After a couple of gut-wrenching rounds of rock-paper-scissors, it was decided that my wife would be the one staying home when we started having children. Each day as I left the house for work she would say to me, “There will be a time when I’m working and you will have to take care of the kids all day.” As children wailed in the background, her desperate cling to sanity was lost on me.
As she kissed me goodbye and skipped gleefully away from the house one recent Saturday morning, I thought, “How hard could it be?” Then, while my two daughters began their daily SpongeBob SquarePants marathon, the scope of the day’s itinerary came over me like a dark cloud: breakfast, get dressed, gym class, change clothes; 5-year-old’s birthday party, lunch, home, change clothes; 8-year-old’s birthday party, change clothes; market, dinner, change clothes; play, bathe, pass out. Change clothes.
While the kids readied themselves with a breakfast of champions (milkless Frosted Flakes, a glass of strawberry milk and a turkey sandwich) I mentally and physically prepared myself. Using Mapquest I charted our course to find every coffee house, Jamba Juice, public restroom, police station and child protective services office on our route. I put on my favorite cargo pants; the extra storage would be needed to carry the toys, tissues, trash, half-eaten candy and any severed body parts the day would bring. I did a few sets of deep knee bends while holding a 50 pound sack of potatoes. Packed some snacks, water, extra underwear (mine and theirs) and we hit the road.
Gym class is a safe warm up to the day — calisthenics before the race ahead. I ask to join their class, but am denied by their spunky 16-year-old instructor. If I pull a hamstring today, I’ll know who to blame.
Afterward we have 20 minutes to change clothes and get from Burbank to the Glendale Galleria. When it comes to life skills, teaching one’s children to change clothes in the car cannot be undervalued. Right up there with dialing 911 when Daddy is about to use power tools.
We arrive at Build-A-Bear Workshop with just seconds to spare. Twenty gleeful and sugar-deprived 5-year-olds are running in circles as the gate opens. Quickly the store employees wrangle the kids into breathless obedience. This being the first party of the day, the clerks are friendly and chipper, but I fear for them by mid-afternoon.
They begin leading the children through a series of steps to build their own teddy bear. If you’ve never been to Build-A-Bear, think Frankenstein and sausage casings. First, the kids are given a soulless, unstuffed shell of a bear. Next there is a somewhat disturbing séance in which small, dormant hearts are awakened prior to being placed inside the bear. The procedure culminates with the bear being injected with stuffing from a device that would make Willy Wonka blush.
As the kids are pampering their new babies, picking out names and designer clothes for them, I have a moment to wander off for a cup of coffee and a quick chat with other parents. These are the kinds of conversations that have no beginning and no end — too quickly we are called to address some new crisis.
“No, I don’t think the Gucci handbag goes with that Vera Wang gown and Liz Klein shoes.”
“Yes, I think your 17 other Build-A-Bears will get along quite nicely with Becky Bear even if she does look oddly like Dick Cheney.”
When the festivities end, we march off to get pizza. I look over my shoulder as we leave the store and see the birthday girl’s mother sobbing at the cash register, her trembling hand offering up several credit cards. I feel a twinge of guilt as I realize that I don’t even know what present we got for sweet little...um...
“Hey girls, whose party is this?”
We race home for the obligatory midday changing of clothes and then head off to our next party back in Burbank. As we pull up to party No. 2, my worst fears are realized. Outside on the lawn are six angelic little girls dressed in their Sunday’s finest, sitting properly with bonnets atop their heads and pinkie fingers pointing skyward. That’s right: tea party.
I offload the girls as I look for parking and toy with the idea of bolting. “I fell asleep in my car,” I would say to excuse myself when I picked them up. But once you play the narcolepsy card, you have to stick with it for years to come.
The girls eat crumpets and play with costume jewelry; make butterfly crafts and decorate picture frames. I reach for a bottle of cheap tequila and am handed a raspberry infused organic green tea with mint sprig in a fine China cup and saucer. While I sip, I lapse into a state of transcendental meditation and I’m sitting in a dingy bar near Chávez Ravine, arguing about Manny Ramirez and picking a fight with a Hell’s Angel.
At day’s end my mind is mush.
The only thought in my head is this: When the hell did “cha cha cha” become a part of the lyrics to “Happy Birthday to You”?
We get home just in time for the sugar tremors to set in. I muscle the girls into their straitjackets, shove wooden spoons in their mouths and turn on the TV.
“Who lives in a pineapple under the sea...”
Coffee: $4. Toys: $53. Bail: $900. A day spent with the kids learning what stay-at-home parents go through: $2,798.
Sorry. Priceless, that’s what I meant. Priceless.
PATRICK CANEDAY is a Glendale native freelance writer who lives and works in Burbank. He may be reached at email@example.com.