From the day of their birth, children are full of surprises. In the early years, the unexpected presents itself in the realm of bodily functions, and the awkwardness of a new human fumbling in a world with which they are unfamiliar.
As they figure out the bathroom and other mechanical necessities of life, the surprises shift towards their burgeoning little personalities. In the case our family, me wife and I brought four new Nazarians into the world in just forty-two months.
That is not a typo, we had four kids in three and a half years, one at a time, no twins.
Whenever someone asks which transition is the toughest I answer like this:
Zero to One – The first kid is the first kid, and you’re so focused on keeping it alive that you tend not to notice that its presence has completely destroyed most of your life.
One to Two – This is the toughest transition for two reasons. One, you have doubled the number of small creatures you are responsible for not killing. Two, the second child brings with it something nobody tells you about, and that is what I call the “phantom child.” When you have one kid it is your sole focus and the child itself knows its own little world and how you attend to it. The “phantom child” is the dynamic between child one and child two. Although the phantom child requires no diaper changes, it is always there. Think of it this way, when you have just the one child, all you need to do is try not to make any mistakes as a parent. When child number two arrives you now have to make sure child one doesn’t kill it (or cause you to do so.)
Two dogs are less work than one dog – not so with children.
Two to Three – I won’t lie to you, the move from two to three is a lot of work. Two car seats fit easily into all cars, not so much three. Double strollers are wonderful for transporting and managing two small children, but three? Yeah, no. Try chasing a running two-year-old while navigating the mall with a “front-to-back Peg-Perego,” good luck. You have two eyes and two ears for keeping track of children… but when there are three. I could go on, but you get the idea.
Three to Four – This transition can be described in two words… more noise.
So that is my dissertation on having multiple children in a short span of time. Today’s story however is about a single child.
The elementary school that our four children attended is literally in our back yard. When our daughter (the oldest) was in fifth grade, her brothers were in fourth, third and first grade respectively. Anyone with four kids in a single school spends a good bit of time there, however with the school just steps from our back door my wife and I were nearly omnipresent.
When parent-teacher conference time would roll around, my wife and I would be in the school every day for nearly a week. The receptionists would make jokes, and the fun-loving principal would greet us with statements like, “Hey, the Nazarians… we haven’t seen you since, like, yesterday. Bawahaaa!”
Here’s a crazy thing. Even though I can nearly sneeze on the school from my kitchen window, the school district sends a bus to my street. When my kids were still in the school, the bus stop was at the end of our driveway. The reason for this is New York State law measures the distance from a home to a school by roads, not “as the crow flies.” As absurd as this may seem, we were happy for the bus when the schoolyard was covered in two feet of snow or a sheet of mud in the spring.
Despite the fact that it would be impossible for my kids to live closer to the school, on more than half the days, they took the bus.
Although I now work from home where I can see the school by turning my head a mere ten degrees to the left of the monitor on which I write, most of the time the kids were at Harris Hill Elementary, I had a job, in an office, miles from home.
One early spring morning the last year they were all together in one school, I rose early and headed into my job at a downtown ad agency. I was sitting at my desk around 9:00 when my desk phone rang. Since most of my client contact was through account managers, and all my personal calls came on my cell phone, it was unusual for my desk phone to ring, especially with an external number.
I turned away from computer monitor to glance at the caller ID. In that moment I rapidly went from curiosity to panic as the LCD panel on the phone displayed the one thing a parent never wants to see at work, “PENFIELD CENTRAL SCHOOLS.”
In the half second between reading those words and lifting the receiver I began processing how I was going to juggle my work to be able to go pick up a sick kid from school. Ugh!
The phone call went something like this:
Me – Good morning, this is Steve Nazarian
Caller – [somberly] Hey Steve, this is the principal over at Harris Hill.
Me – Hi. What’s up?
Principal – Well, I’ve got your son Oliver (3rd grader) here in my office. It seems he got himself into a bit of a fight on the bus today.
Me – Um, okay?!?
Principal – Oh, he’s fine but he’s a bit shaken up. I am concerned however since all accounts seem to point to him as the kid who started the fight, and he popped another kid in the nose pretty good. I’m sorry to have to do this, but I think you need to come pick him up and bring him home for the day.
I was shocked. None of my kids are fighters, but Oliver is like Switzerland; he gets along with everyone and fights with no one. I was glad he was okay, but horrified he had hurt another student. My inner monologue was raging. “Was the kid okay? Did Oliver break his nose? Was it a neighbor, oh shit? How pissed would the kid’s parents be? Holy crap the fallout from this could be really messy.”
Taking a moment to absorb this all I took a deep breath and the call continued:
Me – Alright. May I speak to him, please?
Principal – Sure, here he is.
Oliver – [sheepishly] Hey Dad.
Me – [trying desperately to restrain my anger & anguish] Buddy, what happened?
Oliver – [stammering] um, well, you see, err, [four seconds of silence] APRIL FOOLS!
The boy had gotten me, and good. It took me a moment to recover; we all had a good laugh and hung up the phone.
I sat speechless at my desk trying to figure out what the hell has just happened. Simply put, the student had become the master.
The previous day, March 31st, Oliver approached the principal in the hall, explaining how he wanted to play an April Fools Day joke on his Dad, but he needed help. He described the plan, and being an exceedingly cool guy, the principal agreed to his role in the ruse.
Without even understanding the complexity of it, my third-grader pulled off a fairly sophisticated con… on his father. Now in 8th grade, Oliver is now quite a fan of the classics, but at the time he had no idea he was using the principal as his personal Trojan Horse. Of course I opened the gates and welcomed it in with open arms.
It is April 1st today. You may find salt in your sugar bowl or plastic wrap on your toilet bowl, but be leery of trouble served with subtlety. Like I said, children are full of surprises and today, of all days, you should be on high alert.
Here is a classic from The Who to put you in the right frame of mind.
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.