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Work, parent, repeat

My wife and I were lying in bed one night with the lights off when she heard a sound coming from behind her. We squinted into the darkness toward the source and there, standing still as a scarecrow against the wall, was my then-11-year-old son.

My wife screamed when Elijah’s human figure came into focus. No, he wasn’t trying to scare us. In fact, he was only waiting for the right moment to reveal himself and ask his question. To him, our alarm was completely unjustified. That the 86 billion neurons of his brain huddled up and concluded that the best course of action was for Elijah to melt into a dark corner like the monster in a found-footage horror film was our problem, not his.

Why wouldn’t he just do the polite double-knock before entering our open bedroom to let us know he was there, rather than melt into the two-dimensional pop-up book realm like the Babadook? The answer may be found in a little-known instruction manual on coaching youth football that I’ll refrain from naming because I can’t afford to be sued just now.

Early in the book, the author explains why he recommends using practices solely for running plays — no drills, no conditioning and no form tackling. I can sum up his stance in three words: kids are dumb. He wasn’t trying to be funny, which is exactly why it was. He sought only to explain why you can run the same sweep-right play perfectly 100 consecutive times in practice only to watch your star player run left on the first play of the game.

I don’t exactly agree with his conclusion, but as a former Little League/Pop Warner/AYSO soccer and youth basketball coach who also happens to have served as a foster parent, I can confirm that his reasoning is sound. No, kids aren’t dumb — they suck up information with a fatter straw than us biggies (darn prefrontal cortex) — but when it comes to decision-making, they’ll surprise you at every turn. And I suspect there are more than a few moms and dads out there these days who are finding at least a little common ground with that politically incorrect youth football coach.

That’s because besides ravaging the economy, crippling the health care system and further fracturing this country politically, COVID-19 has forced those of us who still have jobs to put in a solid eight hours while somehow appeasing the most demanding CEOs in history, our precious princesses, our little buddies, who simply must have a glass of water RIGHT NOW. It doesn’t matter who you’re on the phone with, does it? The more important the call, the better, in fact. Turns out, that’s the perfect time to shove your brother for no earthly reason other than to start a screaming match one millimeter away from dad’s ultrasensitive headset.

I called up a colleague recently to pitch a story. The call lasted no more than two minutes, and this is what I heard on the other end: “AHHHHHHH AHHGAAAA PASAAHAHAHAH!” Between war cries, I gathered that his daughters were playing under his desk, further correspondence was impossible, maybe dangerous, there’s this thing called email and please use it.

On Monday, I scored an interview with Ashland City Administrator Kelly Madding. She’s very busy and can be difficult to track down, pandemic or no, so it was important that I be able to concentrate for a few minutes. Before dialing her number, I made sure everybody in the house understood the stakes. Forget about the fact that I was still wearing a robe and slippers at 2:47 p.m., I was like Theodore Roosevelt delivering his “Duties of American Citizenship” speech. And my wide-eyed home-schoolers? They were like the members of the New York State Assembly who couldn’t wait for this windbag to shut up so they could fire a musket through a window.

As of this writing it had not even been two weeks since Gov. Kate Brown’s stay-at-home order, and already I was longing for the mundane adult interactions we experience at our workplace that I never even knew I cared for. I think that’s because most of our adult-to-adult routines have a give-and-take quality that does not extend to our offspring.

Sitting at my desk at the Mail Tribune, for instance, I might pop my head over the partition and say, “Hey, Vickie, did you see this email about the dog that pulled the man out of the burning house?” And she’d respond, “Yes, I’ve written that up and two sidebars.” And I’d say, “perfect,” and promise to take the next breaking news thing before leaving for the day at 2:30. Even Steven.

At home, this isn’t even remotely how things work. Here, if I mention that it might be a good idea to write about so-and-so, the response will completely lack that give-and-take quality. What I get instead is, “I’m hungry, what are you making for lunch?”

This is problematic for at least two reasons. No. 1, it’s 10 a.m.; and No. 2, I know from experience that there are only two or three answers that won’t lead to further questions. This is why it helps to have a spouse around, but when you’re home-schooling three kids between the ages of 8 and 13, you’re pretty much like those poor below-deck grunts on the Titanic desperately plugging leaks. The ship’s a goin’ down, cap’n, it’s just a matter of time.

Since we happen to be one of those families that started home-schooling long before the coronavirus, this seems like the natural place to offer some advice, but that’ll have to wait for another column. For now, it may help to remember that, for most of us, things could almost always be worse. After the stock market crash of 1929, one desperate family moved into a cave in New York’s Central Park and lived there for a year. A cave.

So when the kids are driving you crazy and you fall into your bed at night exhausted and frustrated that you didn’t get enough done, just remember that family in the cave, where there are no windows, no heat and terrible Wi-Fi.

Also, check the dark corner. Definitely check the corner.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

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