Parents Need Privacy—If Only For A Moment

Parents Need Privacy—If Only For A Moment


By B.J. Hollars

The day started off promising enough. I’d just risen from my bed without disturbing the dog, my children, or my wife, a feat that earned me a few minutes of solitude before the day’s chaos began. There, in the pre-dawn silence I tip-toed into the shower, a smile slipping over my face as the hot water rained down.

And then, without warning, my privacy was interrupted by a New Orleans-style brass band parading through the bathroom, complete with tubas, trombones, and a drumline. By which I mean my young children and dog had apparently woken, ignoring every other square inch of our home and opting to take their shouting (and barking) to the bathroom.

“Somebody’s in here!” I hollered from behind the shower curtain.

“It’s okay,” my four-year-old called, “you’re not bothering us.”

As the children fought over toothbrushes with the ferocity of rival street gangs, I reached for my towel and excused myself without even attempting to broker the peace. Doing so would require diplomatic skills I simply did not possess—at least not while wrapped in a towel without so much as a sip of caffeine.

This bathroom-barging soon became our morning ritual. There was always some battle worth fighting, my children decided, and there was no better battleground than the bathroom—preferably when I was in it. Thankfully, the shower noise generally overpowered my screams, though surely my frustration was palpable.

Is it asking too much, I wondered, for a moment’s peace of mind?

The alternative, I knew, was one’s mind going to pieces—a situation that seemed more and more likely with each passing day.

When the shower failed to serve as a refuge, I sought asylum in less conspicuous places inside our home. Surely there must be a coffin-sized crawlspace somewhere, I reasoned, or a bit of room behind the water heater.

Meanwhile, my wife retreated to the running trails alongside our home. Within a year of our second child’s birth she’d become a marathon runner—26.2 miles was nothing compared to putting up with us.

Through all this hectic mayhem, the veteran parents—whose children had long ago flown the coop—often reminded us to cherish these “precious moments” while we could. “It’s all over in the blink of an eye,” they chided. I didn’t doubt them, but I wondered, too, if those veterans remembered what it was like to spend years of one’s life never being alone. If they’d agree that not every moment was as “precious” as they remembered, and that the “blink of an eye” seems pretty darn long when you’re living it. For me, this is the most difficult philosophical dilemma of parenthood: making a sincere effort to embrace the chaos when some days I’m just a click away from a one-way ticket to Tahiti.

While I know those veteran parents are offering me sound advice, in my more sleep-deprived moments, I can’t help but wonder if their rose-colored glasses are on a little too tight. Make no mistake, I don’t begrudge them their prophecies. And when they get that faraway look in their eyes and tell me how “the days are long but the years are short,” I know there’re speaking truth. I know, too, that one day I’ll become afflicted with that same faraway look, and I’ll parrot the same advice. This is the cautionary tale all veteran parents must preach: a reminder to the new recruits that our time together is short. And a reminder, too, that every diaper we change leads us one diaper closer to the last one; that there’s always a day when the soccer games run out and the dance recitals come to a standstill. Inevitably, there will come a night when nobody requires a story before bed. With each passing day, that inevitably creeps closer. Some nights my children close their doors and tell me they need their “privacy.” Their request is ripe for revenge—a perfect opportunity to burst in with a tuba in tow. But I don’t. Not ever. Instead, I scratch my head and wonder what in the world we are to do with ourselves when we’re no longer constantly needed.

What’s a shower, after all, without someone tossing your keys in the toilet?

I write this now from the bowels of my basement. Overheard, I hear the pitter patter of small feet. From what I can glean, somebody has apparently stolen somebody’s maraca. And somebody else believes that maraca is rightfully hers. Fighting ensues, followed by crying, and then some unexpected laughter. Suddenly, I hear the sound of two maracas, some off-key singing, and a yowling dog to boot. Here in this basement, it might as well be the tabernacle choir.

“What’s going on up there?” I holler.

My children ignore me.

Which is all the invitation I need to close the computer, barge into their band, and start beating the bongos as if all our lives depend upon it.

B.J. Hollars is a Brain, Child contributing blogger. He the author of several books, most recently From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us About Life, Death, and Being Human, as well as a collection of essays, This Is Only A Test. He serves as the reviews editor for Pleiades, a mentor for Creative Nonfiction, and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. For more, visit:

Photo credit: Designer’s Trapped




On Car Seats And Crisis

On Car Seats And Crisis

A father putting his baby daughter into her car seat in the car

By B.J. Hollars

In the days leading up to the big event, we received a letter from our sanitation service informing us that Bulk Item Pickup Day was just around the corner. My eyes widened at the news.

