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Charlie Stewart

Local Dispatch: Father knows stress
A former stay-at-home dad pines for the simpler days

June 13, 2008

I was a stay-at-home dad for 10 years, when the kids were little. It didn't seem so simple at the time. I remember the drill:

Get up early, get our three children ready for school, find all the parts to their school uniforms, make breakfast and pack lunches (one for a vegetarian), pick up some other neighborhood kids in the carpool, drop them off at school, run back home for the forgotten homework, go to the grocery store, then the toy store to find a birthday present, meet with the parent committee to plan the annual school fund-raiser, put in a load of laundry, do carpool pickup, and run back to school for the forgotten social studies textbook.

CSThat was just a warm-up.

Then began the kaleidoscope of after-school activities -- timed with military precision down to the last green light -- followed by homework, assisting with assigned projects that seemed intended more to test the will of parents than the acumen of our children, visits to the emergency room for a broken collarbone, torn ACL or attack of appendicitis, with dinner somewhere in the hazy midst of it all.

As mystifying as all of that seems in retrospect, turns out that was the easy part of parenting. And now it all comes back to me ...

When our kids were cute and cuddly and could crawl up onto our laps or into the seat of a grocery cart, they were admired by older adults who clearly knew something we didn't. It was as if they were trying to pass on a secret warning when they tried to remind us how precious these years are. "They go fast," they said.

Don't I know it now!

With an older teenager and two 20-somethings, you get to ponder more heady stuff -- like the proper response to a request for a 3 a.m. curfew, your daughter's tongue piercing and photos of your child skydiving in a 10,000-foot tandem free fall; the balancing act of calling ahead to parents hosting high school graduation parties vs. trusting your kid to be responsible; and other stimulating topics, such as whether your child should be allowed to go by herself to work on an organic farm in Mexico, travel by train in China over Chinese New Year when 200 million Chinese are simultaneously crisscrossing the country, and determining the sleeping arrangements for the boyfriend your daughter has brought home.

Each of these conundrums gets to be met head-on with the usual dramatic reactions and outcomes on both sides in the final confrontation. It's the age-old push/pull of parenthood and adolescence -- establishing reasonable limits while nurturing independence.

It wasn't always like this ...

Some of my biggest worries not long ago were whether or not I could find a particular Beanie Baby for my son, help him collect pogs, Pokemon cards, Power Rangers and, hold on there, remember Tamagotchis, the digital pet you had to feed and clean up after?

What was so hard about keeping up with the vaccination schedule and getting rid of lice? That was downright child's play compared to dealing with our children doing who knows what (I know what I did when I was their age) and staying out with friends who are also doing who knows what, because that's what kids do.

Give me Disney World back again! I could manage that. I'd be more patient. Hellooooo, Donald Duck. Please, give me a second chance. Anything would be better than worrying about tattoos, the health effects of tanning salons, dreadlocks, Internet access, R-rated movies, drinking, driving ... did I mention drugs?

Well, I guess it's just the cycle of life. But I sure can't wait for the day we have grandchildren, so I can just go back to the basics -- burping and potty training.

So, Happy Father's Day, whatever stage of life you are in.

Reprinted with permission from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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