A small hand walloping his nose alerted him to a now wide awake almost four-year-old lying next to him in bed. He blinked his groggy eyes in an attempt to focus on in the mischievous miniature version of himself who’d decided now was the time to wake up.
“Morning buddy. Maybe try not smacking me in the face next time.”
“Oh I’m sorry Daddy,” said the boy with the tone of someone not too sorry.
He’d brought the kid in his bed around 1:30 a.m. the night before after a nightmare, grumbling to himself about what a child who knows nothing about North Korea or bills could have to be scared over, and felt like he hadn’t gotten a wink of sleep since. He clicked his phone, checking to see if he had enough time for an episode of Paw Patrol in bed to buy himself some extra Z’s.
“5:15. Shi..I mean geez. How about an episode of Paw Patr…”
“Yeah!” interjected the child with far more energy than anyone should have at 5:15 a.m.
“Paw Patrol it is,” he said, turning on the DVR then rolling back over.
Twenty-five minutes of dogs defying logic later, and they moved downstairs to start their day, but not just any day. Today was the first day of preschool.
In the years since his ex-wife was stationed in Sri Lanka by the Peace Corps, he’d made do with childcare by a combination of a flexible job, his mother & grandma, and the occasional daycare visit. After a few years of completely winging it and just trying to ensure that his kid didn’t end up a worthless monster, like a serial killer or one of the younger Ball brothers, it was thrilling to finally get some professionals involved at a local preschool.
“Alright bud, first day of school today. What would you like for your big boy breakfast?? I could make pancakes, scrambled eggs, or how about Daddy’s famous French toast?”
“I want Cheerios.”
I’ll just go fuck myself “Alright, Cheerios it is; I’ll grab a bowl.”
While his offspring inhaled flavorless circles and watched whatever was on PBS, he recited the morning’s to-do list out loud repeatedly to emphasize the need for flawless execution.
“Breakfast, Brush Teeth, Clothes, Socks, Shoes, Lunch, Backpack, Out The Door At 8,” he said as his child responded from his TV and Cheerio induced stupor with varying levels of enthusiasm.
“Shoes…..Lunch….Shoes….” he trailed off.
He was banking on a good first impression with his son’s teacher; for validation in his suitableness as a parent and proper progress of his kid. He’d missed orientation as it fell on his yearly golf trip, which in retrospect going to school and putting a good foot forward with the teaching staff would’ve served his long term interests better than setting a personal triple-bogey record.
If he had to guess, he’d be the youngest parent of the children in the class and potentially the only single one, and was really hoping to give it at least a week before he inevitably forgot something when dropping his kid off and started showing up in sweatpants with no shower.
When his son stood up from his toddler-sized table with an empty bowl of cereal, he hit him with another loud “Breakfast, Brush Teeth, Clothes, Socks, Shoes, Lunch, Backpack, Out The Door At 8,” and began trying to herd him upstairs for what was sure to be a gentleman’s duel over properly brushing teeth.
“Ok, here’s your brush, show me how you get those teeth shiny white.”
“But I don’t want this toothpaste, I want Paw Patrol toothpaste.”
“We’re out. We will get some next time we go to the store. My toothpaste is great.”
“But I want to go to the store now!”
“We’d miss school. This toothpaste will be fine. Just use it.”
“We can go before school!”
Getting to the store, walking to the toothpaste aisle, purchasing Paw Patrol toothpaste that costs at least $1 more than it should, checking out, driving home, brushing your teeth, and then managing to get to school on time at this point would be a physical impossibility. Dealing with your lack of logistical thinking is aging me beyond my years on a daily basis, please just use this fucking toothpaste
“Ok here, I’ll make you a deal. Use this toothpaste today and next time we’re at the store we will get two tubes so we never run out, deal?”
“Deal!” said the child excitedly after conning his pushover father into an extra overpriced tube of branded toothpaste.
“Breakfast, Brush Teeth, Clothes, Socks, Shoes, Lunch, Backpack, Out The Door At 8” was cried out the door at 8:03 as the two marched out the door after one argument over which shirt was going to be worn annnnd one search and rescue mission for a lost shoe.
The ensuing drive was about as relaxed as he’d ever felt in 3+ years of single parenthood. All his ducks were in a row, and in a few minutes he’d be dropping his offspring off to begin learning all the skills to make him the next Steve Jobs, or to at least stop peeing on the seat every time he took a leak.
A quick Spotify shuffle seemed to reflect both parties’ joyus mood, as father and son partook in their usual loud “OHHH, OHHHHH, COME ON, OH, YEAHHHHH” at the beginning of “Return Of The Mack.” His son’s ability to mumble about half the lyrics in-tune was potentially the thing he was most proud of teaching him as a father. They pulled into the parking lot watching parents and children stream into the building; children with faces mostly lit with excitement over their first day, and parents with faces lit with excitement over 6-7 child-free hours.
They pulled up to the first classroom on the right to finally make a long-awaited positive first impression with the teacher, a woman with kind eyes named Mrs. Hinkle, and send his kid off to academic super-stardom.
“So great to finally meet you, really looking forward to having him in class,” she said, then looking downward added, “Ok, put your book bag and lunch in your cubby, give your dad a big hug, then go grab your nametag and play.”
put your book bag and lunch in your cubby
book bag and lunch…
He furrowed his brow and thought about the Paw Patrol lunch box sitting in his fridge, containing fresh fruit and an immaculately cut PB & J, un-grabbed before their jaunt out the door that morning. He looked down.
“Son, you remember how sometimes we talk about how daddy makes mistakes too? Yeah, this is one of those times.” .
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