We were sitting in a booth at a roadside restaurant. We'd driven 10 hours that day, on our way home to New York, through the hills and hollows and flatlands of a bleary winter stretch of the Carolinas into Virginia. The hotel we had checked into was a discount chain off the highway, behind a string of gas stations. It was clean enough and had one of those sticky indoor pools areas that feels like a chlorine-infused hot house. My kids were thrilled about the potential of a swim, but we had to eat something before they splashed in the murky green water. The hotel's sweet-as-pie desk attendant enthusiastically recommended the restaurant down the road, where we settled into a booth after a very long day.
Pretty much every inch of my backside ached from the drive, some places worse than others. I needed a drink. I wondered where our waitress was. The sweet-as-pie hostess said the she would be with us "in a jiff." I have a different definition of "jiff," especially when I need a drink, but eventually, across the restaurant, I caught sight of a woman wearing an apron and carrying a notepad meandering our way. I had to assume she was our waitress, though it seemed incongruous because the woman was easily in her 80s, bent at the waist at a 45 degree angle. When she arrived, eventually, at our table, with a sweet Southern greeting, my 10-year-old daughter looked away and my 6-year-old son stared at her wide-eyed, mouth agape. When I saw his jaw begin to move, I blurted out something before he could -- bless his heart -- say something inappropriate.
Dinner took forever. My cocktail was warm. The food sucked. I got kicked in the shins 11 times. My kids ordered kiddy drinks that came in 64 oz. slippery plastic glasses. They fought incessantly as I waited for one of their drinks to get dumped in my lap, and I held my breath and stared at my son every time the waitress appeared bent over our table. At least we had the over-chlorinated indoor pool to look forward to...
We eventually got the check from the finest octogenarian waitress in the county moments before my head exploded. We exited the booth. A group of couples, probably in their 60s, were having dinner at a nearby table. One woman had been watching the circus at our table much of the evening. As we were leaving, she gave me a sweet-as-pie smile and said, "They won't be young forever, you know. Someday you'll miss this."
I smiled back, best as I could at that point, mumbled something in agreement and kept on walking, though what I wanted to do was give her a flick in the forehead and scream, "No kidding, lady! But what do you want me to do? Cherish this moment?"
As so therein lies the challenge of parenting for myself and so many of my peers with young children. We know our children our growing up fast; our time with them is precious, and we should enjoy as much of it as possible. We know! We know! But we are tired. So tired.
It's like being part of generation yawn. Every parent I see is exhausted. In most cases, both parents have demanding, full-time jobs, while the one with the less demanding job often also gets the role of primary caregiver, though both parents are heavily involved. Some of us have help; most of us don't. Either way, we're all worn out.
We wake early and get home late to a heap of parental oversight and preparation for the next day. Weekends are a blur of games and birthday parties and other random events. On Saturday nights, we usually crash, though on occasion, we get together with friends for dinner, where we talk about how tired we are. Good times.
This is the reality of modern parents in this economy. We work ridiculous hours to cobble together dual incomes that keep the lights on and the kids fed, enriched and out of trouble. Vacation time is minimal and on a budget. The result is that our kids are growing up and we're getting old before our time. This is not good.
That woman in the restaurant was right (kind of). Kids do grow up fast, and many of us are missing the magic of their childhood due to overcommitments elsewhere.
My suspicion is that many parents in situations similar to ours, at some point, will make the conscious decision to relocate to areas where it doesn't take two full-blown careers to modestly support one family. Life is short, and our kids are getting taller by the minute. Many of us will choose to give up our hip zip codes for the pleasure of watching them grow. Hopefully, it will be a place with chilled cocktails and decent food.