The other day, Tommy got out his kinetic sand and played with it for hours at the dining room table. When he was done he cleaned it up. For those of you with young children, you know that “cleaning up” kinetic sand is just like cleaning up real sand, except that it is also neon and somehow sticks to surfaces even worse than the real thing.
“This stuff is terrible,” Chris said, as he tried to scrape little bits of it out of the crevices of the table.
“I know,” I said. “I don’t even know why we have it except that Tommy loves it.”
We joked about what kind of person would want to invent such a toy. Certainly it was someone who didn’t like parents.
“A year ago, I didn’t even know what this stuff was,” Chris said, “and now, I have very strong feelings about kinetic sand.”
We both laughed, and then I told him that I was going to write a blog post called “opinions on kinetic sand.” I didn’t really know what else I’d write about, but likely there were other such things in our house that could fall in this category.
A few days later, as I was trying to think of what to put in this blog post, I got an email from the administration of my school. It was time for all of the teachers to return.
I knew this email was coming, but it still made my heart race when I read it. I work at a private school with lots of space and other resources, so we can reopen. Claire, Austin and Tommy go to the local public school, one that is open for a small group of kids, but not for everyone yet. They are still learning virtually.
And while virtual learning has been really difficult for so many people, it’s been okay for us. In between my classes, I help Austin craft topic sentences, and during his breaks, Chris practices Spanish with Claire. We both help Tommy with subtraction in all the breaks we have. The kids’ teachers are thoughtful and responsive and probably just a little nicer to us because they know we have a teacher in the house, too. We know we are lucky to have us both at home, even if we are both also trying to work.
But that is about to end. “How are we going to do this?” I said to Chris that night.
“It will be fine,” he reassured. “I can handle it.”
“I know,” I said, “but it will be so hard.”
“It will be okay,” he said.
I pointed out that it is actually really hard to work and also homeschool three kids on your own – I’d done it this spring, before his permanent arrival in our house this summer, and it was some of the hardest single parenting of my life. He pointed out that he wasn’t going to be single parenting, because I’d be home in the afternoon.
“It’s still going to be a lot,” I said.
He nodded. “That’s probably true, but it’s okay.”
It made me think about the kinetic sand, actually. A year ago, Chris had responsibilities at his job, of course, but he mostly spent his free time riding his bike and fixing things in his garage and volunteering in his community. He went out with friends and traveled and sometimes spent an entire afternoon watching Netflix.
And now, he has a family.
“This is what I signed up for,” Chris said to me. “This is parenting.”
I pointed out that no one signed up for virtual homeschool and a global pandemic. But sure, I agreed, parenting means a lot of sacrifice.
Sometimes, when I’m watching him do something totally normal – like help Tommy load the dishwasher or sit with Claire as she does her homework or fix something in the garage with Austin – I’m bowled over with how much he loves them.
I know I shouldn’t be surprised – I know he loves them – but it’s still something that is so powerful every time that I step back and observe it. He took fifteen full minutes to read Tommy’s report card yesterday, which is a simple act, but it’s an act that only a parent would do.
There are, of course, a million other examples of ways life is different for Chris, now that he’s parenting three kids. There are a million more tiny stressors like the bits of kinetic sand that he’s still trying to get off of the table. But there are also a million more tiny joys.
Just as I was writing this, in fact, I looked over and saw that Chris had come down on his break. He was bent over the Lego pile with Tommy, and they were almost finished with their project. A few minutes later, Tommy popped up holding the completed Star Wars ship and said, “I did it!” His face was shining.
I looked at Chris. He was smiling, too.
Another tiny joy.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.