the understudy (or, substiparents)

There are countless pages of paperwork to sign when you adopt a child. After a while you stop reading the fine points and just initial as indicated by the green arrow. Two years into this parenting gig and I have begun to suspect that, in addition to agreeing to several high interest loans, one of the papers I signed was an ephemeral blood oath* wherein I swore to be a present and active participant in any and all of my child’s activities — regardless of my level of interest — and that I would in addition find my child to be the most fascinating aspect of said activities.

We all have our cross to bear.

I spent this past weekend at an amusement park. I hate amusement parks. I hate the lines. I hate the $24 pizza. I hate the way every ride makes me sick. But still I go because my children love amusement parks. They love the pizza, the rides, even the lines. So I smile, sign over my paycheck, and then discretely vomit into every available trash can throughout the park.

After all, it’s what I agreed to…on page 3,847 in clause 14-F of subsection B-9 in paragraph 123 of the adoption paperwork.

The other day we took our youngest son to the playground. Instead of playing on the swings he wandered over to the hockey rink.  He watched for the better part of an hour as two junior teams passed the puck back and forth.  Later as we walked to the car he expressed an interest in playing deck hockey. “Great!” I thought, “Now I have to watch sports for the next 13 years.”

I hate sports.

Of course that doesn’t matter. What I like or dislike is irrelevant. Parenthood is not logical. Our children are not miniature carbon copies. Differences abound.

The father who played high school football gifted with the son who loves song and dance. The mother who played Lady MacBeth at Juilliard watches the daughter who plays third base at the local ball field.  The bohemian artists give birth to a math nerd. Campaign workers for Eugene McCarthy fall in love and 40 years later their offspring work on the campaign to re-elect George W. Bush.

But still…

Imagine if we there was a way for parents to game the system. What if the former quarterback never again had to sit through another boring high school musical? What if the former actress could spend her afternoons reading Shakespeare instead of watching extra innings?  What if every holiday dinner during an election year did not end in a buffet of hurt feelings, broken dishes and cranberry-stained tears?

Come closer…

There is a way.

A substitute parent. A proxy. A stand-in. A surrogate. A designated hitter. The understudy.

In the event a parent is unable (or unwilling!) to fulfill his/her parental obligations, the role of said parent will be played by the understudy.

I imagine a conversation like this with my son:

Well son, I wish I could attend your athletic sporting event this evening but as you know the season finale of Downton Abbey is on tonight so unfortunately I have to send my regrets. However – good news! – my understudy will go on in my place. Now don’t worry he knows everything about sports and he loves balls almost as much as I do.

Never again would parents feel the need to pretend. No more obligations. No more forced smiling through the tortures of bad community theater. No more nodding as if you understood the difference between a field goal and a two-point conversion. No more Christmases acting like you still love your children even though they’re now Republicans.

I’m not suggesting a total abdication of parental responsibility. Far from it. The understudy would only go on in extreme instances of parental loathing. The parents would still be responsible for the day-to-day drudgeries of child-rearing.

Except those are the day-to-day drudgeries. Discussions and opinions. Ball games and opening nights. Science projects and math homework. If you give up on those you give up on everything.

You miss the moments that make the child.

And the truth is no parent would ever miss a single moment. However painful it may be to sit through. After all, it’s what we agreed to…on page 3,847 in clause 14-F of subsection B-9 in paragraph 123 of the paperwork.

*For the record, I believe that every parent has signed this oath – for those people who came to parenthood the old-fashioned way I suspect the oath was snuck into your mortgage documents.