1001 Proven Methods to Turbo-Hack Your Toddler

Killer iPhone tip for working parents I learned from Merlin awhile back:

  1. Set your lock screen wallpaper to be a picture of your family. Preferably not a portrait.
  2. When you get home at the end of a workday, before you open the door, turn off whatever app is running, lock your phone, then bring up the lock screen again.
  3. Look at it for a full 5–10 seconds and say these words: This is why I’m here.
  4. Make sure your phone is ignored or turned off for at least the next two hours.
  5. You may check it while taking a shit. A real shit.

If you are childless and able-bodied, most of the mundane tasks of the day come as easily as breathing. You don’t trip over six difficulties on your way to the car. You can go to work, bust ass all day, leave all of your energy behind, and check out when you get home. You’re allowed to be grumpy. You’re allowed to eat dinner in front of the Internet or the TV.

With kids, it could be that the hardest part of your day is just starting when you step through your doorway. Even if they’re being well-behaved angels, your kids will want you to play with them. They will want you to be on. And that takes energy, energy you’ll probably have to dig for, as does shepherding them through their nighttime rituals.

My son’s favorite game? Jumping off of things and having me catch him, often without informing me that we have begun a game. I mean, come on. But you don’t have a choice, you are required to show up and dig deep. You have to be positive and constructive and fun. You are emphatically not allowed to lose your shit.

So I’ve spent the day wading through the hundred skeeter bites of being allowed to be only half of a software developer, the endless frustrations of working on government contracts, the drama du jour on my team, whatever—and for my kids, now it must be as if it never happened.

So I kill my podcast. I lock my phone. I hit the lock button again.

My picture is nearly a year old now. It is the picture we used on our Christmas card in 2010. It is a series of eight grainy, black-and-white snapshots of my family, crammed into a photo booth. In them, you can see my daughter looking on with the wide-eyed fascination you expect from a one-year-old. You can see my son trying to hog the whole frame to make faces. You can see me restraining him and, in the last shot, pretending to eat his head. You can see my wife, more smirking and laughing than smiling, as captive to the chaos as I, and you would not know that she was probably thinking about her dying mother. None of us are looking at the camera.

People see this picture and say, “It looks like you have a lot of fun.”

I’ll admit that for about half a second after I hear this, I’m partly surprised. Yes, we have tons of fun, but I have a full-time job and two children under the age of five. A lot of the time, what I am is tired. For my wife? It’s even harder.

So I look at that picture, and I remember. I realize it’s a better summary of What My Family Is than I could ever write. There is mess, there is noise, there is struggling, and we are laughing the whole way. I see that, and most days I can lay my burden down.

This is why you’re here, I think, and it’s just a long enough walk to the back door for me to hope that maybe today I’ll be a better husband and father than I am.