I like routine. I find comfort in a to-do list. I drive Michelle crazy by asking about dinner plans over breakfast.
This parenting gig isn’t easy. If fact, it’s pretty terrifying most of the time, so if I can get an edge through routine, I’m going to take it. There’s a reason so many Saturdays revolve around the sofa, vacuuming, the transfer station, costume changes, and show tunes.
It’s mildly deranged, sure, but it works, and the repetition actually brings some stability. Anything to get through 2020.
Routines are a parents friend and don’t let anyone tell you any different. Now, on to the couch…
So Cecilia won’t be graded in sixth grade and this makes me… slightly itchy. I actually think it will be very good for her but as someone that was schooled in the 80s and 90s and was pretty good at tests and rule-following it is a very different middle school experience. Add remote learning on top of that and I sometimes find myself a bit adrift as a Dad.
I find myself stuck between chastising and cheering. Yes, they need to do the assignments but if they wander off and get interested in something else along the way? If they try to figure out how to make a quick bread rise with the right leavening ratios? If they do their assignment while pretending to be filmed for their YouTube channel? It’s all good. In fact, maybe it’s better. Maybe this weird school year will let the kids roam and not crush the curiosity out of them.
Even if it makes their conventional Dad uncomfortable.
I say “Lesson learned” a lot. Just ask Cecilia. If I was a 90s live-action Disney Dad the writers would turn it into my catchphrase. Each episode would end on a freeze frame of me shrugging off my terrible absent parenting with a sigh and a ‘Lesson learned.’
In reality (or what counts as reality in 2020) it drives Cece crazy but I’m not going to stop. Dripping water will eventually wear through concrete and part of my job as a Dad is to keep planting seeds. Some will never take, some will wilt and die, but some will flourish. So I’ll keep saying it.
The other night the kids and I were watching a cooking show (an actual cooking show not the weird competition shows that the Food Network has devolved into – a rant for another day) and as the guy was chopping up vegetables for a stew and discarding large chunks, Cecilia said, ‘He should really try to use more of that for stock, or like compost, or whatever, leaf to stem, right Dad?’ I might have passed out.
A passing comment here. A lesson learned there. Wonderful things can eventually happen. Maybe they’ll even plug in the vacuum one day.
I promised the girls that I’d make an apple crisp this week. It’s likely I said it during a Sunday afternoon napping haze but I said it. Ally, you won’t be surprised to learn, loves the gooey fall dessert. But then the week got busy. She asked about it on Monday. Then Tuesday. Then Wednesday.
Parents tell their kids a lot of things. We tell them we love them, of course. That they can do anything. That they can tell us anything.
But we also tell them little things. That we’ll take them to the park. That they should pick up their clothes. Or finish their broccoli. Or that you’ll make an apple crisp this week.
It seems like an easy thing to say at the time, a small promise, but the small ones are just important as the big ones. If you conveniently forget a small promise, how can they trust your word when it really counts? The small ones build trust. As we inch closer to the teenage hinterlands, I think I’m going to need to stockpile all the trust I can.
So I made the apple crisp. And it was good. And this mean my kids will never miss curfew and stay out of reform school, right?
Typically as parents Michelle and I are pretty good at keeping one another afloat most weeks. If one is down, the other is up. It’s good teamwork or just a genetic survival mechanism. But this past week was a challenge. We could blame all sorts of things: school restarting, work, the ongoing pandemic, the news in general. Or just 2020 throwing its weight around and it had both of off balance.
Cecilia decided this was a good time to give me her opinion on my time management advice. She disagreed with it. I disagreed with her. Grievances were aired. I might be making this sound more civil than it was. If this blog had reenactments, it would make Lifetime movies look subtle.
We are both stubborn however only one of us is a parent. Michelle politely reminded me that I don’t get to throw up my hands. That’s not part of the job. I don’t even really get to have an opinion.
I might be tired and stressed and want to put my head in the vacuum until all these problems are over but there is no magical thinking as a Dad. Wishing and hoping does not change reality. Being a parent means you hold on long as you need to. Our feelings about it don’t count. Even if you think you could probably win an Emmy portraying yourself in Mike’s Window: Lies My Father Told Me…
School finally started up this week and I was reminded of two important Dad lessons. First, my kids are not me. They might have my genes but that doesn’t mean they love flash cards, enjoy timed multiplication tests, or enjoy the rug patterns a good vacuum session can produce. I might not totally understand my kids (will I ever?) but it’s not really fair to see them as little me’s. They like different things. They are essentially different people.
That’s not their problem. It’s my problem. Not really a terrible problem to have but just something to keep in mind when they roll their eyes at my 76th suggestion about the long term benefits of deliberate practice.
Second lesson: yelling at inanimate objects like Chromebooks or new drop-off traffic patterns is an emotional response and that type of response never made a situation better.
On to a Saturday not filled with Zooms, worksheets, or scavenger hunts during business calls…
Mike, have you taken your pill has become a sort of code in our house for when I’m acting bitchy and cranky. Sometimes I legitimately need to take my pills. Other times I’m just a 43 year old man dealing with glitter in the weave of the rug. Sometimes…it’s just hard to tell. Parts of last week where in that murky zone. So much is going on in the world, both near and far, it can be hard to wrap your head around it even with meds.
Most of our opinions and feelings are reactionary and unrelated to what’s actually happening. I’m guessing having teenage kids is going to be a great reminder of this but even now, dealing with the news and the pandemic and…everything, it’s a good reminder for me. Better to let it go.
The world rarely notices your anger. Why would it? Getting mad about distant things you don’t or can’t control is exhausting. Focus on what’s important. Focus on what you control.
Getting the girls to understand that is a work in progress. The big thing coming up in our house is finally returning to school next week. For Cecilia, this means heading to middle school. Whoever said anger is fear turned outward definitely had adolescent kids. They are walking glitter bombs. But first a very fine Saturday…