Opinion

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Reporter's Notebook

Christmas with Kids

Parenting young children means living in a suspended state of controlled chaos

I lost my wallet shortly before Christmas. After days of frantic yet thorough searching, retracing my steps and calling everywhere I had recently visited, the working theory now is that my 15-month-old son placed it somewhere strange, likely the garbage. He’s cute like that.

That experience set a vague mood of disorganization that became decidedly less vague over Christmas break, when family from across Montana and Oregon descended on our house. With a 2-year-old niece staying with us for a week, joining forces of mischief with our own boys, any hopes of finding my wallet evaporated. I could barely find my shoes each day, buried under mounds of toys, recently opened gifts and half-eaten toddler food. We lost two presents before we even finished opening the rest.

Parenting young children means living in a suspended state of controlled chaos, or at least feigning control. When you bring even more of these noisy little nihilists under your roof, all at different stages of verbal ability and especially listening capacity, you’re able to observe the remarkable phenomenon of healthy middle-aged adults in rapid degeneration. I had no gray hairs before Fisher was born; now I have enough that Gus, my youngest, finds it necessary to pluck them.

To put it diplomatically, the week afforded us ample teaching opportunities in matters such as sharing and physical boundaries. Gus, barely bipedal but always trying to keep up with his 3-year-old brother, didn’t appear to enjoy a frequent game in which either Fisher or cousin Winslow pinned him to floor and lounged on top of him. No wonder he stole my wallet; he was trying to make a break for it, only to discover that daddy’s credit card is maxed out on Goldfish cracker purchases.

As I write this, I can already hear the trepidation of my coworker, who doesn’t have children and often mentions that my stories of parenthood don’t inspire confidence that he should have them. But the truth is that highlighting the difficulties of rearing kids is necessary for parents, to commiserate and work through issues and provide levity.

The more vital truth underlying that truth is that my two boys are the greatest miracle in my life, and that the happiness they’ve threaded throughout my entire being has given me a higher purpose and a glimpse into the most ethereal beauty available on this planet. But I still have to pick up the half-eaten food hiding behind the couch and teach my toddler to keep his hands to himself, and I find deep comfort in hearing that other parents have to do the same.

Ultimately, through the periods of stress and anarchy, Christmas break was defined by the splendor of sharing those experiences with family, of sorting through the challenges and laughing during the sweetness, of finding common ground and talking deep into the night after the kids had gone to bed. It was the commingling of three generations of loved ones, including those who raised us and undoubtedly had the same conversations with fellow parents decades ago. It was the strengthening of friendships with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, and the pleasant clarity of my wife and I seeing their adulthood journeys track neatly alongside our own.

Yet, despite all of that camaraderie and the combined powers of four new parents, not a single one of us could find my wallet. Life is full of mysteries.