- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 21, 2000

Over the summer, my wife, Lisa, mentioned that she had the opportunity to take a week-long business trip to Los Angeles with some colleagues. That meant I would have to take a week off to watch Sean and Jeremy. What did I think?

"Go," I said in my most magnanimous voice. "We'll be fine."

Two months later, Lisa stepped out of our minivan at Baltimore-Washington International Airport with suitcase in hand and waved goodbye. It really was happening. I glanced in the back seat, where Jeremy stared out the window and Sean napped away. A feeling of dread came over me as I realized this possibly was the most peaceful our lives would be for the next week.

My week of single parenthood had begun. As Martin Sheen says in "Apocalypse Now" (an apt description of the ensuing week): "I never want another mission like this again."

I had pictured a week of idyllic bliss with the boys, wrestling on the living room floor, walking around the parks, enjoying the freedom from work. That didn't happen. Jeremy and Sean woke up the next day, Sunday, with colds. Motrin, medicine cups and medicine droppers filled the kitchen by Sunday night.

By Monday, the mess had moved into the dining area, like an oil spill slowly spreading toward the shoreline. By Tuesday, the living room had come under the dastardly spell. It looked as if a bomb had been dropped on it. It made Oscar Madison's bedroom look like the Louvre.

I kept the conversations with Lisa as upbeat as possible, as if I were auditioning for a job on some candidate's spin machine. Typical conversations went like this:

"We're staying on the beach at Santa Monica," Lisa would say. "We're about a mile from Venice Beach and really close to the Santa Monica pier. The hotel here is just beautiful. How are you guys doing?"

I would mull quickly over my options. I could tell her how many times Sean had watched "Toy Story 2" in the previous two days (seven) or the number of Cheerios Jeremy had eaten off the kitchen floor (several dozen).

"We're doing fine," I would say. "Sean really likes 'Toy Story,' and Jeremy is eating his Cheerios."

"Great," she would say. "Well, we may be going to Universal Studios tomorrow after the seminars."

"That's great," I would say. "We have a pretty good day lined up tomorrow, too." I intended still to be alive the next day, which would qualify that day as "pretty good."

Wednesday we actually enjoyed a well-rounded menu: McDonald's for breakfast, Burger King for lunch and KFC for dinner. No dishes to clean, I told myself, which freed me up to play with my precious sons. Isn't that the important thing?

Lisa called that night to report on her latest adventures, which included a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway and a stroll on the beach. She and her colleagues had thought about taking a tour of the Queen Mary, which was anchored nearby, but had been scared off by the $18 entrance fee.

"Hmm, that's too bad," I said, covering my eyes while Jeremy and Sean threw socks they had fished out of the basket of clean laundry at each other. I hadn't folded the laundry because I had spent the previous hour or so trying to find storage places for all the toys they hadscattered on the living room floor upstairs.

"How are you all doing?" Lisa asked.

"Fine, fine," I said. "Jeremy and Sean are helping with the laundry. They've been such good boys this week I decided to take them out to dinner."

I woke up Friday morning with a song in my heart and Jeremy's yells in my ears. I looked at the clock beside the bed. No wonder it was past 7:30 already, and Jeremy and Sean usually are up by 7. No matter. The week was over. It was time to pick up my lovely wife.

On the way to the airport, I reviewed the week that had been. Yes, I had had fun. Yes, I felt as if I had grown a little closer to my boys. But I also came away with a renewed sense of compassion and empathy for the real single parents out there, the ones who don't have a spouse coming home at the end of the week. The parents who have to juggle a job along with the meal fixing, clothes cleaning and endless bedtime rituals.

I don't know how they do it. I hope I never have to find out. But single parents everywhere, this column, and my deep admiration, is for you.

Mark Stewart is the father of two boys, Sean and Jeremy. He is a staff writer for the Family Times. He can be reached at stewar@twtmail.com.

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