Opinion Columns & Blogs

Columnist embeds with parental ‘combat’ unit

Embedded journalists are brave. Usually they embed by joining a military platoon and report what they see in combat. I decided to try some “columnist embedding,” but on a much smaller scale – not quite combat, but nevertheless in a perilous adventure: parenting.

I flew to Dallas to embed in the home of my daughter Megan and son-in-law Eric, who were experiencing a routine weekend of parenting their two sons, 5-year-old Owen and 3-year-old Henry.

I arrived early Friday evening and left late Sunday afternoon. It was a perfect time for embedded reporting, since the parents had experienced an exhausting week and were looking forward to a weekend of just staying home, with the hope of unwinding.

I was quartered in a bedroom down the hall from the boys. I tried to fit in with the family routine: a Friday evening meal around the dinner table, a rainy Saturday staying indoors and a Sunday featuring church, breakfast and some afternoon activities.

I am able to report on these adventures from the perspectives of the main combatants – parents. I bring to my reportage firsthand knowledge of the experiences long ago of parenting a 5-year-old and 3-year-old living simultaneously under my roof.

The most important conclusion was this: Parents of young children are able to make it through the day only with the knowledge that night will come and kids will sleep. When that magical time arrives, and the kids are sleeping, life seems so good. The silence is miraculous, a gift from heaven as wondrous as manna.

During the Friday time of quiet, the parents I observed marveled in the joy of stillness as they engaged in conversation which went beyond, “We don’t throw books,” and “Please get out from under the table.”

A second, almost equally important, conclusion is that parents need a strategy. Saturday the mom and dad knew there was a long day ahead with no preschool as a buffer. Their strategy involved the key element of sleep, specifically a nap for Henry.

It was important to perform activities and accomplish tasks, including lunch, before the nap and to be ready for a groggy and then energized kid afterward. Nap time itself was sacred, with parents providing the awake child with quiet independent activities while they did the things they needed to do.

That left about 10½ hours which needed additional strategizing, beginning with two boys active the first thing in the morning and demanding their parents’ attention even before Mom and Dad were able to make their first cups of coffee.

Part of the strategy was to keep the kids away from various screens (TV, computer, tablet, phone) and get them involved in hands-on play. Fortunately, Owen’s and Henry’s parents had stocked up over the years on cars, trucks, tractors and trains.

Vehicle play lasted only so long, until one of the boys’ trucks smashed into the other boy’s car and bedlam ensued. The parents realized they had to get the kids out of the house, even though it was raining.

The embedded columnist (aka Papa) suggested taking them to a bookstore. That worked for about an hour. Then it was off to buy groceries. Papa accompanied Henry and his Mom into the grocery store, using the 2-on-1 defense. It worked only occasionally, as Henry was usually too quick for either adult.

Fortunately, after a return home for lunch, Henry took his nap.

After the nap Papa came up with a few spontaneous ball games in the garage until dinner time. The boys’ showers followed the meal, and then it was time again for bed. Thank you, Lord!

Sunday morning dawned sunny and peaceful. The boys had warmed to Papa enough so that the three of them engaged in reading the books Papa had bought the day before.

Church was marvelous because the parents’ parish had Sunday schools accommodating both boys.

After church was it was time for a late breakfast in a kid-friendly restaurant followed by some outdoor Wiffle Ball and bike riding, then indoor Uno and coloring.

By 4 p.m. Sunday, the embedded columnist was out the door and headed to the airport, where he wrote, undisturbed, his account of the combat, er, adventure, wondering how the parents would get through the next four hours until bed time.

John Spevak is a resident of Los Banos; he wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. Email john.spevak@gmail.com.