I saved my kids’ lives this morning. That is to say, I didn’t strangle them. My plan to overcome jet-lag for the kids was simple: keep them up as late as possible and pray that they wake up at their normal hour. There were two problems with that plan and that is that you cannot control kids or jet-lag. I first experimented with jet-lag control in the late 90’s on my trip to Africa. After a similarly exhausting trip from LA to Cape Town, I forced myself to stay awake until 10:30 p.m., then took two ambien and settled in for a long night’s sleep. After feeling fully rested, I woke up, got out of bed, showered, got dressed and prepared for my day, fully refreshed. I then looked at the clock: it was 11 p.m. It was the worst night of my life as a single man. Since they don’t make children’s strength ambien, we were left to our own over the counter devices for my kids. My daughter didn’t need any help getting to bed as she was fully asleep at 4 p.m. My son, on the other hand, who has boundless energy, stayed awake until he collapsed in a heap of tears at around 6:30. I knew my daughter would be a problem in the night, but I hoped against hope that two weeks of over-planned travel would put her into a 14 hour coma. As for the adults, my wife went to sleep in my son’s bunk bed at 6:30 and I, being the role model that I am, stayed awake until 10:30– my magic hour in South Africa. I forced myself awake by watching American Idol, slipping in and out of a trance that made the show seem like a psychedelic nightmare. Finally, I could take neither the warbling or the banter for another second, and I past out, alone in my bed, cradling the Chihuahua (not a metaphor, we have a Chihuahua whom I can’t stand but was powerless to do anything about it.)
2 a.m. I heard a scream: my daughter rushed into the bedroom and said she fell asleep before she could have macaroni and cheese (all she had been looking for during our vacation despite a steady diet of sugar and starch). Trying anything to get her back to sleep, and of equal importance, keeping Caleb asleep, I told her she could have Mac and Cheese for breakfast. She resisted long enough to wake Caleb and Shawni up, then relented. Then she, Shawni, and Caleb got into bed with me and the Chihuahua.
3 a.m. Everyone woke up again: Sasha was hungry and Caleb was very concerned that he made an inadvertent curse with his fingers. I told everyone to quiet down and go into Sasha’s room to sleep: I had a very important day tomorrow and I needed my rest. Thankfully, no one asked the obvious question: What the hell do I have to do tomorrow? It was a question I couldn’t answer. I told everyone that they only had to hold out for three more hours and they agreed to go to sleep.
3:06 a.m. They can’t do it. Everyone’s up and hungry. I ask Shawni to please take the kids downstairs for a bowl of cereal, and then put them back to bed and mutter something about an important meeting.
3:40 a.m. Shawni crawls back into bed with me. I ask where the kids are and she tells me they’re asleep. She went with the Dimetapp. I had never been more in love with her.
4:20 a.m. I awake to find that once again both kids are in the bed and we are now joined by the Boxer as well as the Chihuahua. I try to get some sleep, but toss and turn for several hours.
7:30 a.m. The kids cannot wake up. Somehow they made it back to their respective beds in their cough-syrup delirium but could not be roused. I was afraid to ask just how much Dimetapp Shawni had given them so I didn’t. While Shawni scrambled to put together lunches for the kids made from the scraps of food that didn’t decompose while we were away, I took it upon myself to wake the kids. We both knew it was a bad plan from the start, but we had no choice.
7:45 a.m. Everyone upstairs is screaming: Sasha is tired, Caleb is mocking her for being tired and me for yelling at him. Sasha refused to get dressed by herself, but I tell her that we’re leaving at 8 a.m. whether or not she’s dressed. She then asks Shawni if she can have her Macaroni and Cheese for breakfast. Shawni, a mother, says of course not.
7:46 a.m. The biggest scream a girl of 9 years old can muster along with charges that I am a liar. Caleb is upset by her scream so he starts yelling. I, a father, have the urge to walk the three of us to the bottom of the pool. Instead, I run downstairs, root through the cabinet, and find a jar of Holy Basil, an herbal anti-anxiety medicine that some of my friends recommended for me. I take twice the recommended dose for an un-neutered bull. When Caleb asks what I’m doing, I tell him I’m taking medicine so I don’t hurt them. Not my best moment. Not my worst.
7:50 a.m. I go back upstairs to deal with Sasha who wants to be home schooled. The Holy Basil has met its match. I tell Sasha I’m sorry about the mac and cheese misunderstanding and double down by promising her mac and cheese AND pizza for dinner. But only if she gets dressed and comes downstairs right now. She tells me she’s tired. I tell her I’m tired too and I have a big day. She starts to get dressed in slow motion and I tell her that I’m leaving at exactly 8:00 which gives her exactly ten minutes. “But I’m ti–” I walk out calmly, the Holy Basil having taken off the edge.
8:02 a.m. I yell upstairs that I’m leaving right now. Caleb tells me he has nothing for show and tell. I tell him to bring a bullet we got at a bullet factory in Israel. He thinks its boring. Really? It wasn’t boring when we traveled 3 hours round trip to go to a bullet factory. And it certainly wasn’t boring when we were going through security in Israel to get on our flight and he kept asking me about the bullet we had in our suitcases, which he referred to continuously as “the bomb we’re bringing.”
8:06 a.m. The Holy Basil has worn off and I start leaving without the kids. It’s something I do sometimes, but ultimately a hollow threat: I have no place to go. I then tell the kids we are leaving in EXACTLY 4 minutes, no matter what.
8:24 a.m. We leave for school in silence.
This was the start to my first full day back. It was filled with lies, screaming and bad decisions, officially welcoming me back to the day-to-day of being a stay at home dad. Over the course of the day I start to develop a cold, the result of me sitting in the equivalent of a dirty tissue for 17 hours the night before. I usually get sick around once a year, right after work when my anxiety level subsides to a level that can accommodate a virus. Otherwise, my body is a hostile environment and thus stays healthy. This year, my stress levels have not subsided (see: days 1-76) so I have likewise stayed healthy. But then it hit me: Holy Basil! That stupid herb relaxed me just enough to open the door to a cold virus. I’m now literally sick and tired. And in what can only be seen as more irony, we’re now out of Dimetapp.
Monday, marks the beginning of staffing season: there will be no germ that will be able to withstand that. Stay tuned…