Joe Menard and his daughters.
There I was, curled up in a ball on the living room floor as they circled me in pursuit.
“Meow,” I cried meekly as they swooped in for the attack.
They both paused in mid-pounce.
“Aww, how cute,” my oldest daughter said as she stopped and stroked my hair, her younger sister chiming in with a “kitty” of her own.
This is my lunch hour, the best 40 minutes of my day.
But it wasn’t always like that. When we first started our family, we lived five hours away in the Detroit suburbs. I was a reporter at one of Detroit’s two competing daily newspapers, and my wife was pursuing a second degree with plans to become an elementary school teacher.
My job demanded a flexible schedule and lunch was usually a burger at my desk as I pushed against deadlines. There were nights I worked until 3 a.m. for things as mundane as waiting for local school election results or as dangerous as being just behind the police line at a hostage situation with an armed gunman. I flew in a sheriff’s helicopter over a drowning scene and sped down Woodward Avenue in the back of a Detroit Police unmarked cruiser in response to an officer in need of assistance. My reporting took me into a fiery building during a controlled burn with a group of volunteer fire recruits, my hand fumbling along for the same hose as theirs as we navigated the blackness of fire, its sounds crackling all around us.
The erratic schedule, paired with a 56-mile, round-trip commute and dangers both real and perceived, suddenly felt out of place after our first child arrived, quite dramatically, one Saturday in October. After sharing a 27-hour labor and witnessing the birth of my daughter, sitting in the back seat of a speeding cop car seemed rather pedestrian-and stupid.
So by the time our second daughter was born just 20 months later, we had made the decision to move back here so our children would grow up with the bulk of their extended family. But the move came with sacrifices. With the current state of newspapers, finding a job paying a living wage proved fruitless, which was probably for the best, considering the schedule and occasional risks.
Instead I took a job in sales. It was a leap of faith, but came with its rewards. My commute, just six miles each way, affords me the luxury of coming home each afternoon for 40 minutes to share a sandwich, milk and a good dose of living room playtime with my daughters, who will turn 3 and 5 later this year, as well as our newest daughter, who was born in January.
Horsing around, I have taught my girls important lessons like teamwork, showing them the only way they can get me down is if they work together. Sometimes we play dog, other times cat, and still other times there is a crocodile or shark in the middle of the living room floor, and we all have to work as a team to get away from it.
My colleagues, especially those without children, don’t get it, and occasionally poke fun at me for going home for lunch instead of joining them for eat-out lunches. I’ve gone a few times, especially days when the wife and kids are out for the afternoon, and it is fun sharing a meal and conversation with the other adults from the office. But it doesn’t beat 20 minutes of trying to escape the T. rex hiding under a pile of blankets on the couch.
Afterwards I drive back to work, my hair disheveled and a grin from ear to ear, with both my belly and my heart full and satisfied.
Joe Menard is a freelance writer who lives in Glen Ellyn with his wife, Dawn, and three daughters, Ava, Maya and Olivia.