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Family bustle runs all day long

Life with children
by: ©2008 JOSEPH GALLIVAN, Liam (left), 20 months, and Helena, 5, learn to wait, a skill that, for example, applies to the roses in Washington Park and the flow of water in the drinking fountain s, as well as the pool.

Lately I've been spending more time with my family (that would be the lifestyle choice, not the euphemism), and I have a new appreciation for what my wife does as a mother.

An afternoon wrangling a 5-year-old and a 20-month-old is emotionally draining, since you have to be 'always on.' No spacing out is allowed.

Kids get impatient when you're gassing on the phone at the swings or hunched and texting by the slide. So I pay attention to their questions and displays of derring-do, which consist mainly of jumping off things and messing with foliage and water.

My other main role is as blood sugar cop, trying to avoid wild swings and diet-induced meltdowns - something I'm not especially good at for myself.

Instead of being the tall guy they see at the beginning and end of each day, I've been showing up at preschool pickup and generally hanging around the house, just like they do.

Children are born opportunists, so they've been introducing me to their games. There's Rip the Flap Book, Spring Training With Turtle and, of course, the Pee and Poo Olympics.

When I run out of energy I load them into a bubble bath, where they'll happily stay for an hour at a time. Poor cell phone reception in the bathroom means I sometimes have to retreat to the bedroom, keeping one ear out for the silence of the lambs.

School scramble begins

Lately we've been looking for a kindergarten for Helena.

This means shuffling around schoolrooms between the tiny chairs, looking at the art on the walls and trying to get a sense of how happy the inmates are.

Since transfers later can be a wrench, it's quite nerve-racking knowing that in picking a school you are sealing your child's fate.

The decision's being made on very little information. I've heard enough tales of poor teachers at a few popular schools to be worried. (My definition of a bad teacher is someone who can't spell, which is ironic given that my spelling here is checked by two machines and four people. Friends have advised me to expect less.)

In the 'What to look for in a classroom' section of 'The Schools Our Children Deserve' (1999), author Alfie Kohn says to look for, among other things, artwork that isn't all the same, desks in clusters instead of rows, and smiling faces.

So we did some tours. Chapman was nice. Metropolitan Learning Center was Portland weird. At another school the teachers were a bit too serious and superior, in a New Seasons-y way.

We really want Helena to carry on in the charter school where she is this year for preschool, but for that she has to win the school lottery.

With only a 10 percent chance of that, her fate is in the hands of whoever clicks the mouse on the computer inside Portland Public Schools headquarters this month.

The ace up our sleeve is that by some freak of real estate, Ainsworth (organized, dedicated, wealthy) is our neighborhood school. So the odds are, our kids probably will go there.

Webkinz and waiting games

There seem to be two prevalent images of the father in modern media: the Mr. Mom (baby sling, black diaper bag) and the Busy Breadwinner.

Right now the latter stars in a cell phone ad in which a little girl gives him her stuffed monkey to take on a business trip. He sends her pictures of said simian in a fancy boardroom and another as though it's climbing the Empire State Building.

She waits and waits until finally she receives a shot of the monkey on the front lawn. The girl opens the door and there's Daddy, triumphantly returned. Like most ads, the point is you can have your cake and eat it.

Tidying up recently, we filled two crates with stuffed animals, yet Helena just bought her first Webkin. One of her preschool friends has an older sister who is really into them, and the meme spread quicker than pinkeye.

The Webkinz racket consists of a cheap stuffed toy linked to a feeble Web site. Each toy comes with a secret code that allows you to tend a virtual version of your animal online, and to rack up KinzCash by playing video games and doing quizzes.

You then spend the virtual scrip on virtual clothing, furniture, tchotchkes, etc.

The whole Webkinz thing was a distraction from getting her a real pet. Sometimes we look at the cats available on the Oregon Humane Society's Web site, but we've never clicked to commit.

She desperately wants one but can't until her brother can be trusted not to hurt it. So for now she must wait. The cats are less lucky.

Children do a lot of waiting. I've noticed that much of the preschool day is spent putting on or taking off coats, lining up or washing hands, just like when I was a kid.

As we wander through Washington Park we're waiting for the roses to bud, waiting for the drinking fountains to come back on, and waiting for May when our swimming pool reopens.

They're not complaining, and nor should I. Part of being a father is sticking around, and taking your chances.

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