Today is my ninth Father’s Day. That is plenty long enough for habits and routines to become well worn. That is at least a thousand diapers. A thousand daycare pickups. A thousand water bottles filled. A thousand pieces of plain pasta cooked. A thousand soapy tubs emptied. As any parent knows these routines are critical for survival. These routines get us through the day with children on the bus, lunches packed, clothes laundered and bedtime stories read. They help us order our world.
It is impossible to see and feel all of those things for the first time, every time. If every experience brought that rush of the first experience, a single day would overwhelm and exhaust even the hardiest parent. If each day were full of firsts, my legs would crumple and my chest would heave with effort before noon.
Habits and routine are every parent’s secret weapon. I fear they are also dangerous. Habits can quickly make the extraordinary seem ordinary. If you’re not careful, you find yourself looking at the world through a dull, gray gauze. A whisper of brown hair is Ally. Flecks of aquamarine eyes is Cecilia. But did I see them? Really see them? Routine is an insatiable thing. It will consume the familiar and make the everyday seem mundane. They can blind you to the insane miracle of your children. Of being a father.
Of course, miracle is not the first word that comes to mind when I hear little feet going down the stairs at 5:45. Insane on the other hand…..time to be a Dad.
Like many, we are knee deep in end of school year activities. This week we attended Cecilia’s end of the year music and fine arts show. She was very excited. She, unlike me, quite enjoys performing on stage. The show was remarkably good for a third grade production.
The thing she is most looking forward in fourth grade is finally getting to play the trombone. That’s not a joke. And who knows, maybe she’ll love it and be great at it.
So far, we haven’t really hit on Cecilia’s “thing” yet, which is completely fine. I might not have loved Little League (I was much better at getting hit than actually hitting) but I certainly took things from it that helped me in other areas. I believe kids should try a lot of things for as long as possible (probably adults, too). The trend, especially in youth sports, to specialize and focus on one thing earlier and earlier in an effort to create mini-Tiger Woods prodigies freaks me out. And given how Mr. Woods ended up, it should freak you out, too.
So she hasn’t found her thing. No big deal. Let’s try the trombone. Lots of room in the world for a kick-ass female trombone player. But first, on to a Saturday that included triathlons, tacos and dance parties. There are always dance parties….
When I was in high school, some of the more talented musicians formed a band. I don’t think it lasted a month, but it did produce one memorable single: The Ice Cream Man Goes 80 MPH. I don’t remember much about the actual song other than it sounded like a wall of static on in my Pontiac 6000’s cassette player, but that is one great song title.
As the weather has become warmer, we’ve started eating dinner on the porch with the screen doors open. We live on a side street off a side street, but the sound carries. Specifically the dulcet, calliope tones of an ice cream truck trolling along a suburban street. On any halfway sunny day, Ally can hardly make it through her broccoli as she fidgets at every buzz or rattle straining to hear that siren song.
On those rare days (two so far this year) when she hears it, she transforms into a high-pitched puddle of pink and purple vibration. I’ve tried to rationally explain that you can buy just about every one of the novelties in the food store, but it makes no impact. There is something magical about a music-playing truck that delivers ice cream to your house.
But actually hearing the music is only the first step. The truck doesn’t come up our street, so we now need to scramble to actually catch up to him. He doesn’t quite go 80 miles per hour, but he doesn’t dawdle, either. Time is money. We need to hustle if Ally is going to her ice cream treat.
Let me tell you, there is no greater hero in the world than when Dad catches up to the ice cream man….
We spent Thursday afternoon getting a jump on the holiday traffic and drove down to Philly for a wedding. There is no need to visit a specialist or take a social media quiz to figure out your child’s spirit animal or personality type. You just need a few solid hours in a broiling New Jersey traffic jam to bring out everyone’s true colors.
Cecilia will ask a single question (“How much longer?”) at regular intervals and say little else, spending the time drawing or watching shows on her tablet.
Allison….takes a different approach to car rides. She starts any journey much like her sister, but quickly tires of the insular world of headphones and downloads. After an hour, she may take a “snoozie” (something she always asks permission to do), but once she wakes up, she is ready for some action.
You don’t need satellite radio when you have Ally in the backseat. She will keep up a running commentary of what’s going past the window, mixing in verses of songs that she knows. And don’t think being strapped in stops the dancing. She has full-on rhythm above the waist.
Ally’s spirit animal is a hyperactive dolphin that likes to do constant tail stands and bob to the music.
At least I know how it’s going to go. I’ll be frustrated and angry. I’ll stay away from the news and the Internet. In three or four days, I’ll start to feel a little better. Sadly, this Groundhog Day of roiling emotions from mass shooting is now all too familiar. I just can’t accept that not giving a damn is the price of freedom. I don’t want to argue about the causes. I don’t know the exact solution. I would just like to feel as if we are moving toward one. But we’re not. That’s what I find more frustrating.
With AIDS, cancer, opioids, it felt as if everyone knew someone affected and we agreed that it was a crises that needed action. I fear that every member of Congress will need to be affected closely and personally in the same way to get anything accomplished on a national scale. It feels like we’re going to have to wait two generations for the children that survive these shootings to get elected to make some change.
In the meantime, I’ll watch over my kids as best I can and hope that I never hear my child’s school on a breaking news alert nor have to wrestle with those personal consequences…on to Saturday….
We have made it past the standardized tests and are closing in on less than a month of school left. I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve got my times tables down cold, I know my open number line strategies and I can recite many interesting facts about Abigail Adams. I think it’s been a good year. I think Cecilia would agree. Of course, one wing of the school could burn down and she would get off the bus, shrug and say her day was fine.
I do admire the way she is rather unflappable in the big moments. That wasn’t me. I did not and do not like the spotlight. Let me ghost through the room and slip out the side door any day. Not Cecilia. She may be quiet, but don’t let that fool you. She is watching and listening.
Big things just don’t shake her. She loves being on stage, whether it’s for dance or as an altar girl at church or taking a big test. The small things, however, like a bee or her bangs growing uneven, or misplaying her scales will throw her off the rails and into a ditch.
Since she is so forthcoming about her day at school, we’ve been spending this week walking home from the bus stop talking about expectations and not letting the frustration and annoyance affect your experiences.
I realize it could take a lifetime to master that little life lesson, but you might as well start on it when you’re young. Could save you a lot of heartache later.
It revved from a mediocre spring straight into summer this past week and it confused everyone. The kids, the dog, the landscapers, the trees, the bushes and the animals. And did I mention the bugs? And my children’s almost pathological fear of contact with anything vaguely resembling an insect?
I’m hoping this is a phase because it is no way to live. Both of them will go outside only to come running back in two minutes later with tales of a bee as big as a bus with a personal grudge. Both have been stung by bees in the past, so I understand that one. It’s the shuddering fear of lady bugs, gnats and pill bugs where I have less patience.
Telling them to appreciate the little things is not helping in this case.