Andy Hinds confesses how overly-ambitious daddy blogging late into the night made him into a grumpy, hypocrite dad in the morning.
I finished writing a column for my local parenting magazine at about midnight on Sunday. I could have gone to bed at a decent(ish) hour for a change.
But there had been a blogging controversy heating up for a couple weeks–one that I was involved in pretty deeply. I figured I had better weigh in while there was still interest in the story.
I wasn’t particularly fired up. I could have gone to bed and it wouldn’t have bothered me that I didn’t get my two cents in. But I had an idea: just a simple question, really, and I suspected that it would generate some discussion. It wasn’t lost on me that some of the bloggers who had been following the kerfuffle would read and share the post. It would be easy to write, and it could get me some attention and pageviews.
The controversy I felt obliged to comment on was about a fellow dad blogger who, with the help of my mudslinging, had become something of a pariah in the community because of his pathological pursuit of attention and pageviews.
So I wrote the post. It wasn’t complicated or anything; but I kept getting distracted, and I ended up not getting to bed until after 4:00 a.m.
A few hours later, I zombie-shuffled through the morning routine of breakfast and preparations for getting the hell out of the house so we didn’t all drive each other crazy.
We could have done any number of fun activities involving just the kids and me. That’s how we usually roll, because making arrangements and trying to stick to those arrangements is difficult with two willful, capricious kids and a scatterbrained dad.
But that morning, we were meeting up with some of the guys from my stay-at-home dad group. We don’t meet up all that often, and I have rarely been the one to suggest activities (although after the meetups, I’m always glad I went). This day’s activity was my idea though. Nothing special–just a bunch of guys hanging out with their kids at the playground.
The girls were fussing over everything, and soon it was past the time we were supposed to have been there. They kept saying that they wanted to stay home. I could have bailed (it happens in the playdating world), but instead we persevered. It was very important that we show up. Because I needed footage of the Dad Group and kids frolicking about for a “Day in the Life of a Stay-At-Home Dad” video that may or may not be my ticket to an appearance on a national TV show.
I would somewhat sheepishly explain to the guys what the deal was with the show, and what kind of footage I was hoping to get. They would make fun of me a little, but play along, passing the camera around so I could collect clips of us being zany-but-involved dads from different angles. But first I had to be an asshole to my kid.
Twin A, aka “Cobra,” is the one that people say looks like me. She’s also a very sensitive kid with some anxiety issues that must be closely related to my own (especially the ones I had as a child), because when she becomes inconsolable over an improperly served cookie, or doors opened in the wrong sequence, I feel her anguish as if it were my own and realize that it has nothing to do with cookies or doors but is just a million festering, niggling buzzes of angst coming to a head. This connection-by-emotional-disorder makes me feel like we are more similar to one another than are myself and Twin B, aka “Butterbean.” It makes me more likely to be sympathetic to her utterly irrational meltdowns than to those of Butterbean.
Butterbean has a problem controlling her impulses. Which is perfectly appropriate for a three-year-old. Unfortunately, her impulses include lashing out at her sister with hits, kicks and shoves, for the smallest offenses. When I catch her manhandling her sister, my fragile little doppelganger whose only reaction, despite her greater physical size and strength, is tears, I get angry. I grab the aggressor by the arms to protect her victim from further abuse, and I pull her away for a hissed reminder about the rules regarding violence, before depositing her in time-out. In the moment that the child still has her war-face on, before she breaks down into tears of her own–tears of protest, mainly–and I am nose-to-nose with her, I realize that I’m looking into a mirror. Our eyes are wide and our jaws jutted out, teeth visible in menacing underbites. Our identical anger shocks me every time. But it doesn’t necessarily make me sympathetic.
I say hi to the one other dad who has beat me to the playground (the other guys had their own fires to put out), and try to get my sullen children to play. They want to go home. I share their mood a bit. I have my own niggling angst buzzing around. I’m tired, I’m feeling like half a cheeseball for having written something strategically controversial, and more than half a cheeseball for having strategically convened a playdate around the possibility that I could be on a TV show that I would never watch, just so–what–I can get some more clicks on my blog that equal fractions of pennies each in ad revenue? Just like the dude my derision of whom has brought me more clicks than anything else I’ve written about? So I can get on the road to being a pseudo-celebrity, and then parlay that somehow into being a real writer? My stomach has a dozen complaints and I’m thirsty.
Finally the kids start playing, tentatively. They get on what passes for a merry-go-round these days: a vertical axis with a disc on the bottom, just big enough for two kids to stand on while they hold onto the handles at the top of the axis.
“I wanna go really fast!” says Butterbean. It’s the first sign of enthusiasm all day.
“N-o!” Cobra stretches the word into two syllables. “Go slo-ow.”
The contraption makes two revolutions before the bickering turns to shoving.
I grab Butterbean and we grimace at one another before I set her aside to remove her sister from the idling piece of equipment.
“This one has problems with impulse-control lately,” I say to my friend. He nods like he knows all about that.
Cobra, frozen, gathers her breath, pauses. Lets out a howl that lasts forever. There’s a half-inch cut under her eye from Butterbean’s poorly-manicured fingernail.
Meanwhile her sister’s war-face has dissolved and she has climbed back on the the merry-go-round.
“Go really fast!” she demands over her sister’s wailing.
“You want to go fast?” My underbite is still engaged. I give the axis two quick spins.
It goes fast. Really fast.
Butterbean loses her grip and sails off of the merry-go-round, landing on the rubberized ground, first on her feet, but then toppling dizzily over.
“Speaking of impulse-control…” my friend says. It sounds light-hearted, but he has to be horrified. And, of course, he’s dead right. I want to disappear.
But now I have two wailing three-year-olds clinging to me. All of us miserable and hanging onto each other because there’s nothing else we can think to do.
Then the other two guys and their kids arrive. The show must go on.
As kids sometimes do, the girls recover quickly. Soon they’re running around with their little friends, chattering, laughing, apparently not hating my guts.
We get some footage. The kids are cute and the guys are funny. I edit out the parts where my jaw is clenching and I look a little sick to my stomach.
Photo of playground equipment courtesy of Shutterstock