In which Rhett Miller reveals that, when it comes to parenting, he has the same frustrations as those of us who are not the lead singer of the Old 97′s.
UPSTATE NEW YORK-
I spend an enormous amount of time in airports. Usually I’m either leaving my family or returning to them. Improbably, it seems the former outnumbers the latter.
I am not a rock star, but I do sing in a popular band. I work for a living. What can I say? I chose my job wisely. For years, all I did was sleep late, write songs, drink beer, and soak up the adulation of audiences and record label execs. I had handlers. Now that I’m a parent, the roles are reversed. I am a handler.
Oh, I still have handlers during the time I spend on the road. I’m surrounded by people who do my bidding, tolerate my moods, and see to my every whim. I can’t be strictly objective, but I imagine that I am not so terrible a boss. In my younger years, I probably required more attention. Now that I’ve entered my forties, however, I’m pretty easy to please. As long as I’m given the opportunity to eat meals and drink one to three whiskeys before the gig, I’m satisfied.
Eight years ago, I started living this dual life. When I’m off at work, I’m the one who is babied and fussed-over. But when I’m home, there are actual babies who require more fuss than the neediest rock star. Since Max was born, and subsequently Soleil, I’ve learned the joy of subservience. Well, not joy exactly. But I have learned subservience.
Early mornings are made tolerable by the fact that these are my offspring. The universe is holding a mirror up to my boundless ego, and these kids are constantly confirming my own greatness to me. But Jesus are they needy. And loud. And relentless.
That is the part of parenting that I have the most trouble with: there is no respite. School has its summer break, album cycles taper off to make room for the writing and recording of new material, hell, even cancer goes into remission. But these kids… Every freaking day they wake up demanding to be fed again. And then, more likely than not, refusing to eat the meal you’ve prepared. Every day. There is no cycle, much less a break from the cycle. There is only the grind. I feel like I’m tour managing an endless tour with a band comprised of subliterate narcissists.
You might get a night off, but you will pay for it. The kids won’t have gone to bed until midnight and they will act like zombies or Tasmanian Devils when they are returned to you. Recently, my wife and I returned at 11 pm from a relaxing dinner at 36Main in New Paltz to find our babysitter apologizing and our five-year-old daughter staggering around the living room, holding her red-rimmed eyes open by sheer force of will and screaming, “I’m not tired.” (I wonder how many times I’ve done the rock and roll equivalent to my tour manager.)
I’ve begun to see these transitions from tour life to home life as passages between worlds. In one world, I’m a superhero, and in the other, a custodian. Knowing the shift is coming helps, in the same way the voice at the end of the moving sidewalk prepares one for the odd sensation of stepping onto the non-moving portion of the floor. The funny thing is that there is a brief interlude where I am neither superhero nor custodian, where I am simply a man, a traveler. Perhaps these interludes aren’t so brief, though. I do spend an enormous amount of time in airports.