excerpt from Man Enough

This is a short piece from a work-in-progress about my stay-at-home parenting career, tentatively titled Man Enough. I wrote it sometime in 2002-03 but only dug it up the other night.

"Boy, you've got your hands full!"

Almost without exception, any time I'm out with the 'twins, say, shopping or waiting in line, generally with the two in a shopping cart or the double stroller (so long as Tank will consent to remain strapped and seated, which is about 20-25 minutes tops), or with Tank on foot and Popeye in the backpack carrier (so long as Popeye consents to the laws of gravity, which is generally 5-7 minutes max), strangers will take note and quote, more or less to the letter, this same phrase. Sometimes it's preceded by "Wow" or "Man" instead of "Boy"; sometimes there's "really" added, but those five little words are the same each and every time. You've Got Your Hands Full, exclamation point.

My usual reaction is to simply acknowledge them with a smile and a simultaneous combination of nod and shake of the head that should defy the laws of physics but - possibly due to the time-and-space warping presence of Popeye - always manages to go off without a hitch, much less badly twisted vertebrae (the 'twins have that last part down pat). That's the socially acceptable response to my socially pushing-the-bounds behavior of a father caring for and carrying his own kids.

Later I rationalize that I've scratched the surface of that folkway for at least one YGYHF!er and hope I've given them something to think about, offered a glimpse into a redefinition of modern manhood.

In my heart, at least the good part of it, I hear them thinking:
"Sure, this macho guy is hauling his young'uns around in the middle of the day when he 'should' be at the office or shop or making his next sales call, but here he is, saddled up like a pack mule and breaking for the restrooms and muttering a prayer for the presence of a diaper changing station or at least a relatively clean and flat surface. Damn, I'm glad I'm not him...."

Or maybe,
"Damn, there goes a mighty mighty good man, I wonder if he...."

At this point my mind snaps out of that lonely housewife fantasy scenario in the light of the reality of a diaper at the end of its useful life and a thrashing toddler for whom "safety" straps are just a minor challenge. It's good, too, because now I can move on from the other part of what I was thinking when informed that my hands were in fact at capacity, namely the smartass answer along the lines of NO SHIT SHERLOCK. You mean my hands are FULL? I HAD NO IDEA. I thought I was waving them like clouds and these little creatures were fluttering alongside me, effortlessly keeping in my wake as if tethered yet free to move about. But DAMN, my hands are, yes, thoroughly laden. Thank you for clarifying that.

The 'twins save me from doing that, because at some level I think they realize that they're preventing me from getting into an ugly scene that will result in my being asked to leave the store and thus the frosted toaster pastries we came for will not be obtained and a shitfit will be required of one or both of them, or that the YGYHF!er in question is likely a bureaucrat whose goodwill we may find ourselves in need of this afternoon at the DMV.

Sometimes I'm feeling a bit rowdy and I come back with "No, I've got my hands free," going palms up as I push the cart or stroller, and we both execute an acceptable nervous laugh that lasts long enough to pass one another by and hopefully never have to make eye contact again.

Now we can get on with our mission, namely hunting and foraging for the wild Pop Tart.



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