In my list of annual celebratory events, “Bulk Item Pickup Day” ranks high, second only to Christmas. And in some ways, it’s surpasses Christmas; rather than receive a bunch of garbage, we get to hurl a bit of it back..

Immediately, I take to the house to prioritize my junk. Which bulk item will I rid us of forever? I wonder. The half-broken bookshelf seems a logical choice, as does the ancient rocking chair. But moments later, as I make a sweep of the garage, my eyes fall upon another item, one I’ve long known would eventually end up on the curb.

It’s my children’s former car seat, a 2012 Graco something-or-other, complete with all the accouterment you’d expect of a 21st century “travel system”—straps, clips, harnesses, all of which, I assume, have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities I’d never quite mastered.

Frankly, I’m impressed I even mastered the buckles. After all, in the days leading up to my son’s birth—back when I was still practice-swaddling his stuffed animals and color coordinating his future bibs—I’d dedicated more than a little time working through the intricacies of that car seat. Yet my preparation hardly spared me from my recurring nightmare, one in which, upon leaving the hospital with our son in tow, I found myself baffled by the tangle of harnesses stretched before me, all of which constricted and elongated in the precise opposite manner I wanted them to. In my dream, it was the car seat equivalent of a Rubik’s cube, a contraption meant to make the user go mad.

Four years removed from the real-life version of that drive home, I find myself staring at the crumb-caked seat—reflecting on the miles logged, the trips endured, the many journeys we took together.

This was, after all, the seat that transported our son to Niagara Falls and our daughter to Duluth, the seat that carted them on endless loops to the library, the children’s museum, and the park.

How many holidays had our children sat strapped in their seat as we drove through the rain and the snow in our efforts to spend some time with our families? And when, I wonder, did we use this seat for the last time?

As best as I recall, that seat has been gathering dust for months, the result of a car seat upgrade for my son, which in turn led to a second-hand seat upgrade for my daughter. Since we have no third child—and there are no plans for one—we have no need for the third seat. And so, I sent it out to proverbial pasture (read: chucked it in the garage) and then conveniently forgot all about it. That is, until “Bulk Item Day” forced us to remember, to ponder, at least for a moment, how our lives might change if we had someone to fill that seat.

Though I’m willing to let the seat go, I have a harder time giving up what it represents: confirmation, at least for me, that there will be no third child, no future need for our second-hand-hand-me down-seat.

It’s just a bulk item, I think as I walk it to the curb. Just some garbage that needs to go.

But I don’t fool myself for a second.

That night, at around 3:00a.m., I wake to my dog’s full bladder. I hear her scratching at the bed, signaling me to rise, groan, and begin my zombie walk toward the front door. I leash her, give her ample time to do her business, and as we turn back toward the house I spot the empty car seat aglow beneath the streetlamp. The sentimental father in me is compelled to give it one last look, to run my hand over its plastic one last time just to remember the feel.

Between the first buckle and the last, I’d grown adept at my buckling skills, the result of the unspoken agreement between me and the seat: as long as I obeyed the owners manual it wouldn’t go out of its way to emasculate me on principle. It was an arrangement that satisfied both parties, ensuring not only my children’s safety, but my pride as well.

“Come on, girl,” I say to the dog as she gives one last sniff to the car seat’s crevices in search of wayward Cheerios. She’s rewarded for her efforts, granting her one last meal courtesy of my children’s shared inability to hold tight to a grainy ring.

“Come on,” I repeat. “Leave it.”

There, under the glow of that streetlamp, it’s all I can do to pull her away from that seat.

All I can do to pull either of us away.

B.J. Hollars is a Brain, Child contributing blogger. He the author of several books, most recently From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us About Life, Death, and Being Human, as well as a collection of essays, This Is Only A Test. He serves as the reviews editor for Pleiades, a mentor for Creative Nonfiction, and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. For more, visit:


The Trail We Know By Heart

The Trail We Know By Heart

father and son travel hiking in mountains, family tourism

By B.J. Hollars

In the sixth month of my son’s life, I hike him up a mountain. Or at least the closest we have to a mountain here in Wisconsin, which, as it turns out, is the Potholes Trail in Devil’s Lake State Park.

“You sure you want to do this?” my wife asks, tracing a finger along the path on the map stretched before her.

“Why not?” I shrug.

In retrospect, there are plenty of reasons “why not,” chief among them the trail’s less-than-kid friendly terrain. Yet having seen nothing but diaper pails and talcum powder for the past half year, I’d likely be willing to hike an infant up Mount Everest—anything for a bit of fresh air.

