December 31, 2009

When kid-less for the holidays, mayhem will ensue

(Reprinted from http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-22420-Arapahoe-County-Parenting-Examiner~y2009m12d31-When-kidless-for-the-holidays-mayhem-will-ensue)

Keene’s five-year-old daughter (who we’ll call Little Miss) only gets to see her Nevada-based mother over school breaks and throughout the summer. So on the last day of school, she boarded a plane and flew west for a very desert-y Christmas. Meanwhile in Colorado, my son (The Dude) went south to his father’s house, where he planned to spend the first week of his winter break.

And then there were two. Two adults who didn’t quite know what to do with themselves. When you have a child at a young age, being a parent is all you know. I didn’t establish my adult personality and then have a child. Rather, I learned to become an adult while also learning to become a parent.

The week leading up to Christmas started out maturely enough. We ate a nutritious dinner at the table, as if the children were still home. We wrapped presents and cleaned the house. But as the days went by, the meals became a little more sordid. Salad turned into Doritos and queso dip. Cereal replaced chicken and rice. Milk was traded in for spiked eggnog.

We started going to bed later and later, despite still having to get up for work in the mornings. The house slowly accrued more messes. A dirty plate or mug left forgotten in the living room, to where meals had been transferred. Wrapping paper and ribbons littered the floor. Coats were thrown haphazardly at the door. The kitchen counter began disappearing under the mixed stack of speckled dishes and unopened mail. Piles of laundry grew taller and smellier over the days.

The Dude came home on Christmas Eve to spend the night and open presents. But by noon the next day, he went back to spend the rest of the weekend with his other family. Along with his departure went the last bits of our deep-seeded sense of adult responsibility. Days were spent playing video games, watching television shows, junk-food snacking, creating new alcohol-based concoctions (FYI: blended rum, orange juice, and yogurt is delicious), and giggling at each other a la Beavis and Butthead.

I realized something after I accidentally threw a hairbrush at the Christmas tree, causing an ornament to shatter across the living room: kids don’t just need parents to keep them on the straight and narrow; parents also need the kids. The kids keep us in line. Their presence forces us to keep the house clean, to cook decent dinners, to eat at the table while talking about our day, to ensure nothing is carelessly broken, to keep rowdy behavior to a healthy minimum. They stop us from reverting to teenagers whose parents have left them alone with money and an empty house for the week.

In the last days, we hurried to clean the house, hide any evidence of how we spent our week (don’t worry, the missing ornament will not be noticed), and change back into our responsible parent suits…just in time to tell the returning children, “Sheesh, clean your rooms! They are getting out of control.”

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