Last but certainly not least in our Runitlikeadad series is Joseph Meyer. A high school teacher, husband, and dad to two young boys, Joey tells us about the joys of a teacher’s summer vacation…before and after kids. And please take his advice, good-natured jealousy is definitely what you should be feeling after reading about this Runit dad.
Joey’s Runitlikeadad Run-Down:
* I have 2 boys, ages 4 and 6.
* I work at Glastonbury High School
* To stay active I run, play with my kids, play basketball, walk my doggie!
* If I were stranded on an island I would bring lots of music for dancing, a ball of some sort, writing/drawing materials.
* My favorite indulgence is buying records, even though I could listen to them for free online.
As one ages, the cycles of life grow increasingly predictable. A seemingly interminable winter gives way to a muddy but resilient spring. Basements flood, taxes are filed and dandelions bloom. Little league teams take the field, days grow longer and students twitch uncomfortably in their seats, longing for a summer that is simultaneously around the corner and a lifetime away.
And invariably, as May gives way to June, an enthusiastically boorish stranger, upon learning that I am a high school teacher, says something to the effect of, “Good GOD, what a racket! An entire 10 weeks of paid vacation? Every year!?? And you don’t even have to fake the gout to stay home? I’m CLEARLY in the wrong profession…. How dooooo I sign up??”
Of course, I exaggerate slightly – no one ever mentions gout. Still, the fact remains that the general opinion of teachers’ time off in the summer ranges from jealously to a complete and total lack of appreciation for the countless hours teachers spend outside of the school day planning, correcting, collaborating, counseling, researching, all in selfless service of their students. Now, if you are not a teacher and are wondering where you should fall on this spectrum, may I be so bold as to steer you strongly towards good-natured JEALOUSY? Because, make no bones about it, summer vacation is amazing. Necessary to be re-charged and ready for fresh-faced students in the fall, yes, but amazing all the same. How incredibly delightful it is to sleep in later than 4:50 every morning! How quaint to, ya know, have an actual conversation with my wife about something other than Roth IRAs, instead of revising a rubric or writing a letter of recommendation ‘til midnight! How wonderful to be able to travel, see friends and family, revive forgotten interests and exercise during daylight hours without fear of running over an ill-tempered raccoon who mistakes my calf muscle for a discarded piece of rotisserie chicken!
And yet… and yet… when the final bell sounds and summer has officially arrived, I do not do the jazz-hand-laden dance of joy that one might expect. Rather, each step from my classroom to the faculty parking lot is marked by increasing trepidation. For once the school year ends, I take off my proverbial teacher hat and put on the hat of stay-at-home dad. Don’t get me wrong – my two boys, ages 4 and 6, are hilarious, inquisitive and charming young people whose very existence has brought me the most incredible joy and fulfillment. But where the start of summer once filled me with visions of care-free abandon, it now inspires deep, troubled, philosophical questions such as:
- What’s it like to not spend a summer collecting stool samples?
- How long will it take me to remember which boy likes butter on his cinnamon toast, and which boy violently, violently, violently loathes it?
- Is this the summer my youngest finally succumbs to the nuanced brilliance of my persuasive essay, titled “Naps: A Four-Year-Olds’ Guide to Inner-Peace, Personal Fulfillment and an Emotionally-Stable Afternoon”?
- What does it do to a child’s development when a highly anticipated trip to the CT Dinosaur State Park is postponed at the last minute because his father had forgotten said child was scheduled to see the doctor for shots?
- How many weeks before the moms and nannies at the local playground stop staring at me, seemingly the lone male caregiver within a 300-mile radius, like I have three arms or am single-handedly responsible for a recent rash of neighborhood break-ins?
- Will I survive? And if I do, will I ever be the same?
- In what creative way will I be peed on this summer?
Thankfully, mercifully, this sort of anxiety dissipates quickly. Between meal preparation, managing sibling conflict and creating some semblance of a predictable routine, there is simply not time to be anything but in the moment. Like clockwork, the instant I stop to think about, say, the bravery of parents who stay at home to care for their children year-round, is the very instant my 6 year-old unloads an entire carton of low-fat Lactaid on an unsuspecting bowl of Autumn Wheat and the freshly cleaned floor beneath it.
Being in the moment has advantages, of course, other than preventing the shedding of tears over spilt milk. Being in the moment has allowed me to recognize, despite the implied belly-aching above, what a special privilege it is to have two months out of the year to spend with my boys. Take for example, this past Tuesday afternoon, only the second day of Lad-n-Dad Summer 2014, when the three of us took our dog for a walk on the ½ mile section of the Trout Brook Trail, in West Hartford, CT that runs from Quaker Lane to New Park Avenue.
There were no vendors vending inflatable ninja swords on this trail. No minimum-wage earning teenagers dressed as characters from a beloved Pixar movie. No video games, no rides, no doughnuts, no other kids. Not even books about wolves or pirates or dragons! In other words, there was nothing, at least on paper, about this walk that should have appealed to my children. Accordingly, they literally and figuratively dragged their feet all the way there.
And then we saw a rabbit. And a second. And then a third. My oldest, despite his fidgety body bursting with excitement, tried to walk as close to them as possible without setting them to flight. I showed my youngest rabbit poop, and he “taught” me the word “scat” that he had learned in preschool. We laughed at the name “cattails” and noted that the “tails” looked like hot dogs. They threw rocks and accidentally scattered nesting mallards. We counted birds and saw a kingfisher, and goldfinches, and blackbirds, and much to our amazement, the slow, majestic wing beats of a great blue heron. We saw graffiti near New Park and my boys attempted to navigate the cognitive dissonance of an art-form their father respects and his very strict rule against writing on walls. My youngest held the dog’s leash. My oldest tried and failed to jump over it. They ran and raced and gathered four kinds of wildflowers to show me. We squirted each other with water bottles. We talked and laughed and impersonated the penguins from Madagascar and the hilarious Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz from Phineas and Ferb. In short, it was perfect.
Later that night, hours after my incredible wife had returned from work to rescue me and the boys were bathed, brushed and fast asleep, I thought back on the afternoon’s adventure, my career and summer vacations ahead of me. I am well aware that in a few years a simple walk along a brook will not capture my boys’ sense of wonder in the same way it did that day. As stressful and exhausting as these days can be, I know they are fleeting. I know that as a teacher I have a job that I love, one that challenges and fascinates me, but also gives me time with my children that others simply don’t have. Accordingly, I am extremely grateful and vow to cherish each moment of this and every summer with my boys.
Except, of course, when those moments involve being peed on.