Posted by jdg | Wednesday, July 15, 2009

We've returned from the other side of the state where we said hello to my sister's beautiful baby and goodbye to my wife's beloved grandmother. Birth, death, I know, I know: it all sounds like that song by the bald guy with the braided rat tail. That's not what this post is about.

At some point my wife and the kids decided to stay with her family while I returned to Detroit to get some work done. During the 48 hours I have alone I go grocery shopping without children for the first time in years. Remember that moment in Spiderman where Peter Parker discovers his superpowers? Or that point where Neo stops the bullets and starts seeing the green text inside the Matrix? Yeah, that's some weak shit compared to how you feel in a grocery store without children. Standing behind a childfree cart you swear you have eight arms. You are dancing Shiva, the destroyer of worlds, flinging a perfect avocado, a can of coconut milk, and coffee beans into the cart before the downward stroke of the butcher's knife slams through the bone, before the bubble gum bursts on the lips of the girl pricing bags of black beans, before the fly buzzing on the potato salad flaps his wings a second time. . .

At home, you are stunned by the silence: hour after hour of silence. Where is the incessant whining, that droning didgeridoo of discontent, that soundtrack of your life as a stay-at-home dad? You turn the volume up on the stereo. Music sounds good again. That Dirty Projectors song is good, after all. But you crave the silence. Where are the filthy-faced urchins whose petty needs always come before your own? You sit in the silence as one might sit in a steam bath. Your mind reboots. You have thoughts that last more than two minutes without getting interrupted. This, you realize, is why so few of your old friends want children. This state of decadent self-centeredness feels so foreign, though you spent 27 years in it. Childlessness is wasted on the childfree.

It is their bedtime, but unlike any ordinary day your body does not feel drained of blood, like a limp sacrificial offering slumped on the couch wishing there were no obligations to guilt you away from blacking out. You are exhilarated by the silence.

Then you hear crying from the computer across the room. 200 miles away your wife is requesting a video chat with your daughter on her lap, sobbing. "She's inconsolable," she says. "She misses you." And then, just like that, you would give anything to have her tears drying in the fabric on your shoulder.