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“Dad, should I be scared?”
This is the question my youngest daughter asked me minutes before she was supposed to take the court for a basketball game. Her team was going to be playing during halftime of the high school varsity game, as a part of the last home game of the season. In front of a full gymnasium of people cheering and clapping, my 8 year old looked me straight in the eyes and asked if she should be scared. She needed to know.
I paused for a minute.
I have tried to prepare myself for the inevitable barrage of questions my children, who are bound by their DNA, to unleash upon me. While I obviously haven’t been able to plot out every answer to every question they have and will have asked me (hard to have an answer ready for why humans don’t have gills), sometimes the best you can hope for is to just be ready when you get the, “Dad, how are babies made?” question.
This year before the start of school my oldest daughter professed, in no uncertain terms, she would no longer need her mother or I to walk her home from the bus stop after school. Before we could begin our rebuttal to her declaration our daughter also made sure to add in just how embarrassing and damaging it would be to her blossoming credibility amongst her peers if Mom and Dad stood at the corner waiting for her to get off of the bus.
I agreed with her that her mother anxiously awaiting her arrival home from school at the corner of our street would be utterly embarrassing, but me? Embarrassing? I was shocked. Neither my wife nor my daughter thought it necessary to acknowledge my dismay. Instead, we both relented to our 11 year old’s demand and told her she could walk home from the bus stop by herself.
You would think with how many years we have been doing this, the first day of school wouldn’t require anything other than waking up, eating a bowl of cereal, and getting on the bus. Instead, we have been drafting the first day of school itinerary for the past 2 weeks and all of our planning has led to this. Clothing has been picked out and laid out. Lunches have been Ziploc’d and packed. 5 different alarm clocks have been set for various times starting from sunrise. We could not be more ready for Monday morning except…
My wife has never been good with this day. Seems after spending 100 days of summer vacation with the kids, she still wants them to stay home with her even though the Pennsylvania Public School System has once again given her a get out of jail free card by mandating we send our children to school. So while we are all ready to go (which means waking up late and running around like maniacs in the morning), my wife, not so much.
Sunday Night. Sometime around 10:30pm
I came home from work the other day to an empty house. My wife was at work and the kids were with friends until later in the evening. I walked in to a house devoid of the commotion, chaos, and calling out for something to drink, or eat, or to help tie a shoe that typically echoes through the living room. There was peace and there was quiet, which was nice, but something was missing.
As a dad of two girls, my house and my immediate vicinity usually sound like the front row at Maple Grove Raceway if they were racing Airbuses on vuvuzela night. There is a constant din to parenting that is almost impossible to escape. It is the roar of the banging, clanging, crying, whining, thumping, bumping, belching, and crashing our kids can create that wasn’t there when I walked in to the house.
Besides instructing our kids about the basic fundamentals of getting through the day without eating things off of the floor and why coloring the dog with permanent markers is not allowed, parents have the unenviable task of entertaining our children. In spite of the massive collection of toys in our house, parents are called on to be domestic social directors. From sun up until sun down, we do our very best to make sure the docket is full of meaningful activities for our kids to be a part of outside of banging on pots and pans and watching the Dora DVD for an 67th time. We do our best to fill the days scheduling play dates, soccer practice, t-ball, and karate, trips to the library, and planning vacations. Our kids’ calendars are filled to make sure they have the “proper” mental stimulation their developing minds apparently crave according to talk show hosts and celebrity authors.
But sometimes your library card goes missing (probably hidden by the tiny person tugging at your jeans) and a rainy day has canceled practice. It’s those times, when your child looks up at you with those eyes that say ‘Ok, now what Dad’; you need to rely on your ability to improvise.
The night before my youngest daughter was to sit in front of a priest to divulge all of her sinful ways to ask for forgiveness for her first Penance, I sat down with her to practice the Act of Contrition. The Act is a part of the seven Sacraments both of my daughters are learning in church. It’s the script, which if said correctly, helps to wash away any transgressions of the canonical 10 Commandments of God (or any other of the 335 Commandments parents tend to keep and add on to).
