I thought that quitting my full-time job was going to allow me to spend more time with my wife and so far that has proved to be true. R and I spend just about all day every day together - going to the gym, getting juice, picking up our puppy's poo - and she claims to still like me more than 50% of the time which is her criteria for not filing divorce papers. I like her too. We have a lot of fun talking about what we should eat for lunch, ways we can make money without it actually seeming like work, and who we should invite over that will bring wine so we can watch the sunset.
I also thought that I would get to spend more time with Coconut, our 15-year old daughter, and J, our 12-year old son. They are growing up fast - it seems like only yesterday that I was fixing their breakfast and telling them to brush their teeth before going to bed. It actually was yesterday that I did this, but it has less of a nagging feel when I'm not in a rush to get off to work or to bed. I don't know if they like me more than 50% of the time, but it seems like they do. They walk by my side on our way to school each morning and despite the narrow sidewalks which require me to walk in the street to walk beside them, I'm sure they would be sad if I got hit by a car. I am there to pick them up each day.
I get to help decide (and sometimes make) what they should eat for dinner each night. I get to arrange their play dates and take them out for bubble tea in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon. I even get to play games with them and their friends. I'm a stay-at home Dad which would make me Mr. Mom if Mom weren't staying home as well. I guess I am Mr. Dad.
What R and I hadn't thought about was how this change in our life would allow Coconut and J to spend more time together. R and I have noticed three things in particular that could not have happened in Alexandria that have created opportunities for Coconut and J to have more shared experiences and this has been the best thing about our move (though, I do have to say that not having a full-time job runs a very, very close second.)
First, Coconut and J are going to the same school and it's about as big as a phone booth - or, if you need a more modern analogy, it's about as big as an "escape the room" room. They are forced to see each other each day as they pass each other in the "halls" between classes. They eat lunch together. They walk to school together each morning and talk about the things that we see on the way or are likely to see. For example, we look forward to seeing if Bill (our made up name for a beautiful collie) will be there with its head poked through the window watching passers-by. Twice we have seen dead cats on the sidewalk.
This is a significant change from Alexandria where Coconut and J attended separate schools so had different commuting experiences. Because they generally locked themselves in their rooms when they were at home, their paths only crossed at dinner and they only spoke to each other when one of them wanted to use the bathroom and the other person was in it.
The second thing that is causing Coconut and J to spend more time together is that they have mostly the same group of friends. Since the first week of school a group of mixed-age kids has been gathering at our house after school and on weekends, playing Dungeons and Dragons. They slay Orcs and Ruffians and Coconut and J have stood side by side with swords drawn ready to slice and dice. Because of the size of the school - it only has 60 kids across the 6th to 12th grades - age-induced boundaries don't seem to exist. Our merry band of adventurers includes kids from the Big Littles, the Middles, and the Bigs. Ages seem to be more segregated in the U.S.. It would be unusual for a bunch of sixth-graders to hang out with a bunch of high school freshmen - unless maybe they were intent on vandalism. At recess this group of kids plays cards together and on weekends we get out and play some version of Sportsball. In middle school in Alexandria J wouldn't join the after-school basketball club because it had eighth-graders. Plus, he can't dribble very well.
Third, our puppy Charley has created something at home that binds them. Whether Coconut and J are commiserating about how bad Charley smells, laughing while she tears around the yard chewing on R's slipper, or discussing whose turn it is to clean her poo out of the living room, it's another shared experience they would definitely not have had in Alexandria. (R and I are generally opposed to the responsibility of owning a dog - which is essentially a kid who never grows up - but for Coconut and J getting a puppy was part of the deal to move here without much fussing.)
This dog has adopted well to her transition from the hard scrabble streets of SMA to her pampered lifestyle at the top of the Vanamos food chain and we all smile when we come back from an errand and she is jumping up and down by the door waiting for us. If Charley does something cute that J doesn't see, Coconut will tell him. When J is playing with Charley and she jumps from the second step for the first time, he'll tell Coconut. Yes, it's a pain in the ass when she wants to get out of her crate at 6:30 on Saturday morning, but I'll say its worth it for the bond she's created between Coconut and J.
This holy trinity of shared experiences at this age in their lives - when they would more likely be drifting apart due to different interests and social pressures - has been a nice thing to see. And even though we are not a religious family, we do feel fortunate enough to give thanks where it is due: thank you, Jeebus.