Every parent will be interrupted 100 million billion times before their kids hit 18. They never explain this in parenting books. And they never tell you the long-term consequences of interruptions.
True, parenting books tell you other useful information. Number of diapers added to the landfill: Check. Annual miles driven to and from after-school activities: Check. Mountain of cash needed for educational expenses: BIG check.
Nothing about interruptions. It seems kind of important from a mental health point of view. Sure, new parents are sleep deprived, but that usually lasts less than a year and you get a lot of post-midnight baby feeding stories for retelling later in family therapy.
The real day-to-day concern for parents is battling the long-term effects of being interrupted every 11 seconds for something—an opinion on dirt, the best way to balance a spoon on your nose, a quarter, a judgment on who-hit-who-first, a quick catch of a thrown object already in the air, a puppy, a teary request for an immediate sleepover, a birthday party for next year with a funnier clown, a bigger cake and a piñata the size of Snoopy from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
You get the idea.
It’s like a faint echo of those sacrificed nights of long ago, an ever-widening ripple from the splash created by the big rock we all launched into the calm koi pond of our previous adult lives when we decided to have children.
For me, it started as a persistent inability to focus. My wife figured it was my vacant personality, aided by age. But I recognized it immediately—adult ADD—Absent-minded Dad Disorder.
Here’s what it sounds like:
“Me? I’m ... what?”
“Dad? Dad? DAD!”
Untreated, this condition can lead to ADHD—Absent-minded Dad Hollering Disorder.
I thought it would get better when the kids started school, where they’re supposed to learn to not interrupt the teacher. Do they apply at home what they’ve learned about not interrupting at school?
Not a chance. They save their random thoughts, ideas and oddball questions until they get home. Then they fire them at you like snowballs in a pitching machine until you collapse on the kitchen floor, the dead phone falling from your clenched fingers, the beep-beep-beep of the dial tone resonating off the tile as they stand triumphantly over you, filling you in on recent bowel movements of Kyle’s sick guinea pig, the status of ants in the insect kingdom and the color of milk when mixed with Gatorade.
After years of this, I believe my ADD is permanent. In fact, it seems to get worse. I often end up standing in the middle of the stairs or in a closet, trying desperately to remember what the heck I was doing and why. The kids make a game out of it with their friends, trying to guess why I’m wearing a rubber garter snake on my ear or holding a handful of fuzzy carpet lint aloft as if it were valuable in some weird dad way, like a pile of magic beans or a golden coupon for free mayonnaise.
This is hard work, even though good old Andy Taylor made it look easy on TV in the ‘60s. To be fair, he only had one kid, Aunt Bee did all the housework and his Barney didn’t dress in purple foam or dance the fat man hula in the backyard.
I have to believe I’m making progress. It’s been years, after all. My wife keeps telling me to concentrate, to “multitask,” as they say in business vernacular. She thinks this will help restore my sanity.
But remember—in geological terms, dads are relatively new at this parenting gig. Moms have been multitasking since we first crawled into caves to get out of the primordial ooze. Even longer than that, I would guess, since moms don’t waste valuable time writing down opinions when they need to be writing notes on every doggone activity the kids do.
Back then, moms left the arguing to the non-warrior, back-office men of the clan, the balding ones who ran and hid in the bamboo when the sabre-tooth tiger showed up, the makers of mud, the ones who later became—you guessed it—lawyers.
I have no doubt the cave moms of the Protozoic Era were able to do everything that ensured the survival of mankind: raise the children, cook the carcasses, rearrange the rocks, plan the paintings and domesticate the dogs, with enough time left to invent soccer so they could talk briefly with their friends before the man got home, late, dragging something dead, and bellowing for beer.
It’s a hard act to follow—especially with the ongoing interruptions and my ADD—but I think I’ll eventually get it. Check back with me, oh, in a million years or so. With any luck, I should be caught up by then.
T. Brian Kelly is a writer and cartoonist living in St. Charles with his wife, Wendy, and their three children, Devin, 9, Liam, 7, and Aislen, 6.