It's just after 4 a.m. I'm the only one in the house awake. I've found that I can get some of my best work done between four and seven in the morning. Of course, getting up at 4 a.m. usually means being in bed by 9 p.m. the night before. That's usually not a problem. My kids see to it that I'm pretty exhausted by that time anyway. Yes, I've become like one of those old people you see on the local news who, when asked how they've lived so long, responds that they go to bed every night at sunset and arise the next morning before dawn. Only I'm not as sure that my schedule will result in personal longevity. Right now, it's just a matter of survival. A starving man eats when he can, not when he wants. An ugly guy dates any girl who will go out with him, he doesn't hold out for a super model. (Unless he's a rock star or a multi-billionaire--just ask that really homely guy from The Cars who looks like he gave up being a cadaver to pursue his musical career.) And, to be sure, a dad can't sleep or work whenever he wants. No, you do it when you can. The best time for me to work? Start early before the little ones wake up. The best time to sleep? Whenever they do.
Having kids is like life on caffeine. It's active--fast-paced. If you only have one or two small children, there's a chance you might get them down for a nap at the same time and find at least a few moments of peace and quiet. But with three or more, peace and quiet happens almost as often as meeting Bigfoot or hearing Donald Trump talk about his feelings. With two you can play man-to-man defense. With three, you're a man down. Your kids have got a power play that lasts until someone goes to college. Forget scoring goals, you just don't want to fall too far behind. You and your wife just do what you can to hold it all together.
The epicenter of life's craziness is our house. Our oldest, Emerson, is only six, so none of our kids are old enough yet to just turn lose in the neighborhood. If they're not at school or a friends house, they're usually in the house or the backyard. All that kiddie energy is consistently unleashed within the confines of our humble abode. Sometimes, when I come home from work, I just sit for a moment in the driveway, staring in fear at the front door, not knowing what awaits me on the other side. Sometimes, I'll lean the seat back in my car and try to steal a fifteen minute nap before I go inside. But that can be risky. If your distraught wife who has been eagerly awaiting your arrival catches you sleeping in the car when she desperately needs you inside to help with the kids, you could find yourself on the receiving end of a verbal lashing and in real danger of physical harm. I've found it's safer if I pull into the parking lot at the community clubhouse for some quick Zs.
Eventually though, there's no getting around it, you have to go inside. Before we had kids, my wife used to greet me with words like, "Hi Honey, how was your day." Now "Thank God!" tends to be the standard welcome. Often, it's accompanied by a take your child or die expression that leads me to believe that, when she hasn't been chasing after the kids, my wife has spent much of the day thinking of ways to hurt me for giving her three kids, then leaving her alone with them while I escape to a world where people don't watch Sesame Street and grown-ups take showers before leaving the house.
Yes, our home is a different universe. It's a world where Cheerios crunch under every step. It's a place where even adult conversations revolve around topics like poo-poo, boo-boos, Spiderman, and Hannah Montana. Laundry multiplies like a virus, engulfing our home in a pandemic of dirty underwear, spit-up on shirts, and food-stained trousers. Toys seemingly drag themselves into the living room, the kitchen, the bathroom, my bed... Shoes need marriage counseling, refusing to live in pairs even after you go through great lengths to find them and get them back together. Then there's the food: Half-eaten sandwiches left on the couch; Goldfish between the recliner cushions; partially-licked lollipops plastered to the kitchen table; and my son Carson's favorite game--Find my banana before it rots and stinks up the whole freak'n house! It's challenging, especially if you're a clean freak. In fact, if you're obsessive compulsive, it's enough to cause a conniption. It's especially tough when you have kids Carson's age. He wears and catapults as much food as he eats. Once, I walked into the kitchen to find a group of ants encircling his highchair, bowing before it, and chanting "We're not worthy, we're not worthy..."
It's a crazy world... a messy world... a challenging, and often sleepless world. But it's a world I'm glad to live in. As a parent, you just have to learn that life is about windows of opportunity. There are windows when you can work. There are windows when you can sleep. And there are windows when your wife might kill you if you don't realize it's time to take the kids and give her a break. But there are other windows as well. There are only certain periods in life when your kids will want to rush you, jump on you, and bombard you with "Daddy, play with me...," or, "Daddy, come see...," as soon as you walk in the door. One day soon, you won't hear yourself walking on Cheerios. One day soon, there will be no toys to avoid stepping on, shoes to match, or bananas to race against time in search of. Is it hard sometimes? Yep. Do you and your wife need those times when you take a few moments to let chaos reign so you can just sit together on the couch and talk to each other? Definitely. Does the occasional beer or glass of wine help? In my case, sure. But one day, you'll miss it. Like everything else, this stage of life is a window. So take it for what it is: the good, the challenging, and the exhausting. Enjoy it! Pretty soon, it'll be just too darn quiet behind that front door.