One of the reasons we came back was to spend a month with our dear friends. They had an urgent need for some help with child care for a month so Greg headed over to Atlanta, GA while Tiffany moved on to our next destination a little early to help out one of our friends with his business.
Greg remembers the first time he saw Atlanta. He was a new ensign in the Coast Guard and by new, we mean he got his commission about a month before and was driving to his first duty station in Florida. At about midnight he was heading down the I-75 when he crested a hill and the whole city of Atlanta lit on a clear night spread out before him.
It was a sight he’ll never forget but then getting pulled over 30 minutes later by the Atlanta police for speeding stuck in his memory too. What’s the deal with him and cops?
We bring up this story because after spending about a month in Atlanta, Greg really has nothing to add to his memories of the city. “Why” you ask? “After a month of living in a place how could you possibly not have something to give us?”
To which Greg responds “Raising kids is hard.”
Now let’s get something straight before I (Greg) go any farther – these kids were awesome and I don’t mean awesome in that they were cute kids who got away with stuff. These kids were awesome in that they were well mannered, respectful, disciplined, intelligent children…that were obviously the result of a continuous large investment of time and energy on the part of Mom and Dad (they were also admittedly rather cute). They were kids; they weren’t perfect but speaking as someone who spent more than one summer as a full time babysitter these kids were about as well behaved as a person could even unreasonably expect. The thing I loved most about them was that they listened and not by just blindly doing whatever I said. They listened and responded to logic when they asked why they had to do this or follow that rule. Let me say that again – they listened and responded well to logic. Because honestly if they hadn’t been genius freaking child prodigies I probably would have been completely lost as a temporary nanny.
And they let me sleep in sometimes!!!
It’s just that raising kids, even looking after them for an extended period, is a responsibility that is both massive and continuous. It literally never ends and I’ll tell you what, that is exhausting. The care is constant, the raising and teaching continues day after day. You always have to be in control of yourself, the kids and the situation, thinking ahead, being proactive. One day I got a 24 hour cold and was laid out. That’s when I really noticed how hard parenting could be.
Because there was no door.
Crushing and unrelenting responsibility, that I can handle. Heck, one could easily argue as a former military officer and small business owner I was bread for it. But you see in those jobs there was always a door.
As an officer I had my stateroom that when I was off watch I could enter, close the door and barring any emergencies or drills, not have to deal with anyone for half an hour or so. As the owner of a seminar business I had a rule all my clients knew: the day after a seminar I only talked to 3 things – my wife, my Xbox and a bottle of wine. If you weren’t one of those three you could leave a message on my cell phone and I’d get back to you tomorrow.
Now were there exceptions to those rules? Of course. Like I said, there were drills, emergencies, and annoying unreasonable Executive Officers in the military that demanded immediate attention. In business there are sometimes issues that required either an urgent response or the loss of a significant amount of money. As a general rule though, in these positions there was somewhere a door that I could pass through, close behind me, and have a reasonable expectation of some decompression time for at least a little while.
The problem with the parenting biz is that children tend to knock on closed doors. (Which, again, is awesome of these kids. They didn’t barge in, they knocked. Heck when I was sick Rebecca tucked her blanket around me. Good kids. I also now understand why they make adult pajamas, because parents don’t sleep naked.)
Or what’s more likely is that from behind the door you hear a sound. You’re not quite sure what that sound is but there is a part of your mind that tells you that you should probably go check it out (because you’re never really off duty; it’s still your responsibility). So you’re forced to open the door (which is just cruel, the part where they make you open it) and find the kid on a stool in the pantry.
Now I won’t speak for parents everywhere because I’m not one. I won’t even speak for babysitters and nannies everywhere even though I’m pretty sure I’ve got enough background to meet the minimum requirements to get into that club. I’ll speak for me:
The first thing that goes though my mind is that every interaction, every single thing I do, is programming this child, teaching them something about what it means to be a responsible adult. Who knows what significance their developing mind is placing on every word I say, on every action I take? I can’t be perfect all the time but it’s my responsibility to try to be as kind, as disciplined, as fair, as darn close to an ideal human as I can be at all times. My own father failed in this responsibility, and failed massively. I would not repeat his mistake.
Having that run though my mind I ask, “why are you in the kitchen pantry?”
Them – “I want a snack.” (the fact that a kindergartener knows what a pantry is impresses me by the way)
Me – “You had a snack, what I’m guessing you want is a fruit snack.” (read – gummy candy)
Them – “Yeah.”
Me – “Well did you go potty?”
Them – “No.”
Me – “Do you need to?”
Them – “I don’t know.”
Me – “Well then let’s go try and if you go potty you can have a fruit snack.”
Maybe it’s because I’m a temp here or something, maybe it’s because I write a blog with my wife and I’m looking for material, but for whatever reason as I’m helping this kid use the bathroom a quiet, rational part of my brain asks “how the heck did we get from raiding the pantry to going potty!?”
I tell it to shut up. I’m under no moral requirements to be a sterling example to my inner monologue.
All that being said, I can see why you all do it,
Not that we’re having one. For the indeterminate future we’re more than happy to be that weird family friend who sends postcards from far off lands…
Oh, the Godzilla thing? Well they had a map of the world and I started telling them about different places…which led to Godzilla (doesn’t everything eventually lead to Godzilla?)… which is basically the only thing they remembered from said conversation.
I am grateful to Joe and Rachel for letting me spend some time with their family. I am grateful to their kids for being wonderful, for being fun, for being gracious enough to conform their “childing” to my odd form of “nannying” and for showing me how to build a helicopter out of some sort of pool noodle erector set thing.
But mostly, for allowing me to delve into their wonderful lives and for letting me borrow their Dad for a night of wine and Starcraft…which go together much better than you might first expect.
And I would be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t a little grateful, and a little reluctant, to give the kids back.
In Mexico they use kids as a cunning entrepreneurial tool. Check out the simple brilliance of children, breadcrumbs and successful business.
Greg and Tiffany are traveling around the world on sailing yachts and keep a video blog of their (mis)adventures. If sailing to Tahiti on a 44 ft sailboat, 3-day delays for wine tastings, getting pooped on by seagulls, opening coconuts with dull machetes, sailing past tornadoes and ukulele Christmas carols are for you, then check them out at www.CoastGuardCouple.com!