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.
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.
Halfway through the year and a good time to take stock of goals for the year. I’m more than halfway through the next book. It’s a bit of a mess but that’s normal. The pie baking goal went out the window with the fitness challenge but that’s okay. Goals can be flexible. I’ll conquer that dough fear eventually. Work is still taking place in the living room with the occasional trombone lesson getting airtime on conference calls.
But what about parenting? How do we measure that?
Parenting often feels like saving for retirement. It’s so big and the timeframe so long that you’re not really going to know how you’re doing until its over. The best you can do is contribute steadily and not panic. Through that lens, I think we’re doing okay. We’re showing up, we’re dealing with the eye rolls, they seem mildly embarrassed by us most times, but still return at the end of the day and ask what’s for dinner. I’m giving myself a check.
I made good on a four year promise this week when I took Cecilia to Six Flags as part of her twelfth birthday. Be very careful what you casually say when they are eight. Kids remember everything.
We planned, we plotted, we watched the weather, we figured out the best routes and the best deals. And things mostly worked out. We had a great day. I hope we had a memorable day but I don’t really get to choose.
Despite all the planning and stress, what I’ve heard her mention most to others afterward wasn’t the coasters or wild rides but the M&M design on the park’s entrance steps, the various tattoos on the people in line, the frappuccino she got at Starbucks on the way, and the Nutella pizza the restaurant had on the menu.
We can stress about perfect summer vacations or special birthdays but mostly its the little ordinary moments that stick. Big or little, I’m happy she will at least remember who else was there with her.
I started thinking about the bridge, the traffic, the timing and had to stop myself. What exactly am I rushing to? Why rush through what little remains of their childhood?
We only have so many summers together. With Cecilia we are already more than halfway through our guaranteed eighteen.
I’ll certainly spend a good amount of time stuck on Route 6 this July and August but I’ll be stuck with the kids, too. Or maybe they’ll be stuck with me.
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.