My father joins us, and together, the three of us strap my snoozing son to my chest like a backpack packed in reverse. Then, to ward off the dirty looks from more seasoned parents, we make a show of applying a generous glob of sunscreen over every exposed inch of his frame. To complete the ensemble, we fit a fishing hat atop his head, then readjust his pudgy arms. He hangs from that harness like a ragdoll hugged too tight for too long. But as I march us forward, my love for my son is replaced with a terrible truth: a misstep by me is a misstep for us both.

You’ll be fine, I think as I work up the craggy rock. Just one foot in front of the other…


We are fine, mostly, if you don’t count my egregious underestimation of the trail; specifically, how our little trail connected with another little trail, and then another, making for one not-so-little trail.

“What now?” my wife asks as we squeeze ourselves through the red quartzite corridor midway up the bluffs.

“We keep going up,” I report back to my wife and dad. “There’s really no other choice.”

There had been a choice—once—and I had made the wrong one.

No one, I think, wiping the sweat from my brow, could’ve ever seen this coming.

Of course, plenty of others could have. The fact that I couldn’t, however, seemed to further confirm a trend I’d become all too familiar with throughout my brief stint as a father. Namely, that I am a bumbler at best, cocksure until humbled, brave until terribly scared.

Driven by stubbornness, I lead us forward, repeating my “one-foot-in-front-of-the-other” mantra under my breath while my son continues to snore.

“How we doing up there?” my dad huffs from his place in the rear.

Translation: Will somebody pass me the water?

I turn, take a sip, and then pass the water back. My wife takes a sip too before passing, and soon, all three of our mouths are full as we take a moment to peer down at the shimmering lake stretched below. At our current elevation it resembles a giant bean surrounded by sprouting pines. To the left, we see the beach, and atop it, miniature sunbathers crawling like specks in the sand.

“What’s your rush anyway?” my dad asks me. “You got a date or something? Too busy to take in the view?”

I’m not so much busy but terrified, and the only view I see reminds me just how far we have to go.

Besides, the job of “taking in views” had long fallen to my father—a pastime I once regarded as his cost-saving measure to avoid high-priced admission fees. But halfway up the bluff, I begin rethinking my take on taking in views. After all, this is a legitimate lookout point (or will be if we make it to the top), and a part of me knows he’s right. It’s best to slow down, to take a moment and a breath, at least if I want to give this sleeping son of mine a chance to take in the view himself.


We reach the top, and the view—as expected—is breathtaking. I give my son a little jostle, then clear my throat, but still, he refuses to wake.

And so, his mother, grandfather, and I do our best to preserve the moment for him.

From our left, a group of fathers and teenage sons have emerged from the trail and now gather around the lookout point. They push close together at the edge of the bluff after handing me their cameras.

“Smile!” I say fitting the group into frame. “Okay, a few more now just to be sure.”

Next, we trade places and cameras, my son and I posing in the center atop the bluff while my wife and dad hover on either side.

“Give me a smile, sleepy boy!” one of the father’s shouts.

That sleepy boy doesn’t.

The man snaps the photo anyway.

Our preservation now complete, I engage in small talk with the more experienced fathers.

“How old’s he?” one asks, and when I say six months, he recites the line young parents hear all the time, the one that seems to echo from the future.

“Well, keep him close while you can. He’ll be out of your arms in no time.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” my father cuts in, taking one last swig from the water bottle.

I am surrounded by fathers, I realize, all of whom know what I can’t know until it’s much too late.

“Ready to head down?” my fathers asks, snapping me back to reality.


“Are you ready to head down now?” he repeats.

Nah, I say. Not yet. I need a moment to take in the view.

Author’s Note: I first drafted this piece three and a half years ago, when my legs still ached from that hike. Since then, my wife and I have had a second child—a daughter, Eleanor—and upon returning to the Potholes Trail last summer, I considered strapping Eleanor in and hiking her up as well. “A right of passage,” I told my wife. I looked up at the bluff, then down at my daughter, and decided that this time I’d make the right choice.

B.J. Hollars is the author of several books, most recently From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us About Life, Death, and Being Human, as well as a collection of essays, This Is Only A Test. He serves as the reviews editor for Pleiades, a mentor for Creative Nonfiction, and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. For more, visit:






Taking My Children To A Rally In A Storm

Taking My Children To A Rally In A Storm

BJ Blog Photo

By B.J. Hollars

One Saturday in the midst of primary season, I, like any informed member of the electorate, performed my civic duty of buckling my children—Henry (4), Eleanor (22 months)—into the double stroller and wheeling us toward the Bernie Sanders rally. I did so in a near-blizzard.

Let the record show that this is neither an endorsement of Bernie nor blizzards, and in fact, after a lot of soul-searching, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am anti-blizzard, especially when they strike in April when I’m expecting flowers.

