Like many, Michelle and I are doing a health reset in January after the excess of the holidays and recently had a discussion about the best way to measure success without just relying on pounds or calories. We never did resolve that question but the amorphous nature of a potential answer did lead me to thinking about how I might ultimately measure success as a parent. What does that look like? I mean, having healthy kids who eventually move out of your house and survive to adulthood is an obvious answer. But a lot of that could be put down to luck and has a whiff of just barely meeting the basic job requirements.
If I look into the future, what might I see that makes me happy? Ironically, for an introvert, I decided it’s having a crowded house. On holidays. On birthdays. On a random Sunday night for dinner. I’ll be a success as a Dad if I ultimately have children I get to see, who actually want to see me, and spend time with me. A crowded house or a crowded table will be my metric of success.
For now, they have no choice. They are stuck with me. Here’s how Saturday went…
So it’s parent-teacher conference time. Both kids are doing fine but it’s a good reminder for me to never minimize their accomplishments. It’s something that I find challenging at times. It can be easier for me to point out what else they could have done than to praise what they have done.
By this point, it’s very obvious that while Cecilia and I share many traits, how we learn is vastly different. How someone with my genes can hate flash cards? I still have flash cards I made in college! (At some point, on some Saturday, Michelle will discover them in the basement and take them to the transfer station.) It’s not my job to change her or make her see it my way (unless it’s about Boston sports). It’s my job to be on team Ce, to root for her and encourage her. To make sure she understands that I’m proud of her regardless not because she is perfect or smart. That I’m most proud of her high marks in effort and how she has the confidence to keep trying new things.
Similar to winter piano recital, the spring dance recital day is full of nerves, excitement, energy, sequins, and smiles. I’ve learned to mostly make myself scarce on recital morning. I contribute driving and logistics throughout the year but even after ten years I remain mostly useless with hair and makeup.
It’s been rewarding to watch both girls both progress throughout this year and also continue to progress year over year. It allowed me the perfect opening to opine on two of my favorite Dad subjects: the power of deliberate practice and how to deal with failure. Queue the girls rolling their eyes but I know some part of them is listening.
To develop mastery in anything you need deliberate practice. You can’t just repeat the same task over and over, you need to break it down and work on the individual parts. And not the easy parts. You need to work on the hard stuff.
Remember, failure is a key part of learning. You shouldn’t try to fail or focus on the failure itself. Instead, you should see it as temporary situation. The biggest question isn’t how or why you failed but how you respond to failure.
Are you going to let a few missing sequins ruin your day or are you going to put on a smile and take the stage?
If you live up here long enough you end up with a story or a connection to the marathon. A little over ten years ago, we were nearing Michelle’s due date and had one last wellness appointment with the doctor. As we were checking out, a nurse handed me a photocopied sheet of paper with hieroglyphics on it. It might have generously been called a map. It was mostly boxes, arrows and a few squiggles.
“They close the roads.”
“If you need to get to hospital during the marathon you’ll have to use the fire road.”
Thankfully, Cecilia missed the marathon by a couple days. Her birth was stressful enough without adding an off-road adventure. The map wasn’t needed but every time marathon monday approaches I think of all the parents nervously sweating out the start time for reasons that have nothing to do with running.
So Chelle-bration week has wrapped up. Cake has been eaten. Presents opened. Friends have stopped by. It wasn’t the original planned karaoke blowout, and while I did re-learn all the lyrics to ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire,’ I’m not complaining! Food, friends, and dominoes worked out just fine.
It might be all the champagne this week but we’ve both turned a bit reflective now that we are in the 40 club.
What exactly have we learned? A couple things, I hope. This is for the girls. Maybe they’ll read it one day. Or maybe Alexa will project it directly onto their brain. Too bad flash cards don’t work like that, huh, Ce!
We had a good set of report cards this quarter. Cecilia especially showed measurable improvements since Christmas. This gave me the perfect opportunity to give all the credit to flash cards. Cecilia was a bit more skeptical. I was only half kidding.
One my biggest learnings in the past fews years is the best performers, whether it’s sports, school, or career have the basics down cold. How? By constantly doing reps. If you don’t repeat the simple foundations of whatever you are trying to achieve you’ll never reach your full potential. End of story.
This is what I told Cecilia. To stay great, to keep improving, you need to keep that curious beginner’s mind. If you ever find yourself floundering, go back to the basics. Ask the simple questions. Do the reps.
“So I have to keep doing the flash cards?”
I kept the answer simple. “Yes.”
There are some conversations you are just never ready to have as a parent. It all might seem easy or straightforward when you are reading those child advice books, but actually having the conversation on a Wednesday night when your six year old is crying? Not so simple. You just muddle through, try to tell the truth, and do the best you can.
A family friend passed away suddenly this week and, while the girls have had a few family members and pets die before, this was the first time that Ally was old enough to have a framework to better understand and ask the tough questions. Like I said, we muddled through. We finally were able to get her to stop crying and go to sleep by agreeing to a verbal contract to take care of her two “lovies” if anything ever happened to her.
It’s been on my mind, maybe with my own birthday clicking off another year soon, for the rest of the week. If she’d sent me an Outlook invite that she’d start asking life’s ultimate questions on Wednesday night at 8, here’s what I might have said with a little forethought:
We always live with death by our side so don’t take anything for granted and try to appreciate each moment. Life is always changing. So often we live our lives like we’ll live forever but as soon as we remember that life is fleeting we find ourselves letting go of the distractions and being more present for one another. Try to find peace with the impermanence. If we can remember this and carry it with us, it won’t be morbid or sad, it will bring a lightness and ease and comfort.
Or the 6 year old version of that. Maybe the stuffed animal contract was the right way to go…