The fort

It just doesn’t go the way you think it will on paper.

In March 2008, I took on the job of writing 100 Things the week my third child was about to be born. On paper, this was practically a suicide mission. How was I going to write a book with a full-time job, this blog and a newborn baby to go with two other children? But that baby, as I wrote in the book’s dedication, did me the great favor of asking nothing of us except for milk, sleep and a clean diaper. If he had all three of those things, he did not complain at all. You put him in the bassinet and later the crib, and he would go to sleep like angels had told him so. I wrote the book tired, but couldn’t have asked for more support from that baby.

Now my youngest is a third-year veteran. This should have been the year he matured as a sleeper. But he’s regressed to the mean – below it, in fact. Sweet as can be, but sleeps lighter than a feather on the jet stream. Wakes up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason other than to just get a quick confirmation that we’re all still around, wakes up for good at dawn or earlier. His older brother has moved out of his room most nights to sleep in his sister’s room – partly because older brother adores older sister, but partly because we’re worried about older brother being conscious at school the next day.

I adore my family the way I adore the Dodgers – more so, of course – but my wife and I now feel the strain of three children the way the Dodgers feel the strain of trying to manage that fifth starter. No matter how much you love the game or its players, it is a chore. It’s nothing new as far as the history of this planet, but for us it’s a real test. And my wife’s been under the weather a good amount this year – think about a Dodger having nagging injuries. I’m working this labor of love plus my day job and other freelance work – think of Ramon Troncoso getting thrown into game after game ’til his arm’s about to fall off. It gets testy, inside my head as well as outside. I’ve snapped some words that I regret. But it’s no mystery why I snapped ‘em.

This afternoon, while I was out in the yard with my youngest, escaping from my worries and self-loathing with some semblance of idyllic parenting, my wife and my two oldest built the fort to end all forts in my daughter’s room. A domestic work of art. At bedtime, the two kids camped under it, high as kites. I let them have their fun, but as time passed after the lights went out, I got angry with them out of fear they’d wake the light-sleeping baby, out of fatigue that they just wouldn’t end their day so that I could end mine, out of frustration that for the nine billionth consecutive day, they just won’t do what I want when I want ‘em to.

I had a drink – something I do one or twice a month, usually when I’m upset about something – and watched a screener of Treme, next week’s Mardi Gras episode, the combination affecting me quite strongly.

My oldest son came out of the bedroom. His sister had moved out of the fort into her bed, and he was feeling alone. The fort, so fun on paper, wasn’t fun anymore. I hugged him and soothed him. I told him his sister was still with him even though she wasn’t in the fort anymore.  We were all there for him.  He went back into his sleeping bag in the fort and went to sleep.

Fifteen minutes later, my daughter came out. She wasn’t sleeping. She couldn’t sleep. I hugged her and soothed her. We had fought today. Long story short, I thought she was being selfish. She went in the backyard to stew. In the ninth inning of today’s Dodger game, with the tying runs on against Jonathan Broxton, I went outside into the yard to talk to her. And didn’t solve anything. It was that kind of thing. She’s 7 now – think how this is gonna go when she’s 17.

But for now, it was 9:45 p.m., more than an hour past her bedtime. I hugged her and soothed her. I held her. I want to stop the clock at these moments. She is so precious, but she is a live wire, and I have a temper. And yet we both have fun together. I don’t know which is gonna win out in the long run.  We’re gonna have to play the games to see what wins – happiness or the other.

I brought her back to bed. My oldest was asleep under the fort. My youngest was asleep in the next room. And within moments, the girl who couldn’t fall asleep fell asleep. My poor wife came upstairs to the bedroom, and the house is quiet, and I realize I’m writing this because for all my complaining, this is what I want to feel. I was wrong when I started writing this. This is how it’s supposed to be, on paper, when you have five crazy, uncontrollable, volatile people under the same roof.  This is how it goes. You feel like a loser, and then it catches you by surprise: You have more innings to play, and you’re still alive.

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