A decent percentage of my time as a parent is dedicating brain cells to criticizing myself for not being a better parent. This is how I'm built. It's kind of what my role in the Turning This Car Around podcast is about — sharing my neuroses over the missteps I see in myself as a dad.
Lauren and Anya were watching The Neverending story Part 2 in the basement, and Liam didn't like it. (Sierra was at a friend's house for a nighttime birthday party.) After Liam and I came upstairs for him to watch some palate-cleansing Wonderpets, I went to tuck him in. We were goofing around, Liam laughing uproariously, repeatedly, at a moment he'd found simply hilarious in the Wonderpets episode (Ming-Ming told the monkey to STOP IT — hahahahahahaha!). We decided in our silliness that I would snuggle with Liam in his bed until he fell asleep.
We're snuggling. He's holding my hand. He starts laughing again. "Ming-Ming?" I ask. "Yes," he confirms, laughing some more.
"Shhh," I tell him. "You have to go to sleep now.
A moment or two later, he turns, so that he can hold both my hands. I hear his breathing slow down to that telltale sleeping rhythm. I think about how I'm lying next to him so that he can fall asleep — something I haven't done since he was a baby — and then I'm thinking about his wedding day. I'm thinking about him moving out and having a life of his own.
I'm thinking of his older sisters and how they'll do the same, and probably sooner.
I'm thinking how life is funny, and how life is sad, and how we parents have kids and try to teach them well and do right by them so that they can in turn go off and be their own success stories and probably have kids of their own and continue the cycle and it's sad and lovely and beautiful and awful.
And I think, man, I need to just be in the now for a moment and enjoy this, my blond-haired little boy falling asleep next to me, so peaceful, holding my hands. I'm going to be in this moment right now dammit.
But... college. And his wedding day. And his driver's license. And more school days. Probably not in that order.
And I'm vacillating between being in the moment and thinking about these things and thinking about how I want to write this all down, and how I'll inevitably post it on the Internet, and I'm damn sure thinking about whether I'll get some Likes online isn't being in the moment.
We take so much for granted as parents. Well, maybe, you don't. I do. Liam just wanted to play with Snap Circuits most of the day, and he wanted help with some, and I helped, and we experimented, and it was awesome. And then he wanted to do more Snap Circuits on his own, which is fine, but of course he has to show me Every. Single. One.
And if you've seen one Snap Circuits contraption that makes laser noises while playing Happy Birthday, you've seen them all. Even if one includes an LED and one includes a motor and one includes a lamp, they're all the same damn circuit and jiminy, you don't have to show me every single one man, and there he was again this afternoon, walking back into the kitchen holding a completed project, "Daddy!" And my "YES, Liam?" was definitely more exasperated than it needed to be, and that became screamingly obvious when his face was filled with so much pride and so much delight as he announced "I finished the last one! I did ALL the Snap Circuits in the book!"
And he had, and we high-fived, and it was awesome. And then, and then my goodness... And then he told me, "Daddy, I'm a little sad that I finished Snap Circuits, because now that I did them all, it's over."
I wanted to burst into tears, but I didn't, because I could see HE was thinking about crying, and no, no no, we're going to sit here in this moment where you're full of joy at finishing them all and we're going to experience this joy, we're going to embody it, we're going to let joy embody us. You can follow in your dad's footsteps in all kinds of ways, Liam, but dammit you are going to learn to live in the moment, and this moment it's okay if you're just proud at what you've accomplished here with these 101 Snap Circuit projects, and you can wait until later to be sad that the Snap Circuits set is finished.
(Of course you can make them all again. Of course we also have the larger Snap Circuits set you can start in on. But believe me, my son, I know what it is to be sad that things keep happening and becoming "done" and then we're supposed to move on to the next thing. And yet, let's not be sad right now.)
I said none of that, I just high-fixed some more, and we did a stupidly silly dance, and we put Snap Circuits away, and we played piano together, and boy I promise you, when we played piano, we were in the moment together, singing our heads off.
But there in his bed, hearing him fall asleep, I struggled so hard to stay in the moment, and I smash-cut so hard to "I'm a little sad that I finished Snap Circuits," and I was in the wrong moment, and as I tried to sneak out of your bed and your room, you let me know you were still, in fact, a little awake. And I kissed you and I told you that I loved you and that I was going to go so that you could fall all the way asleep. And I was thinking that when you weren't so big, when you weren't so five, that you wouldn't have accepted this, but now, this was no problem at all.
"Good night, Daddy."
"Good night, Liam, I love you."
"You're the best daddy in the whole world."
I'm not, Liam. But I really want to be. You make me want to be.