An Ode to PracticalityWhen you become a parent, especially for the second or third time, you tend to find yourself looking at things through the lens of practicality. In the midst of the chaos that comes with children, you look for anything and everything that can simplify the process or calm the storm. Your life takes on certain complexities that seem incomprehensible to those without children, but make so much sense to you. Somebody wants you and your children under age 5 to do something after lunch? Not a chance. Anticipating the kids sleeping longer on the weekend because you told the sitter they could stay up later while you were out “painting the town”? Wishful thinking*. Keeping a potty chair in your vehicle just in case? Smart move. Because you have practically zero control over how your day will unfold, your approach to it has to be as practical as possible if you ever hope to survive.
The purchase of our minivan is a prime example. The minivan is a bastion of practicality – seating for seven, the seemingly never-ending storage space, relatively good gas mileage considering the occupancy level of the vehicle, reasonable insurance premiums. Did I mention the storage space? You may have hesitations about the stigma surrounding people who drive such contraptions`, but once you get one, it’s hard to imagine life without one. Or, as an article pointing out the complexities of having three kids notes, “you need an automatic sliding side door the way an eel needs water.” I’ve actually started to eagerly imagine the first adults-only road trip that the van can be utilized for.
Because it is such a practical vehicle, I feel as though my approach to operating it should be congruent with its practicality. Yes, I am the guy driving the actual speed limit because it yields me the best gas mileage. Honestly, I’m not usually in a hurry to get anywhere, because when you’re trying to go somewhere with kids you’re either late or early. And when we’re late, we’re likely so late already it doesn’t make a difference. I don’t really care if you’re running behind for work or your yoga class or your coffee date. My improved gas mileage is more important than your time. I’m also assuming that you are talking/texting/tweeting/posting a selfie and focusing about 17% of your attention on the road. You’re welcome to speed by me coming out of the stoplight; I’ll keep my RPMs under 2000 to balance the redlining of yours. You can even honk or gesture obscenely if you’d like. As Marge Simpson would say, “slow and steady wins the race!”
I've always been relatively frugal (read: cheap), but my parental practicality has helped me develop a more effective approach to utilizing our various resources. Like washing and reusing Ziploc bags or any jar or container that seems as though it could hold something else after its original contents have been consumed. I’ve been known to put the clothes my kid’s wore throughout the day back in their drawers if they don’t seem excessively dirty. To say nothing of my own clothes that don’t even make it into a drawer, but rather a pile on the floor to be put back on tomorrow, and likely the day after that, visibly dirty or not (see earlier post). Toilet paper that Gus has pulled off of the roll while entertaining himself in the bathroom either gets re-rolled or folded nicely and placed on top of the toilet ready to be used for its actual purpose. And when the toilet paper is actually gone of course we’ll put that empty paper roll in the “craft box” along with anything else I think could possibly be used for a “creative project”, where it will sit for a few months before I eventually just recycle it anyway.
Taking a practical viewpoint of things can work itself into all kinds of scenarios. You become hyperaware of your plan of action should anyone in your party need to use the bathroom while out in public. When we go anywhere, I immediately identify the closest bathroom and mentally visualize the quickest route to said bathroom should anyone start to motion toward their crotch. My questioning of my kid’s need to use the potty before we leave the house or when we find ourselves in close proximity to a bathroom could be considered borderline interrogation. Are you sure you don’t have to go? How about now? And of course we keep a potty chair in our van as part of our roadside emergency kit; it’s a genius idea I wish I could take credit for. There’s also more than ample space.
Sometimes the approach of parental practicality is done during times of sheer impracticality. Most notably this time of year when we tend to ask our little ones to complete insurmountable tasks – sitting still for family photos while dressed in uncomfortable clothes we’ve sternly instructed them not get dirty; behaving like sweet little angels in new environments while off the regular routine and coked up on frosted cookies and candy canes; waiting patiently to open presents that have been sitting under a tree visibly taunting them for weeks; acting cordial when we try to coax them to sit on the lap of some stranger who has a big white beard and a one of a kind red ensemble^. We make gracious attempts to stay practical, like keeping the bottom third of our Christmas trees free of any ornaments, especially the old “sentimental” ones that are 100% pure lead paint. We make comments like, “that went about as expected” to give us some justification for putting our kids through the torment.
Luckily, when it’s all said and done and the Holidays are over, we can always pile back into the calm oasis that is the minivan. Inside everything will be peaceful and serene, as long as everyone is sleeping (save the driver) or there is a movie playing on the built in DVD player (a feature I was adamantly opposed to before better grasping its practicality). Sure it will be full of new relatively impractical things that we’ll have to find practical ways to deal with when we get home. But at least we’ll still fit comfortably because the amount of storage space is unreal.
*Let’s be honest, after you have kids you no longer paint the town. At best you prime it, but usually you’re just edging or doing the trim. Every parent knows the later you let your kid stay up, the earlier they will be up the next morning, no matter how hung-over you are. Luckily you are seldom hung-over anymore because it’s just not practical.
`I drove a van for the better part of my senior year of high school. This was done more for the sake of irony than practicality. And suitable punishment for some reckless teenage behavior.
^I think I’d be concerned if my kids didn’t freak out when we encourage them to sit on Santa’s lap.