Sunday, June 3, 2007

Boy care as contact sport

With Mrs. T set to board a cross-country flight this morning -- she's heading from SFO to Boston for a week of work training -- I'm again up to my elbows in solo Boy Care. Not that I mind, of course, but doing this solo is always an interesting exercise in logistics and time management.

Having been on full-time Dadhood for more than two years now, I'm guessing that most dads who suddenly find themselves in charge of a wee one treat the experience like any other contact sport. The object: Keep the little one alive and in play, fed, cleaned and entertained until the partner gets home, without incurring injury or penalty.

"Alive" is probably the easy part. The rule is -- like any good referee -- never let them our of your sight and make sure you're paying attention. For me, blown plays have included making sure there's not so much as a scrap of paper on the floor, lest said little one slip and fall into something, and (in the early days, anyway) being careful when strapping that little one into the wearable Baby Bjorn carrier. The Boy is obviously waaaaay too big for such a device now, but the very first time I tried to get him in there solo, I smacked his forehead on our low popcorn ceiling. Immediate reaction: "I am a terrible father. I am a terrible father..."

"Fed," "cleaned" and "entertained" seem to be a bit easier. Is it really true that most dads shy away from even the least hazmatted of diapers? When our Boy arrived and tooted his first, I think Mrs. T and I were actually competing for the opportunity to change it, thereby getting that first Big Fear out of the way. And yes, I got there first. (Now, if I wanted to frighten other dads, I could tell a story involving The Runs, a diaper-reluctant Boy and white-wall handprints. But I'm not going there.)

"Injury" and "penalty" can take a bit of creativity. For the former, I'm not talking about keeping said Bambino safe; instead, I'm talking about keeping yourself from slipping discs or blowing our knees when doing Dad Stuff. We dumped the Baby Bjorn after I blew out my back in a moment of "not wanting to use the stroller" laziness (tried to strap him into the Bjorn while lifting him from the car seat; never lift while twisting, folks), and have incurred many a strained joint during any number of toddler games. "Penalty," of course, means don't get caught by the Missus pulling a Cosby "cake for breakfast," and if you're going to show your little one the wonders of Little Debbie snack cakes, hide the wrappers well.

But, as in football, one of the most important "surviving solo care" tenets is managing the clock. Know when the meals happen and when the naps fall. Have activities set up in 30-minute blocks, so they can be knocked off as easily as four downs. And for heaven's sake, don't fumble the ball.

Finally, remember: Hydrate without dumping Gatorade all over yourself. Proper equipment includes cargo shorts to carry diapers and snacks. Consider a cup. And keep in mind, at the end of the day it's all about running out the clock.

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