Instead, that morning we were greeted with snowfall, a momentary whiteout making it difficult to determine just how far that Bernie line stretched. When conditions cleared it became obvious: it stretched forever.

Ahead of me, the line overflowed with the most rare of species—college students awake at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday. I tried to blend in as best I could, but something (maybe the double stroller?) pegged me as an outsider. In a good faith effort at parenting, I attempted to keep the kids warm by creating a cocoon, draping a blanket atop the stroller and tucking it around their legs. Every few minutes I’d peek inside to find Henry and Eleanor belting out their off-key rendition of the Daniel Tiger theme song in the hypnotic glow of the Kindle. Which is to say: they were having the time of their lives.

Meanwhile, the conditions outside that cocoon were less than ideal, and after a lot of highly visible teeth chattering and salvos for sympathy (“It’s okay children, just keep moving your fingers!”), a kind-hearted field worker took pity on us, offering hand warmers and a promise to get the kids out of the cold as fast as he could. He was good on his word, and a security pat down later we were in, taking our seats on the front row of the arena bleachers.

“OK,” I said, wiping the snowflakes from my watch as reality set in, “just another three hours till Bernie.”

There are only so many ways to kill time at a political rally and we tried all of them: peeking into the press room, chatting with the band, waving to the news anchors until they just stopped waving back. We talked to the people behind us, in front of us, all around us, and when that game wore thin, we even tried talking to each another.

At around 10:00a.m.—two hours till show time—the kids began to grow restless.

“Dad,” Henry whined, “I’m hungry.”

I reached into my pocket to unearth a half-eaten candy cane.

“Is it still good?” he asked skeptically.

“I don’t see an expiration date, do you?”

That candy bought us a good hour, at which point the sugar crash set in. I attempted to neutralize the situation by returning their attention to the Kindle, which they watched contentedly, while I watched the battery deplete at an alarming rate.

Stay cool, I thought, you got this.

And even if I didn’t, I figured that if my children—inspired by Bernie—attempted their own revolution, the secret service would have no choice but to come to my rescue.

Yes, things were looking up, right up until that battery died.

“Dad…” Henry said, “I’m still hungry.”

By this point Eleanor had taken the liberty of eating the granola bar belonging to the young woman to our left, and when that didn’t suffice, a woman six rows up read the situation perfectly and came bearing a bag of crackers.

In my mind’s eye, that woman wore a halo round her head, floating down from those bleachers to a crescendo of harps and sopranos. It was just what we needed just when we needed it, and by the time my ravenous children had worked through those crackers, our city’s favorite son, a Grammy-winning rock star, took to the mic to introduce the presidential candidate.

I’ll give Bernie this: he was punctual. And he knew how to get college-aged folks to cheer. What he didn’t know was how to persuade my young children to cheer at appropriate times. Instead, Henry and Eleanor provided a call-and-response to Bernie, hollering like a couple of tent revival parishioners taken by the spirit.

This, of course, was hilarious to precisely them and nobody else. By this point even the most polite progressives had begun to tire of us, and though they continued to brandish their tight, forgiving smiles, I knew it was time to take our leave. We retreated to the edge of the stage where I could stand, shush, and rock as appropriate—anything to keep them quiet.

Henry demanded my phone so I handed it over (“Right away, sir!”), and for the next minute, watched miserably as my 21st century child snapped selfies of himself. As the photos momentarily froze on the screen, I noticed a blurry rock star directly in the background.

Great, I thought, not only is my kids’ behavior ruining a rally, but we’re probably pissing off the rock star as well.

All of this might have been avoided, of course, had I better prepared for our adventure. Yet in my haste to give my children a memorable experience, I’d forgotten the basics: food, water, and backup Kindles.

Conscientious parents often exaggerate how bothersome their kids are in their own minds. Maybe there’s a chance everyone in that arena actually appreciated the adorable distraction my kids provided. Maybe…

But in the event we were as bad as I think (and I think we were pretty bad), allow me to offer a public thank you.

Thank to you the field worker who kept us from freezing, and to the woman who gave us her granola bar. Thanks to the angel with the crackers, the rock star with the patience, and the political candidate whose hearing kept him from hearing us. As a voter, I’m still undecided. But as a father, those people in that rally won my vote.

B.J. Hollars is a Brain, Child contributing blogger. He the author of several books, most recently From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us About Life, Death, and Being Human, as well as a collection of essays, This Is Only A Test. He serves as the reviews editor for Pleiades, a mentor for Creative Nonfiction, and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. For more, visit:

photo credit: Bill Hoepner