"Mommy teaches you to be pretty and sweet. I teach you to be ridiculous." Me, to my daughter, after she imitated me sucking up spilled Cheerios off the counter like a vacuum.
They're built in to your schedule, but you're still not ready for them. Like a dentist appointment, they're necessary, but rarely anticipated. The mounting apprehension is almost too much to bear, until you're actually in the moment. I'm talking about the days, the evenings, the circumstances, where it's just you and your child. Mano-a-mini.
Don't get me wrong, being alone with my daughter is not something to be dreaded. In fact, I enjoy daddy-daughter time. It's just that there is the possibility - however infinitesimal - that things can go horribly wrong. Her mood, her health, her willingness to listen. Then what? Then I'm sitting with the enemy.
Despite my pending doom, my fear of the worst, my tempered expectations, I soldier on. And more often than not, I am proven wrong, my expectations are exceeded, my experience is far from traumatic. That's because my daughter is pretty cool. She's pretty amazing. And just when you think she's going to turn all satanic, she is in fact pretty sweet.
One day I had to stay home with her because she was throwing up the night before (daycare asks you to keep your child home for 24 hours after they've gotten sick. It's pretty much an honor system thing. And my wife and I take turns as to which of us stays home). Expecting my day would be filled with vomit infused with cavatelli & broccoli, with a garnish of Cheerios and a little turkey meatloaf on the side, I braced myself. I dressed appropriately. Like a starting pitcher when his turn in the rotation comes up, I treated this day differently from all others, mentally and physically.
And what was I worried about? All she did was sleep, poop, and eat - albeit very little - that day. I had a harder time maintaining the dog than the daughter. I even took her to Lowe's to buy a new dishwasher. It was then that we shared one of those parent-child moments you read about, hope for, are never prepared for, but cherish forever.
I was pushing her in the shopping cart, up and down the aisles, passing time until the salesman I needed was ready to help me. We were singing, joking, looking at new vanities for the downstairs bathroom (I'm beginning to tackle home improvement projects on my own - frightening, I know). I held out my hand, asking her to share a Cheerio with me, and she smiled coyly, pretending to refuse. Then she slipped her hand into mine and closed it. I closed mine gently, and she laid her head onto the handle of the cart, the top of her head tucked into my chest. She put her thumb into her mouth, and closed her eyes.
There is something that I've been saying in private for the better part of a year, that I need to share with all of you. Being alone with my daughter - flying solo - gives me a newfound respect and admiration for single parents. How do they do it? How do they hold down a job and come home and take care of their child/children then have enough time and energy for anything resembling sanity?
What makes me sane in these situations - and maybe what makes single parents sane (the sane ones at least) - is knowing that my efforts - their efforts - are not in vain. That more often than not our children, however young, recognize our level of commitment and in their own way - a smile, a hug, a gentle holding of the hand - let us know that they know we're doing our best. And they thank us.
No, my dear, thank you. The tiniest of memories is well worth the mountain of mayhem.