Charlie says this the moment he enters the kitchen, his 2-year-old Elmer Fudd accent spinning me around just as I was beginning to scheme about my eight or nine minutes of quiet time for the evening.
There’s never enough “me time” when you’re a parent, so these brief windows of time when I get the older kids pajama’d and settled in upstairs with some cartoons before sleep are priceless.
I put too much stock in them, though. I get too excited for moments I can’t honestly claim as my own. Still, after I get everything in order and Charlie is down in his crib, I let myself get excited. The next half-hour or hour are mine, I assure myself nervously.
But I’m afraid to take my own bait. I’ve been bamboozled way too many times by kids to believe in the concept of free time anymore.
Still, tonight, what could possibly go wrong? You have to have faith in your own pre-planning every now and then.
What to do then? Watch some Netflix? Cook a frozen pizza? Have a cold beer? Can I dare to dream of having (gulp) … all three at once?!
The dream pops like a summertime bubble.
He’s back, good ol’ Charlie, the Yoda-sized recurring figure in my evening pageant.
“Hi, Dad!” He adds a little wave this time, trying to sweeten the pot.
As if his adorable little wave might melt my unflappable plans to sit by myself.
As if he could simply show up down here not three minutes after I’d just laid him in his crib, whispered, “Night-night, Charlie!” and heard his precious wee “Nigh-nigh!” come back at me, and tip-toed down the stairs certain, CERTAIN, that tonight he was simply too exhausted to want to climb out of that crib and head back down the stairs.
As if for a tragically short amount of time at the end of this long day filled with tears, snot, screaming, spilt lemonade, and begging for snacks (yes, I’m guilty of all five), this conman/escape artist/Houdini tot could merely pop in through the kitchen door, holler out his greeting, and belly up to my much-needed solo time.
Oh HELL no.
But then again: it’s all my fault, isn’t it?
I want to stop time. But I can’t.
That’s the strange realization we all have as moms and dads. Crib sleepers were dependable in a way. Sure they weren’t necessarily going to zonk out whenever you put them in there, but for a good first stretch of their life, at least they couldn’t escape. When it comes to parenting, sure things are few and far between.
So when we come to believe in and rely on one of those rare certain equations like “baby+crib=no escape,” we go all in. We trust in the security of a high-walled cage. And we deserve that security too, because we need a break. Because we need to walk away from our little people sometimes when our heads are imploding and our souls are weary and our faces are melting from the long gone day.
“Hey, what’s up Charlie?” I say to my boy, but inside I am straight-up pissed.
I’m done with kids for the day. That might sound harsh, but it is what it is. I need to stand alone in one of my small rented rooms in this house and not see or hear a child for a little while. That’s never easy when you’re a parent. It’s even trickier when you’re a single parent.
I scoop Charlie up in my arms like clockwork. Even in this before-the-tornado silence that sucks all the air out of the room, I know what comes next.
His smile flips and his spirit is destroyed as his one gleaming hope in this world — that daddy might let him stay downstairs for whatever skewered toddler reason he wants to stay downstairs — gets shattered in a grapeshot hail of screams and cries.
I don’t back down though. I can’t. It sucks, but I can’t. Not because I want to teach my child with reinforcement. Not because I wish to show him that dad is boss and that’s the way it goes. And not because I’m concerned that he gets the perfectly measured cup of sleep that a kid about to turn 2 really needs for proper brain growth and physical development.
I don’t back down because I need to drink a cold damn beer in front of the TV by myself. I admit that shamelessly, without remorse, my conscience spit-shine clean.
Halfway up the steps though, I look down at Charlie as I whisper sleepy talk in his ear. He’s still wailing the good fight, but he knows the drill as well as I do by now. So I look down at his face in my arms, at the tears rolling down his cheeks in the dim stairwell light, and it hits me that something beautiful is gone now.
I’m done with cribs. The time of babies is over for me and I will never pass that way again.
Charlie whimpers as we hit the landing but he’s tired, and we both know he’s ready to hit the hay.
I set him down in there, then ruffle his blankets all up around his head like he likes. I place his bottle by his lips and I touch his hair and it feels like breeze. Like passing breeze. I touch it and I know that this crib is history now and that I need to face that.
He’s not a baby anymore. I’m done with babies. Those days are gone. And as much as I tell myself that I’m okay with that, well, there is a part of me that wants to climb up in this crib with my boy and just time machine my way back to an era when I was younger. To that time not too long ago when I was so excited about becoming a new dad.
But there’s no way.
I’ll put the crib on Craigslist soon. And we’ll just keep moving forward the best we can.More On