The Routine

The girls let me sleep until 8:32 am, which was miraculous. They only woke me up once at 6:24 am to ask for their tablets. When I was a kid, that was time to creep into the living room and watch Tennessee Tuxedo on WPTY. These days, it’s tablet (still pronounced “Talbot”) time, and that’s fine, especially if it buys me an hour or two of additional rest.

My true form.

This has become pretty routine. Sometime between 5:45 and 6:30 am, I’m inevitably roused by stomping on the ceiling directly above my head. I’m the genius who decided the girls’ room should be at that end of the hall instead of at where my office is, at the other end, conveniently located by the upstairs bathroom. In addition to the morning wake-up call, I’ve usually been startled out of sleep two or three times already by Cora’s bounding potty runs.

If the drum-like beats of little feet flying across wood flooring don’t pull me out of my sweet slumber, the rattling of the baby gate at the top of the stairs does. It’s usually just Bea, but sometimes I find both of them up there doing their best to rip it from its moorings. Cora has come up with an impressive strategy where she sits down and kicks it with both feet. The shaking is almost always accompanied by yelling, “Daaa-aaaaad,” and if I’m lucky, there’s singing, which is impossible to sleep through. Believe me, I’ve tried.

If I’ve remembered to charge their tablets, I can usually take those up to the gate and placate the girls for an hour or two. The gate still seems like a weird concept. When I was a kid, we had free run of the house and we usually remained in our rooms under threat of bodily harm until the sun came up. I have stairs, though, so I don’t want to wake up to a kid somersaulting down them, and I’ve experienced the heart-exploding terror of a two-year-old flinging my bedroom door open at 2 am. After a half-dozen times pacing the house, clutching my chest, and seriously considering a trip to the hospital, I’ve decided the gate is the only thing that stands between me and a child-induced early demise. I’ve already given instructions to Gina in this regard. If I keel over after one of their late-night alarms, my epitaph is to read, “Here lies Bob Talbot, killed by toddlers.”

Depending on how hungry they are, there may or may not be another wake-up call after the initial 6-ish affair, and depending on how tired I am, I may or may not deliver waffles to the gate at 7:30 am and request a reprieve. If I’m done attempting sleep, I go ahead and release the krakens. I’m not a fan of the girls eating up there anyway, because I end up finding green mystery food months later.

If I haven’t seen the cat in a while, I check the girls’ closet to make sure she hasn’t decided to spend twelve hours of power in there. Lady has a knack for hiding behind doors that are only opened briefly and usually kept shut. The first two times it happened, I blamed her. After that, I blamed myself. At this point it’s happened so many goddamned times I’m not sure whether she has a death wish or I’m the most irresponsible pet owner on Earth, but I promise I’m not trying to murder the cat. I’m backed up here by enough proverbs, curiosity, nine lives and the like, so rest assured I did not invent cat endangerment.

The girls are good at traversing stairs because they were raised on them, molded by them (I didn’t see stairs until I was already a man, by then they were nothing to me but tiring!), and they are a feature of their mother’s domicile in addition to mine. Cora flies down on her butt at an alarming rate, and Bea sorta bumps along if she isn’t at my feet yelling, “Hold me, hold me.” Often enough, I end up walking down holding two blankets, two cups, and 32 pound Bea clinging to my chest hair like a baby gorilla. I grit my teeth and bear it, because there’s only so many times I’ll have the privilege of carrying my daughter downstairs, but I’ll never get accustomed to the pain.

If waffles haven’t already occurred, they happen now. I’m pretty adept at loading the coffee maker and setting sail for percolation before the toaster pops up. Bea has gotten into the habit of asking for chicken as well, and it’s no hassle to throw a few Dino Chicken nuggets into the ol’ science oven, but I’m endlessly amused by the fact she came up with chicken and waffles all on her own. Left to her own devices, what other wheels would she reinvent? Pyramids on different continents don’t equal ancient aliens, folks. Some things just make so much sense a baby could come up with them.

After tablets get tiresome, there may be television, but today there will be none. When I went to power on the over-a-decade old Ölevia I inherited from my father, nothing happened. After a quick Google search, I learned a couple of things. First, that company declared bankruptcy in 2009. Second, the flashing blue power light means there’s a short and a melted $150 capacitor somewhere in there. Looks like we’re going to be watching our bootleg Real Ghostbusters cartoons on an old desktop PC screen until I figure something out.

It’s 10:40 am and Bea has already self-destructed herself into a naptime. I keep trying to impress on her how splendid Saturdays are. They are precious rest time, especially to kids who spend the week exhausted from early preschool and day care drop-offs, but she doesn’t get it yet. Her vocabulary is shockingly huge for a not-yet-three-year-old kid (her day care supervisors are continually astonished), but her comprehension level sometimes doesn’t match up with her usage. Bea’s big brain doesn’t mean she necessarily has the emotional maturity of an older kid, so we can talk about it all morning, but she’s still going to collapse and throw a fit.

Cora wants me to color her Shopkins playing cards with markers, so I best comply. I’ve done my best to salvage the ones Bea scribbled all over. Cora has recently learned to stay in the lines, an achievement worth mention. There are so many little things that go uncelebrated. A good night’s sleep, a Shopkin unsmudged. I’ve never been good at filling out those baby books. Time has convinced me they’ll only be something else to lose, or something for someone to clean out of a closet in a few decades.

I’ll do it my way, for now, which is standing in front of a shelf, perched by my broken television set, with my left foot up on the entertainment center in a pose Bea hates. “Dad, get your foot down!” she’ll say while she pulls on my leg. That thing Commander William Riker does, I’m doing it now while I hammer away on my aging laptop, and it’s actually pretty comfortable.

All this is comfortable enough. Here in sunny February, out at the end of history, it is all we could ask for.

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