I’ve sung this working parent song countless times. The melody is dips of bitter with a pitch of sweet. The chorus is wrought with rote and tired refrain. The kids pick it up every time it comes back around, and they hum it sadly as they waltz away.
Feel free to sing along if you know this one.
It is the tune of grass grown greener, and the moments allowed to pass. It is about working from home, which I have been fortunate enough to do since my youngest was born, allowing me opportunities that most working parents, especially fathers, will never know, and the subsequent squandering of them. It is the guilt in feeling that my children get a quantity of my time, but not the quality of it. It sounds catchy enough when you first hear it, focusing as you may on the bits about kids and home, but it can leave you crying come midnight when their wants are turned low and your loneliness is wide and awake beneath a blanket of warm, wet whiskey.
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Too often this working parent takes his meals at the desk, his goodnight kisses, too, and when he stands for the first time in memory there is nothing left to greet him but a slice of bed with a warm dog on it.
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I know I am lucky, but life is relative, and if I’m to take a side on time with my kids, I suppose it’s only right I err on the side that is never enough. I am all conference calls and spreadsheets, the constant hushing of childhood growing old and cold beneath the stain of my permanent shadow. I am “just another minute” until there are no minutes left and full of the promises that “we’ll do it tomorrow” when tomorrow has been missed and also the next time.
It’s the hashtags and the hours. When you work from home you are always at work, and there is nothing Netflix can do to stop it. Too often I take my meals at the desk, my goodnight kisses, too, and when I stand for the first time in memory there is nothing left to greet me but a slice of bed with a warm dog on it. Bells toll, tails wag, and so forth and so on.
And still, there is nothing I would change because change is far too full of different things. I crave the comfort of my children near me and welcome their call to imaginative arms when I am lost in keyboard crusades or the paper sea that surrounds me. They are forced to fend for themselves, and I am content to be their net should they need me—when in truth, they are the net—seeing only the bounce while blind to my fall. This is where I embarrass myself in a lens of privilege and that part about the grass being green. I am sorry if I offend you.
As it is, the boys are an echo in the hallway and I am the rock they rebound off. They will keep asking for attention, or at least I hope that they will, and we’ll sing a few bars as we are prone to do; but sometimes, when we need it most, all that is left is an open moment short on soft-shoe, and we may surprise each other with a dance or two, and the chorus fading softly in the distance.