The Act of Contrition starts out with, “Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee…” It then moves in to loving God, asking for his forgiveness, saying ‘Amen’ and then waiting for the priest to make with the absolution. It is vital, according to her teacher, she know the Act word for word which is why, I knew we needed the practice after Emma began with, “Oh my God I’m hardly sorry for having off-end-den thou”. The last thing I wanted was to have my daughter sit in with the priest and not know the words that would help release off of her conscience, the sin of fighting with her sister (Parent Commandment #21).
Time has a way of catching up to us.
And not only does it catch up but it flies right past us. One minute we’re young, able to function on less than 3 hours of sleep after drinking for 12 hours straight and the next we can’t get out of bed after 8 hours of sleep without wincing at the pain shooting from our backs. That full head of hair is replaced by a scalp that looks like the top of a globe. Vibrancy, flexibility, and a thirst for adventure all take a back seat to your knees cracking any time you bend them and doing whatever you can to pencil a mid-afternoon nap in to your day.
The other weekend, my wife and I went out with friends of ours for a night on the town. Unlike our typical dinner out and home in time to fall asleep watching Saturday Night Live, we were going to bar hop, drink too much, and stay out later than normal. By the second bar, I had seen more neck tattoos than on a marathon of Miami Ink, my beer was lukewarm, I was tired, and ready to go home.
The flames of youth I thought I could reignite with an alcohol accelerant and the spark of local bars never happened. I realized I am much better suited to a decaffeinated coffeehouse. It was clear, that youthful portion of my life had passed me by.
But that’s life. While I’m prone to delusions of grandeur and irrationality, even I have accepted certain aspects of my life are finished and best left to the past or nostalgic conversations. I have accepted, my current state will eventually end as well and I’ll enter in to whatever the next stage of life is (I’m praying it doesn’t involve yelling at kids who walk on my front lawn quite yet). I’ve come to grips with being bald, wearing a knee brace for even meaningless physical activity, and the pains of waking up in the morning. I’ve reached a point of recognition that all of the moments in our lives are brief. These moments are not sustained by longevity which is why, given the opportunity; we tend to wax rhapsodic about them long after they have passed us by as a way to remember.
“Emma, would you please put on some clothing.”
This phrase is uttered by me usually three or four times a day. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me when the 7 year old feels the need to come down the steps before her shower, completely in the buff, to tell me about something that happened in school 6 hours prior, although why I bought her a bathrobe puzzles me.
I know why she is standing on the bottom step with her hands on her naked hips in semi-model pose. My kids are not shy about their bodies. For the first fifteen minutes before a shower, one look up my steps will garner you candid access to a burlesque show headlined by a 10 and 7 year old who are laughing, shaking their rear ends, jumping off of my bed, and commenting to each other how good they look in the nude.
Last year, I sat down with my kids to write some new lyrics to the 12 Days of Christmas. The lyrics, originally written down around 1780 in England don’t quite stand up to the test of time. If you don’t believe me, find me 8 Maids a Milking and I will gladly concede the point.
Plus, I don’t have time; in the midst of the holiday season, to try and explain the difference between a French Hen and an American Hen. It is an endeavor I’d rather not undertake (rumor has it, the French Hen was too scared to lay any eggs…ZING!).
So once again, I pried my kids away from their iPods, the TV, their music, and fighting with each other (my 10 year old assured me that she and her sister were able to pay attention to all of their electronic stimulants when I asked her to turn at least one of them off) to sit down with their Dad to once again rewrite the 12 Days of Christmas.
Last year we had turkeys sweating, people drinking, and muffins. I wanted to see if another year older would add a little more perspective about the holidays and change the silliness of the answers. As you’ll see…not so much.
I don’t pray. I used to but that was a long time ago and was typically for selfish reasons. Passing a test, not letting my Mom find out I did something wrong. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I sat on the edge of my bed with my hands folded in prayer. I find it to be a useless endeavor. As this world so horribly points out, despite mass praying every day, death, disease, despair, corruption, famine, suffering, and the Kardashians are still with us despite how much any of us pray.
Instead, I let events and situations fall where they may. I put my faith not in to an invisible omnipotent deity rather I put it in to science, facts, proof, and that we will eventually figure out we don’t care about celebrity reality shows.