Some years ago I was complaining to a fellow father that I had no life. This guy, whose kids were older than mine, told me, “One day, you will be sitting in the living-room reading the newspaper. Suddenly you will look up and think, ‘Where are my children?’ You will rush to their rooms. They will be playing quietly, and they will look up and think, ‘What’s that guy doing here?’ And you will go back to your newspaper, because the day will have come that your children no longer need you.”
I always figured that would happen when they were about 27, but I was wrong. Our household is about to celebrate a big fifth birthday. There will be Superman and Spiderman dolls, and yet I really count it as my own birthday: It marks the moment when I will no longer have very small children. That means I need to start rethinking my own existence.
Let me hastily add that I have not yet attained a state of nirvana. My kids still need me most of the time, especially after they have hit each other over the head with their Superman and Spiderman dolls. But what the other dad told me turns out to be not completely false. Sometimes there are phases of perhaps 45 minutes, when I’m supposedly policing the individuals, and I find I have nothing to do. A cousin warns me that this redundancy will only increase. Recently his daughter told him at bedtime, “OK, you can go now, I’ll read the story to myself.” When he demurred, she ushered him out of the room.
Of course, this is what I spent years dreaming of. Finally, I can get on with my life! But what to do with these growing pockets of time? I’d like to wrap up my personal admin once and for all, get my tennis back up to pre-child standard and write the next War and Peace. The problem is that I can’t. I’m just not the same person I was seven years ago, before my life was upended. For a start, when the kids aren’t around, I find myself getting curious about what they are up to, even when it isn’t a criminal activity.
And secondly, I’m now in my 40s. Before kids, I used to be able to sleep nine hours at a stretch without waking up once. I’ve lost the knack. I used to have a left knee. It’s gone. And my back has begun to hurt. Worse, in March 2006, just after my first child was born, Twitter was invented. So in those precious new moments of freedom, I usually find myself at my laptop performing the ritual that somebody on Twitter described as follows: “*checks email* *checks Twitter* *checks Facebook* *checks Instagram* *looks up at world for 9 seconds* *repeats for 60-70 years* *dies.*”
When I do go and check on the kids, it often turns out that they have stolen the iPad and are secretly watching Despicable Me. Still, I’m not complaining. At my age, I need the rest.
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