I met The Manager the summer my twins were one-year-olds, and my oldest child was a little over three. Well, I didn’t actually meet him in person. He doesn’t really exist. But conveniently, that didn’t matter. Let me explain.
It was 1999 and we were vacationing with my husband’s family in a lovely rental house on a beach on Lake Michigan. The house we had rented was on the water, and we had a big beach to enjoy. Well, mostly. It is hard to enjoy a beach when you have one child who can’t swim but wants to, and two other children who seem to think sand and pebbles are finger foods. I laid the foundation for years of physical therapy from turning my neck fast enough to keep an eye on all of them, carrying them everywhere to avoid the many treacherous stairs down to the beach, and not relaxing at all. I was a young mother, not yet comfortable with where to let go and when to relax. I was pretty much freaked out the entire time.
At the half-way point of our vacation, I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever have a moment to myself, or be able to walk down the beach in peace. We had family there with us, but somehow either they weren’t offering to watch, or more likely, we (actually I) were too freaked out to leave our brood in the hands of anyone else. It is a classic early parenting conundrum. You need desperately to have a break, yet you scare and guilt yourself into not taking one. This serves only to increase the urgent need for immediate escape. On this vacation I was coming to the conclusion that a vacation with three young children all still in diapers is not really a “vacation.” It is just a change of scenery.
One day we were all out to lunch. There were 12 of us. Our young family made up five, then there was my father-in-law, three sisters-in-law, a brother-in-law, and two cousins. I should mention that one of the cousins is a year older than our oldest, and they always shared a special devil-bond with each other as children. Whenever they reunited, there seemed to be chemical reaction that caused them to abandon their normally sweet little selves and morph into the spawn of hell. For the first fifteen minutes at the table, they yelled, kicked, banged silverware, and laughed devilishly at any adult attempts of control. Until a big burly-looking waiter came up and said, “Boys, you need to quiet down.” The guy looked like Paul Bunyan. He was well over six feet tall and his voice boomed. He had a big beard and wore work boots. His hands were the size of dinner plates. He emitted total power and strength. Then my father-in-law echoed, “okay boys, we don’t want to have to ask The Manager here to take you back to wash dishes now do we?” Saucer eyes and slack jaws. Silent shaking of heads. Then total peace as we enjoyed a delicious lunch.
In the moment, I chalked it up to just that - a nice, peaceful lunch. Later that day however, I came to realize the magic that had happened. As my twins peacefully napped, I struggled to get Duncan to nap too. He was at an age where he resisted naps, especially with his devil cousin under the same roof. I desperately wanted to walk on the beach and have some “me” time. I had tried everything. I’d sung songs, rubbed his back, stayed quiet almost falling asleep myself only to be woken as he tried to escape. I eventually sat up exasperated, and exclaimed, “Duncan, you have got to take a nap!” To my amazement he suddenly stopped, looked up at me with wide, frightened eyes, and said, “Mommy, if I don’t take a nap will The Manager come?”
I will never forget that moment. It was one of those moments in life when you realize that all the stars have aligned and everything is going to be all right.
“Yes, sweetie,” I said sternly, trying to hold it together and not start laughing or singing or clicking my heels as I danced around the room, “If you don’t take a nap I may have to call The Manager.”
All I can say is the sand between my toes was awesome. And I had enough "me" time so that the next day I built an incredible sand castle with my sweet, rested 3-year-old boy.
The Manager worked for our family for years. Almost all the way through elementary school. He lasted longer than Santa. The beauty of The Manager was that he was so flexible and accessible. I had friends who tried less all-purpose versions such as “the pilot,” “the policeman,” and “the teacher.” But it proved critical to have a vaguer, more all-encompassing authority figure in my back pocket at all times, in any place. When my children refused to leave the park, I simply grabbed my cell phone and said, “Okay, I am going to get The Manager on the line and see what he says.” Boom! Like ducklings they’d fall in line. On a plane, in the car, in the grocery store, at the park, even in bed at night...I’d just pick up the phone and pretend to start dialing. “Nooooooo!” they scream in unision, “we’ll be good, we promise!” It was always somewhat short-lived, but it was enough to get home, do the shopping, get through a social situation, buy the stamps (back when you had to go to the post office to buy stamps), whatever. It was a universal coping mechanism that I invite any parents of young children to try out and reap the benefits. My boys are in their 20’s now. It remains to be seen if they will have kids of their own. But if they do I won’t be surprised to see them rely on The Manager someday too, like a reliable old friend.