It has been four years of screaming babies, of rising before the sun at four or five or six in the morning to read, dose / douse myself with coffee, and then write as quietly as possible, for fear of waking the two small children who shriek from another room through one, sometimes two closed doors, as if experiencing the bastinado, should I so much as blink too hard.
Four years of making the coffee in a separate room, since the sputtering growling machine wakes them (I clean the machine, fill the pot, and set out a mug the night before); four years of denying myself breakfast, since opening the refrigerator is loud enough to shake the apartment complex to rubble, until they are up and about and terrorizing me with either ceaseless inquiries as to the fundamental nature of the cosmos or wordless demands—by lifting a shoe and following me around and clutching at my legs while wailing as though a Texas-sized asteroid were about to crash on top of us—to be taken outside and heaved upon the slides, called mee-kuh-lum-tul in weird Korean-Japanese-German, the longest word by far in the Korean language, which consists almost entirely of paired syllables of antiquated and mispronounced Chinese.
Four years of doing the lion’s share of my real work before the babies scream, then losing two hours to feeding and dressing and transporting them to their schools, returning to work once I’m done with the muse all but evaporated. Writing is effortless in coffee-fueled early mornings, but something of a slog in the later parts of the day (I have more time to write than a middle class father of two small children should because I work as an ESL professor at a university in Korea, paying for it by dwelling in land of smoggy garbage-strewn apartment buildings).
I love my kids, I find myself wanting to wake them up occasionally or even filled with a desperate desire to embarrass myself and them by visiting their schools in the middle of the day for a hug and a kiss, but I’ll love them even more when I reach the Elysian Fields—elementary school, when they can feed and dress themselves, take themselves to and from class, and play outside without adult (90% of the time my sole) supervision. And here I know some parent with elementary school kids is saying I have no idea what’s in store for me, that dealing with homework or smartphones or facebook bullying or zero-tolerance policies at NCLB schools is far more difficult than babies screaming in the morning, but if they truly believe that then we can trade places and I’ll see for myself. None will take me up on their offer. Because they are all obviously wrong. Nothing in my life has ever been so hard, and so long as I don’t find myself imprisoned in a North Korean concentration camp I doubt anything else will be so difficult in the future.
One day it will end. I have two boys. The older sleeps tolerably well, though getting him to pass out at night takes my wife, on average, ninety minutes of coaxing—don’t tell her, even if she already knows that I blame Korean childcare methods (always pick up a crying baby (and spoil children as much as you can, never say no to anything, since they will spend their youths shackled to their textbooks so as to spend their adulthood shackled to their cubicles)) for these sleep problems (I’m a fan of letting them cry it out, but you cannot let wives cry it out)—the younger is not quite so bad as the baby I read about who would head-butt the wall, whenever tired, so as to wake himself up, but sleep to my baby Theo is a failure of catastrophic proportions: the whole beautiful panoply-panorama of existence whirling past his eyes is like an opera he has paid thousands of hard-earned dollars to glimpse once in his life, even a toilet brimming with piss is imbued with spectacular cosmic significance, the meaning of being, the ultimate answer to every question, and therefore it must be examined in depth and with one’s bare hands and perhaps also one’s taste buds even if one has been running around and screaming nonstop for nine solid hours.
One day I’ll wake up, and read, and drink coffee, and write, and my kids will get up without screaming, say good morning, and do their own thing. That day is possibly many years from now. But, as my baby cries this moment in his bed—greeting this day and every day as though he is being waterboarded in Guantanamo Bay without charge—and as my body winces at the diaper it will soon have to change, my heart, my mind, my soul, is already dwelling in that golden day, waiting for the rest of this earthly coil to catch up.