Our 3rd most-read article of the 2022.
Originally published November 10, 2022.
I get up at 4:30 a.m. for some pre-dawn food prep. Today, it’s my turn to bring a snack and read a story for my son Ash’s preschool class. The school does not allow nuts, dairy, eggs, sugar, or any pro-oxidant fruit. My snack will be simultaneously nutritious, allergen-free, and appealing to three-year-olds—something like dinosaur-shaped muffins that taste like rainbows but are made of steamed arugula.
While the muffins are baking, Ash wakes up. He is in a great mood after an uninterrupted twelve-hour slumber, eager for another day of joyful learning. He transitions through every part of the morning routine without complaint or delay, and we arrive at school precisely in the middle of the allotted five-minute drop-off window.
The school day starts at 8:45, but snack and story time is not until 9:20, which is the perfect amount of time to not be able to go anywhere or get anything else done. I twiddle my thumbs in the school parking lot for thirty-five minutes before heading inside to hand out muffins. On my way in, I pass the volunteer sign-up sheet for next week’s book fair and put myself down for every open timeslot.
After five minutes of reading to my son’s class, I’m off to work. I am a freelance neurosurgeon, the only job that is both well-paying enough to afford $30,000 in tuition and flexible enough to deal with all the school holidays. School holidays are the three months of summer, plus a week each on Indigenous People’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, Presidents’ Day, and Easter. The school is also closed for all federal and state holidays, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali, Lunar New Year, Eid al-Fitr, and seven staff-learning Wednesdays.
At 9:58 a.m., my phone alarm rings. I abruptly leave in the middle of an exam for a patient with intracerebral hemorrhaging, as I have something much more important to attend to. Registration for the preschool’s summer camp (which takes place eight months from now) opens at 10:00 a.m. sharp. If I do not sign up by 10:02, all the spots will be taken and I will have no childcare that week. Or worse, Ash will be stuck doing the inferior leaf collage crafts instead of the coveted Stegosaurus hand-painting crafts, and I will have ruined the magic of childhood for him.
With the summer camp spot secured, I return to my patient with the bleeding brain, who has been kind enough not to code blue during my absence. As a working parent, I’ve learned to be super-efficient with my time, so I also manage to squeeze in a seven-hour spinal cord surgery during the thirty minutes I have before school pick-up.
Today is a regular Tuesday in the middle of a normal workweek, so of course, it’s early school dismissal. I chat with the room mom while we wait for our kids, and she persuades me to help with the school bake sale this weekend that I didn’t know was happening. (Shame on me for not reading the twelve-page weekly emails more carefully.) Luckily, my schedule is wide open at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday for some baking, so I agree to bring six dozen kale triceratops brownies.
This afternoon, there’s a parent-teacher conference. The students aren’t allowed to come along, but no problem; it’s super easy to find a responsible adult who is free at 2:00 p.m. on a weekday for a babysitting job that lasts half an hour. (That’s how long it takes me to get to and from the school and have a twelve-minute chat with the teacher.)
During the conference, the teacher mentions the school’s upcoming silent auction. Since I have nothing else to do for the next twenty weeks, I volunteer to chair the planning committee. This year, the school is raising money for a toddler makerspace. It will be fancier than the lab at my hospital responsible for testing monkeypox samples.
After the parent-teacher conference, I take Ash to the art store to buy craft supplies for a family tree project that was assigned today and will be due tomorrow. We only need two popsicle sticks, but the smallest quantity the store sells is a bag of five hundred. I put the other 498 popsicle sticks in a storage box that also contains 96 cotton balls, 997 plastic yellow beads, and a pair of Uggs I purchased last week because we didn’t have any empty shoe boxes at home to send to school for a different craft project.
Ash and I sit down at the kitchen table and get to work. I make the family tree project, dinner, and some notes about a craniotomy I’m performing tomorrow. Ash makes velociraptor noises.
After dinner and bedtime stories, I grab the car keys and a large Thermos of Red Bull. Tonight, I’m making the five-hour drive to my aunt’s house in Ohio to pick up an heirloom family album. That way, when I return home at dawn, I can cut up vintage 1930s photos of my grandfather into apple shapes to finish Ash’s family tree homework.
Before I leave the house, I ask my spouse to check on Ash’s baby sister, Willow. Willow’s our second-born and not old enough for school yet, so we don’t care about her as much. Still, it would be nice if someone could make sure our six-month-old has been fed and changed at least once today.
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Read an interview with Ruy Wen about writing this piece.