School has started back up. One of the frequent bits of hand-wringing last year, myself included, was that the pandemic was a lost year, or that the kids were falling behind, or not learning anything. In my more rationale moments, I was able to see that this was mostly absurd, stress from other things finding an easy target.
By some metrics there probably was some backsliding, but did your kids really not learn anything? I hope not. And I doubt it. If I’ve learned anything from being a parent for a decade, it’s that kids are always watching and listening. So they were learning things. Just not likely the things they typically standardize test for at the end of an academic year.
They were learning how unpredictable life can be. They were learning about pressure and stress and about how important (and necessary) it is to be resilient and adaptive. They learned that their Mom was a boss on conference calls and worked hard every day to help people get through a difficult time. They learned about the importance of frequent vacuuming and the healing power of fresh baked bread. They learned how important relationships and good friends were. They learned about politics and and public health, if they wanted to or not! They learned about how interconnected we all ultimately are.
I hope they learned that education doesn’t just happen in school. It’s a lifelong, never ending journey.
This past week Ce was happy. Not just happy, but unusually bubbly and helpful. So much so that both Michelle and I commented on it to each other almost in disbelief. I realize the moodiness is completely normal and will continue for the next few years. This was an unexpected rainbow in the midst of cloudy skies.
There are so many things that often don’t go right or go as you planned when you’re a parent. So many frustrations, stressors, requests, and obligations that can throw you off track. What are you going to focus on? Unless you make a hobby of gathering these impositions into a lint ball of resentment, the best course I can think of is to just recognize and appreciate these tiny miracles.
We drove down to the Cape Friday night and Ally sang along to her favorite music the whole way. Even while wearing headphones, she can’t resist a full-throated chorus. She also currently has very questionable taste in music. Which is completely fine. Taste and appreciation largely come from time and experience. I’m careful not to completely betray my feelings (at least up until the 14th consecutive playing of Geronimo or The Village People). I believe my job as a Dad is to encourage and let them roam (sort of like raising sheep dogs) and look for opportunities to help their taste expand and grown.
When Cecilia was selected for the jazz band last year, I would occasional slip on a Coltrane track when she wasn’t paying attention.
When Ally started singing and composing on the piano, I played her a song Lorde wrote at 16 and we put GarageBand on her phone.
When their interests and my interests intersect, we get those special opportunities to connect and share together. This past week at Dad Camp, I put their arts and crafts enthusiasm to good use as we built a small outdoor brick oven and cooked some pizzas for dinner. Even though there was no glitter or glue stick involved in the masonry, I hope that’s a day they remember.
It’s well documented that I like a plan. I embrace a to-do list. Having an agenda is my jam and spontaneity gives me hives. You know a great way to screw up that mindset? Have kids and work from home.
The primary feature of parenting is how quickly plans get smashed to pieces. It’s amazing how quickly things go wrong. The kids decide they don’t like mac ‘n cheese today. They trip over an acorn and scrape their knees. Their camp gets canceled. They believe their devices will spontaneously charge themselves. Their goggles feel funny and they can’t possibly go in the pool.
It’s enough to turn a functioning, responsible adult into a crazy person. But you know what? You’ve got to deal with it. It’s not like the Amazon delivery guy is going to help out.
Oh, you need another band aid? Let’s talk about first aid and wound care.
Oh, none of your friends are outside? Let’s play one of those 643 games you have in the basement.
Oh, you accidentally melted the glue stick in the microwave? Let me teach you about cleaning solvents.
Dad Camp: every day is an opportunity to secretly teach them how to clean the house.
The girls recently learned a new phrase: “Uncles never say no!” We spent the last seven days on the Cape with family and the girls’s aunt and uncles spoiled the girls rotten with presents, crafts, clothes, cheese balls, compliments, whip cream and attention. Mostly it was the attention and the complete inability of my brother-in-law to say no. They have no idea how good they have it.
The innocence of youth is galling. And I do sometimes worry about it. But not on vacation. If you’re going to spoil your kids, vacation seems like an appropriate time. It’s an especially good time if you’re an aunt and uncle and can escape back to the hotel when the first cracks appear in the kid’s composure.
As parents, unfortunately, we can’t escape when all the good times come home to roost, but luckily mai tais and boat drinks are wholly acceptable after 11 a.m. on vacation time.