Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Parental Blues

The night before Independence Day, Parker got promoted to a toddler bed and dove into it with glee, smiling big and wide and calling it "my big boy bed."

The next morning he claimed not to have liked it, but his insincerity was proved when he went down for his afternoon nap without complaint. It was proved again when he crawled under the covers after that night's fireworks.

Two days later, on Sunday the 6th, I found myself leaning the disassembled pieces of his crib against the wall of our garage. My heart grew heavy and the corners of my mouth sagged, for I knew that was it. I knew I would never again see one of my children in a crib, and with that realization, I pondered how many other kinds of days are numbered. I thought about years falling away, like autumn leaves dropping from a tree and getting carried off by the wind.

I wondered when the day will come that Parker no longer wants to sit on my lap.

I wondered when the day will come that Sarah is faced with peer pressure and the first thing that enters her mind is something other than "what would Mommy and Daddy think?"

I wondered when Parker's voice will lose that bright timbre and unashamed excitability that screams "Childhood!" to the world.

*     *     *     *     *

I wondered what Sarah's reaction will be when we have The Talk -- because in my mind, I have recently felt that the time for The Talk is imminent. In my mind, I feel it must happen not in years, and not in months, but in weeks.

Erika and I spoke about The Talk last week and we agree that its time is nigh. And while I am not the least bit nervous about The Talk itself, my heart recoils from the fact of what its happening will mean. For as Erika pointed out, everything will change.

For all of Sarah's life up to now, if I am taking a shower and she wants to ask me something, she walks into the bathroom and asks -- no big deal...If I walk into her room and she is changing -- no big deal...But once The Talk takes place, she will actually think about "boy parts" and "girl parts," and she will look at Erika and me differently than she did before.

Perhaps I am making too much of it. I was her age when I received The Talk and I mainly remember thinking that the whole thing sounded ridiculous. I'm pretty sure I laughed, and I know it had little impact on my thoughts about my parents.

But I was a boy and Sarah is a girl, and on top of that, she is my daughter. In my mind, her hearing about sex is like Eve gaining worldly knowledge after eating from the forbidden fruit. The thought causes my lips to sag.

*     *     *     *     *

This past Sunday, one week after I leaned the pieces of Parker's crib against the wall, I picked Sarah up from a slumber party. I brought Parker with me because Erika and I experienced one of those moments of unspoken communication in which it was clear that she really wanted to have a kid-free morning to get shit done.

I took them to a zip line at New Tampa Nature Park and we took turns, Sarah zooming down the line solo while Parker and I went tandem with me holding him tight. After a short while our skin began to melt in the oppressive Florida heat, so we hightailed it to an air conditioned mall where Parker could partake of the indoor playgrounds.

It was Sunday and when we arrived it was not yet noon, so the mall was open with the stores closed. Sarah asked, "Daddy can I go into Claire's?"  It was clearly visible from the playground and I told her, "Yes, but it's not noon so it's probably not open yet."

She tried its doors and found that I was correct. Several minutes later they opened and she eagerly asked, "Daddy, can I go?"

I assented and off she went. Over the course of 15 to 20 minutes she bobbed in and out of several stores that were all nearby. I kept one eye on her comings and goings and another on Parker's antics.

When she was done, she declared that PS From Aeropostale was her favorite because they had the coolest stuff and the employees asked her what she was looking for.

Knowing her short but solo excursions were a big deal to her, I grinned and told her that was good.

And I meant it.

But I also hated it.

*     *     *     *     *

I remember when Sarah was so small I could cradle her in my arms and lift her over my head without exerting any effort. I remember her being wide-eyed with amazement when Cinderella blew her a kiss during a parade at Disney World. I remember tossing her into the air above her bed after doing "Round and Round the Mulberry Bush" (aka "Pop Goes the Weasel") and I remember playing with her the first time she saw snow.

And now I fear that she will not remember those things. Or worse, that she will remember them but not consider them a big deal.

She is sweet as an angel on the one hand, but on the other hand she is short-tempered and impetuous.

I pray that I am serving her sell.

Have I done enough to show her both the pros and cons of her personality?

Have I done enough to help her avoid the pratfalls that have held me back and contributed to my biggest mistakes?

Have I disciplined her enough, or too much?

Am I not understanding enough, or am I too understanding, to the point of being a sucker?

*     *     *     *     *

The same questions apply to Parker, with these added to the mix: At my age, how am I ever going to keep up with him on the playing field when he gets old enough to play sports? He is three and I am 43 and it's tough to keep up with him when he asks me to play toy cars, so what am I going to do on the basketball court seven or eight years hence?

But then I remember that being a parent is the greatest reward in all of Creation, and watching young lives blossom and mature is the most beautiful thing in all of Creation.

There is no such thing as being too old to bring life into the world. And I still climb freaking mountains every now and then, so of course I can keep up with a little tyke.

Parenting brings a kind of Nirvana and also a kind of blues, often at the same time. Today I am feeling the latter while striving to focus on the former.