If I had to pick out one theme for our four days of Thanksgiving celebration, I couldn’t do much better than my child repeating “I can’t wait one more second” at decreasing intervals for hours. It really encapsulates the impatience, the demandingness, and the frequency of repetition that truly has driven me to the brink over this alleged holiday.
When I heard my coworkers talking today about their “calm,” “relaxing,” “chill” long weekends spent watching movies, having a weekend away, maybe going out for walks or otherwise leisurely enjoying the weather, I felt like I had entered some strange parallel universe. Could they truly be talking about the same weekend I had just endured? “Frustrating,” “trying,” and “high-stress” would more accurately reflect my experience. Certainly I returned to work more exhausted, run-down, and hopeless than when I left for the long weekend — and that’s saying something, given how I was doing before.
The difference is surely parenthood. Only one of my colleagues is a parent, and he’s a dad of two daughters, which seems to engender a very different parenting experience. Or maybe, like me, he only talks about the light, fluffy, good things in team meetings. I don’t know, but what I do know is that instead of spending my four days watching Hallmark Christmas movies, I spent it trying to respond patiently to my child for the ten millionth time.
Here’s the thing: I really love my child. I wouldn’t trade him for anything, and I wouldn’t want to do life without him. For a second this weekend I thought I’d lost him at the park, and even the possibility injected ice straight into my veins.
The older he gets, the more delightful he is. He has such an interesting, curious, and intelligent mind, I love to talk with him about some topics; he explores and understands concepts with a readiness I envy. The other day he got his speech therapist off onto a tangent about the International Phonetic Alphabet by asking smart and interested questions. Clearly the speech therapist has a passion for that topic, and I admired the cleverness of the tactic in asking more and more questions about it, because she couldn’t help but keep answering.
I really love my child, but after four straight essentially unstructured days of “family time” — a euphemism if I ever heard one in these pandemic months! — around Thanksgiving, I found myself hard-pressed to remember that I loved him at times.
We had some great family activities during those four days: We’re creating a board game as a family; we played laser tag in the dark at our park; we created D&D characters and completed our first family D&D adventure with Ian DM-ing; we acquired and decorated a Christmas tree; we ate pie for breakfast; and of course enjoyed the best Thanksgiving dinner I’ve ever experienced — bangers, mashed potatoes, our traditional family cranberry Jell-O salad, peas, and two kinds of pie. Not a turkey to be seen, and I was happier for it!
Through all of it, my child talked. Much of it involved trying to get our attention, asking us to play, telling us what or how to play, or strenuously arguing with our plans. I swear I would’ve paid good money to just have him agreeably say, “That’s a great idea! Let’s do that.” I would’ve paid even more, though, for total silence.
He demanded attention in every possible way; freaked out about large and small emergencies; demanded we play more; demanded food; demanded more playing; made implausible excuses (“I had a bad dream, that’s why I can’t take the recycle out”); threw fits when the excuses failed; and finally cycled back around and demanded we play even more. He did play by himself quite a bit, actually. But he didn’t want to. And when we joined him, he didn’t want to play structured games like a board game, but instead imagination games, which are great — but also require much more “negotiation” (read: “arguing”). Sometimes we said yes and sometimes we said no, but regardless of what we said, the endless harangue continued apace.
I can’t really describe how long the days felt, but at the end of Sunday I felt like I’d been flayed, put through a mangle, subjected to noise torture, and flattened by a steamroller, all at once. Then I thought about the next two weeks of my work as I prepare for the release on December 10, and the long, long days of just the three of us together.
I cried twice today so far. Maybe tomorrow will be a good day. Maybe I’ll only cry once.