This school year is unexplored territory for my family. For the first time, both kids - Liam, 7, and Maggie, 5 - will be in school full time. Maggie went to preschool three days a week last year, which still gave us lots of time together. Some weeks I was too swamped to take full advantage of that time, but usually I embraced it.
At least once a week, Maggie and I dropped Liam off at school and went straight to Northstar Café, where I handed over $6.99 for a ham-and-cheese scone and coffee. I held Maggie up so she could push the buttons to fill two glasses with ice and water. As I filled my pre-warmed mug with coffee, Maggie waited patiently with a wooden stir stick to incorporate the cream into the java. We sat in the same booth every time and, after dividing the scone down the middle, Maggie would hollow out each half with her fingers and hand me the dissected, unwanted pieces of crust and, if I was lucky, a piece or two of ham. We'd chat, laugh. Eventually I'd hand over my iPhone and we'd play games together; sometimes she'd play solo and I'd settle into an issue of The New Yorker.
This was our routine. It sounds mundane, but it was usually the best part of my week. Even if she stared at my phone and I at my magazine for half the time, we were enjoying some downtime together. For that 30 or 45 minutes there were no errands, no housework, no writing, no emails (usually). No obligations.
The Oliphints love doing things as a family, but we value the divide-and-conquer strategy, too. Solo parenting can be a liberating experience; Kroger trips are easier with one kid than two. Plus, you can focus your attention on just one child, which allows you to see another side of that child. Liam and Maggie act differently when they're apart. Their frequent co-play brings me joy, but it also requires some refereeing. When separated, aspects of their personalities that are often smothered by a sibling begin bubbling to the surface.
In terms of socialization and academic challenges, I don't have much anxiety about Maggie starting school. She'll have the same kindergarten teacher Liam had, who also happens to be one of the only non-relatives Maggie has permitted to pick her up. (Unlike her brother, Maggie does not dole out physical affection willy-nilly.) She's already friends with several of Liam's kindergarten buddies, who often request that Maggie accompany him on playdates. All that, along with three years of preschool experience, makes me think her transition to school days will be relatively smooth.
I'm excited for Maggie. And for me. In theory, having 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to myself every weekday means I can take on more assignments and spend fewer evenings squeezing in unfinished work. And maybe the miscellaneous stacks of paper on the kitchen counter won't reach such towering heights.
But I have a feeling the transition will be tough, too. It's going to be harder to find time for solo parenting, much less weekly Daddy-Maggie dates. Unfortunately for our bank account, I'll likely still find my way to Northstar often. But I don't think the coffee will taste quite as good when I have to stir it myself.
-Joel Oliphint is a freelance writer and a scone-crushing, coffee-chugging dad.