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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pretzels For Breakfast

When I moved into this apartment with the brother of my ex-wife, I thought it would be fun and save us both some money. Then children from both sides came pouring into the place and suddenly we were in the child-care business.

It was an interesting time, with us sharing the parenting duties and trying to keep the peace, while both of us toiled in the restaurant business, sometimes working fifty or sixty hours a week.

I’m sure the kids don’t think about it much, but Kelly and I both know that we earned our stripes that year.

Among the notable instances:
Once nearly losing a couple of the young ‘uns in a blizzard just a hundred yards from the back door. We took turns making trips to the pack and carrying the kids one by one through the thigh-deep snow while the other waited with the children to try to minimize their panic until we had the entire passel inside and warm.

We may have drank some Jameson’s following our dramatic rescue.

Pretzels For Breakfast

It was like “The Brady Bunch” viewed through one of those circus mirrors that distorts an image through refraction, thus skewing the overall picture. Five kids, two sets of twins, all girls, all under the age of five, raised by two men who mostly walked around, hands held in a defensive position, wondering what hit them. Sounds like a sitcom, right? Welcome to my world.

Now divorced, the father of twin girls, nearly five, I live with my brother in law, also divorced, also the father of twin girls, nearly four and a “singlet”, aged five. He is not a bad sort, my brother in law, and the fact that I was once married to his sister I no longer hold against him. I have visitation of my girls on the weekends and at the time I moved in with Kelly, his daughters were in North Carolina, in the custody of their mother. We figured we would save a little money, share expenses and hey, we would be two swinging bachelors in a fine, swinging bachelor pad. The world was our oyster—it was a fresh start.

The alarm sounded, waking us from this blissful, idyllic vision of life with a start the day his ex-wife showed up with the kids and dropped them, literally, on our doorstep. As men will sometimes do, we accepted this change in circumstance with a single-mindedness of purpose that can only be found in divorced fathers, or really dumb dogs. “Good,” I declared, rolling up my sleeves. “They’re better off with us anyhow.” “Yeah,” Kelly said, as we rearranged the furniture in the living room to better accommodate a set of bunk beds. “You got that right.”

We high-fived, chest butted and got down to business. The first week went smoothly—we were old pros, after all, we had been fathers for years, and moreover, we had been married—nothing could intimidate us.

Until the weekend.

I picked up my daughters, who were giddy with joy when I gave them the news of their cousins’ return. It would be wonderful — one big, happy family, the girls with flowers in their hands, running slow-motion through meadows with the sun glistening off their golden hair. The two proud fathers, in their pressed khakis, golf shirts and Cordovan loafers, standing in ankle-deep clover, relaxed smiles beaming from their tanned, chiseled faces as they protectively watched their daughters frolic in innocent bliss.

We arrived at the apartment just as Uncle Kelly was getting ready to leave for work. The hurricane of shrill, screaming voices and stampeding sneakers moved in a tow-headed flurry to the living room, thereafter known as “ground-zero”. Kelly and I watched after them for a moment. My brother in-law turned to me, a look of relief coming over his face as he reached for the doorknob. “Are you going to be
alright?” I smiled bravely. “Of course I am.” We gave a half-hearted high five and Kelly bolted out the door, down the driveway and into his minivan with more grace and speed than Barry Sanders in an open field. I gazed from the doorway as he backed out of the driveway and barked ‘em off down the street with a hurried wave. I closed the door quietly and mouthed a silent prayer as I walked toward ground-zero.

It was now filled with manic, blonde heads, all bright and smiling and screaming and rabid and ten little arms churning in attempts to dismantle the toy-box, its contents and most of the entertainment center and its contents as well—just for good measure. “Hey, hey,” I said, wading through the children, who turned to me and began to grab and claw, their young, girlish laughter belying the cunning and innate sense of battle savvy that lay just below the surface. “You kids aren’t supposed to be playing with the stereo,” I began. As two or three of the children tugged at me, forcing me to my knees and the “Roughhousing Position”, two or three more darted off to another room, for more pillaging and plundering. I didn’t notice until it was too late—the floor was littered with tattered CD covers and the walls were crayola-covered. It was divide and conquer worthy of Eisenhower—I had to smile with pride even as I cleaned the invasion-zone.

After a dinner of macaroni and cheese, a food-fight of Belushian proportions and a bath-time that involved more spilled water than the Titanic disaster, we settled in for the two and a half hour battle of wills known as “bedtime”. When the kids finally drifted off to sleep—from five separate sanctioned areas of the house—and after I had carried them to their beds and tucked them in, I stood back to assess the damages. The angelic faces that lay before me overshadowed any injuries the house may have sustained. I cleaned and straightened and laundered and laid out breakfast for the morning—pretzels and Coco Puffs, the breakfast of champions—and sat back on the couch and a Barbie-doll arm. I pulled the arm from under my backside and tossed it in the toybox with the other wreckage.

“Not bad,” I muttered to myself. My pants were still wet from the bathwater and my shirt bore remnants of the dinner battle. My hands had nearly stopped shaking and the shrill ringing in my ears had dimmed to a distant hum. It was going to be a long war, with many battles and hard-earned rewards. I would see things that few men could ever dream. A long road lay ahead and we would have to be prepared and fight together if we were to persevere. It wasn’t the Brady Bunch, but then again, Greg and Marcia never got to have pretzels for breakfast.

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