting paid and getting paid provides the means for some of that summer fun. Then of course there’s all the day-to-day stuff, grocery shopping, laundry, bills, mowing the lawn, etc.
For whatever reason, I figured I would handle all these demands by transforming into a stay-at-home dad version of Mary Poppins, complete with a magic umbrella and the spontaneous catchy songs. To my surprise that’s proved to be an impractical notion, not to mention the children are united in their opinion that I have gone insane after encouraging them to join me in my rendition of “A Spoonful of Sugar.” (I think I’ll switch to selections from the Van Trapp family singers. Perhaps “So Long, Farewell?”)
These dashed hopes have lead me to occasionally wonder if I have dug myself into some sort of hole. Will my juggling of these realities leave my sons feeling disappointed because their own lofty expectations about their time with me were not met? Will the adverse issues endemic to the experiences of all blended families negatively impact both my sons’ and stepdaughters’ impressions of summertime to such an extent that they dread the idea of being together next year? In fact, given the complexity of the issues involved with being a blended family, do I really know what I’m doing? Will I turn everything into a big mess?
As I’ve contemplated these thoughts it’s brought to mind an old photograph of me as a boy. I’m maybe 5 or 6, shirtless and wearing a pair of oversized shorts that droop under a childish potbelly. It’s dusk and I’m standing on a large pile of dirt with a toy shovel laying at my feet. I can’t remember where all that dirt came from, but it probably has something to do with the innumerable landscaping projects my Dad enjoyed doing around the house, which often included digging holes for flower gardens or planting shrubbery.
By the expression on my face, I appear rather pleased with myself as if I had created that three-foot-high mound of dirt all by my lonesome. This still moment from childhood represents my every summer growing up. They tasted like strawberries and smelled like cut grass. I was happy.
Reflecting on my current situation, there’s a mound of opportunities I am standing on, a mound that could only be created by digging a hole. In less than a week, I’ve been there to console my sons over their fears and talk with them about the feelings they have been hiding from their mother concerning their stepfather, this while also successfully reassuring the girls that they are just as important to me as my own flesh and blood.
This represents the summers of my future. The taste of grilled burgers. The smell of pool chlorine. And I am happy.