Strategy

After an hour of reading I’ve finally started to write, which means that my son will wake up soon.

Our new house has an office, and by that I mean a room with large windows overlooking the older parts of the city, a table, numerous ESL textbooks that no one ever touches, two chairs, and a cheap old Korean couch that doubled on exactly one occasion as a bed for a guest. This room is vitally important because I can come here before the sun comes up and when the sky out the bedroom window is a faint pink fabric glowing ever brighter against the blue of the night and the stars you can sometimes see despite all the cities and all the light pollution—I can come here, and sit, and work, maybe for an hour or so if I’m lucky, without waking up the boy.

That is the main struggle, especially on weekends, which go entirely to him. His two-hour nap times are fraught with peril: he could wake at any moment, so what’s the point of trying to get anything done? And by the time he goes to sleep in the evening I’m so wiped out it’s impossible to do anything. I remember thinking yesterday at seven: I’ve become one of those parents you see on facebook lamenting the fact that they’re finished, they can’t go on, by seven o’clock. And my wife wants to have another. But the child I want to have is the freedom to wake up in the morning without dreading another child’s screams. The simple but fundamental pleasure of sitting down with a cup of coffee and the newspaper or a magazine or a book, and reading it until I feel inspired, has been beyond my experience for at least two weeks. It used to be a daily occurrence—at Hampshire a few paragraphs would drive me so wild I would run outside and sprint up a nearby climbing wall—and though I love my son (and would love any second child), it’s not something I enjoy living without, and there is a day somewhere in the distant future, perhaps after several years of patient labor cultivating the garden of another soul, when I can get up without the need to hide in a quiet office. With every moment that passes, that day draws closer; to have another child would mean resetting a clock that I have been watching very attentively for sixteen months.

Yesterday I was not so lucky, and that lack of luck meant that I had to strategize, to minimize the power of chance. When I woke up I could already hear the boy yawning sweetly in his barred bed, which naturally meant that he cried out at the exact moment the faucet screamed out a jet of water into the glass coffee pot. It was all over then. Plans for books and words. Page after potential page instantaneously shredded, for at that point, if I ignore the boy, I become The Bad Father. I had no choice but to respond. I walked into his room—angry frustration converted, in the quick smithy of the human heart, into the happy love of seeing this beautiful wonderful brilliant child—and found him sitting and playing groggily with a couple of stuffed animals, whom he had gathered into a congress of sorts, to discuss pressing issues (full diapers, the current lack of mother, teething pain and how to relieve it, a question of whether to bite father hard or very hard when he puts his arm around mother’s shoulders).

He was content there. He even seemed disappointed. There was no smile as I picked him up, greeted him, hauled him into the kitchen, gave him a pastry for breakfast, which he devoured in its entirety, playing with me for a only fifteen minutes (of reading, chasing and being chased, racing cars, making faces, practicing saying hello) before growing bored and demanding to know where his mother was. I had made the mistake of leaving the bedroom door open: to close it would draw attention to it: he pushed through, flung himself on the bed, and wailed for her attention, as she turned beneath the heavy glitz of her Korean blanket, the white sun in the window forcing us to squint, burning tears out of our eyes.

He has begun to throw temper tantrums, which would seem to be defined as an almost insane fury at being unable to communicate one’s desires—or perhaps not even knowing what one’s desires are. Another older toddler in a video I watched on the subject went absolutely nuts over not being able to sit at the corner of a round table. The boy was so frustrated with us two days before (though we were frantically trying to figure out what he wanted) that he screamed his throat raw and gave himself a cold the next day—and though we know every variety of scream, these screams are somehow even more powerful; to not be able to brush his teeth is no different from having his eyelids pulled off—which necessitated cough medicine, which doped him up into the most agreeable lassitude. When we took him out to eat yesterday he was the envy of a different family with an older toddler who refused to sit with them and had to be fed by hand: we were trying a new restaurant strategy with him (reading books together before the food comes), but the medicine must have kept him at ease, as he spooned rice into his mouth and even sipped at our denjang stew, which Koreans consider far too spicy for such young children. We were proud of our son, but we might have informed them (as they kept muttering the word for envy to each other, easily loudly enough for us to hear) that it was probably the medicine sitting patiently in my lap and not the little dictator, who spends most outings at most restaurants pointing at food, grunting, and screaming and crying if he can’t get it, which he usually can’t, because it is usually spicy, and his mother doesn’t want to give him spicy food, though he would seem to be able to handle it.

The point I was getting at, before I digressed with a description of the rest of the day, was that I had lost the opportunity to work in the morning. I needed to strategize if I was going to gain the morning for myself the next day. The problem was the coffee. He was content until he heard me making it. I had to not only move the coffee machine into the office, but wash out the pot, fill the machine up with water, clean out the filter, pack it with coffee, and then leave everything sitting there for twelve hours. I would come in at the crack of dawn the next day, silently close the door, flick the switch, and hope for the best. That’s exactly what happened.

But now it’s almost eight o’clock, and I think I can hear him waking up, so I should go.

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