Roach: Toy Story

"There used to be five of us. Suddenly, there are 10 of us. In what seems like a nanosecond, our family has doubled in size."
children's toys

Courtesy of John Roach

Life has cycles.

We, meaning my wife and I, are in an interesting phase. We raised three children and ushered them off to college. They are now working professionals. They have their own homes and lives.

We talked of downsizing. After all, it was just the two of us rattling around the house.

But we were naive. We were fools. As with thunderstorms in Iowa, we had no idea what was just over the horizon heading toward us.

In a flurry, we have added two new wonderfully grown humans to our family in the form of a new son-in-law and an impending daughter-in-law, plus a granddaughter, a new puppy named Dolly and another pooch named Carlos. Because let’s face it — dogs are family, too.

There used to be five of us. Suddenly, there are 10 of us. In what seems like a nanosecond, our family has doubled in size.

Adding to this evolution is the fact that, for over a decade, our children were living away from Madison in either Chicago or Los Angeles.

But the two Chicago offspring, both daughters, moved back to Madison in recent years. One daughter now has her own daughter. The other daughter has Dolly, the pup. So, in a blink, we have become babysitters and dogsitters. Sometimes concurrently.

A house that seemed too big is now overflowing with the tools required to watch over a grandchild. This is a testimony to my bride’s sharp skills with garage sales and Facebook Marketplace. We now have a used stroller, a used highchair, a used bouncy thing and a used crib. A box of toys. And diapers. Lots of diapers.

Additionally, the bedroom that used to belong to our daughter now belongs to her daughter. Along with a crib and changing table, the room contains a complete wardrobe of clothing that will pretty much dress the kid until she is a junior in high school. For all I know, there is a prom dress.

And then there is Dolly the granddog. She, too, has her own spaces in our house. There are multiple collapsible gates so she doesn’t dart into the kitchen and brazenly steal dinner off my plate. There are myriad treats, chew toys and fetch balls. There are also leashes and doggy bags in the front hall standing by for both Dolly and her furry Los Angeles cousin, Carlos.

As for our son, he still lives in LA. When he and his fiance come for an extended stay, they bring along Carlos the pooch. This means the basement becomes a temporary apartment, office and small health club, which adds another drumbeat of energy to the household.

Honestly, I am kinda gobsmacked at how fast things have changed.

As observed before in this space, when you are young and raising kids, you don’t have time to examine your life. Being a parent is all-consuming. Perspective is difficult to attain because you are running on adrenaline all the time, every day.

But with this new chapter, we can watch as the vital parts of life move in and out in a joyous tumble. We can savor it and then rest as the wave of family washes over us and recedes. The baby goes home with her mom and dad. The puppy goes home with her master. The son and family return to LA. And boom, in a blink, you are reading a book, watching a documentary or doing Wordle like the older person you are.

And this newness is heightened as the pandemic exits. After two years of isolation, life feels more vivid. We are leaving virtual life behind. We don’t talk on screens. We talk in person. We go to our favorite restaurants instead of having food left on the stoop. Our words are unmuffled by masks. And our home is filled with a new, improved version of family.

Life is being lived again. The fun, messy, jumbled chaos of it all. Isn’t it grand?

Ouch. I just stepped on a toy.

John Roach, a Madison-based screenwriter and producer, writes this column monthly. Reach him at See more columns here.

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