My mom still calls my sisters and me on the eves of our respective birthdays to say, “Goodnight, x-year-old.” Then the next day, she calls again and says, “Good morning x+1-year-old!” She’s been doing that since before I was born, I think. But she didn’t call us when we were kids. She mostly, you know, said it in person.
Yesterday, I made the terrible mistake of trying to work from home a little bit while taking care of the girls, which made me wonder whether it was worse for kids to get yelled at by a parent all day than it is for them to stare at a TV. Often, they will play make-believe quietly for hours on end. Other times they go on wild rampages, leaving carnage in their wake. Yesterday was a rampage day. They snarled at one another, pestered me with accusations about how the other one had committed some unspeakable crime against them, and sometimes just ran screeching through the house. I could have fixed this by taking them to the park. But I really just had to make a couple phone calls. I could have plopped them in front of a movie and they would have zombied out for an hour and a half. But they were going to watch a movie at a benefit event we were to attend that evening, and too much screen-time is no good. So they got scream-time instead.
“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???!!!” I yelled, blocking their hallway sprint. “I TOLD YOU I JUST HAD A LITTLE WORK TO DO! YOU KNOW WHEN I HAVE THIS THING UP NEXT TO MY FACE THAT I AM TALKING TO ANOTHER GROWNUP AND IT’S IMPORTANT! WHY ARE YOU GETTING IN MY FACE AND ASKING RIDICULOUS QUESTIONS AND WHINING AND FUSSING WHILE I’M ON THE PHONE??!! YOU ARE ALMOST FIVE! YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER!”
They essentially shrugged in response.
Shortly after going off on them, I started rushing them around so they would be ready to ride their bikes to this fundraising thing for the kindergarten they will be going to in September. KINDERGARTEN! IN A COUPLE MONTHS!
They jumped on their bikes (from which I’m hoping to remove the training wheels before they go to big-kid school), and I on my skateboard, and we headed to the brew pub that has partnered up with our school foundation.* (Mom had to stay home and work.) We took the same route that we will take to get to school in the fall. In fact, we cut through the playground to get to the pub.
Between our house and the school is a pretty big hill: probably a hundred feet of elevation gain in two blocks. It gets my heart rate up when I ride it on my bike. A few weeks ago, I would have had to push both of the kids on their bikes the entire way up. Last night, Maddy put the hammer down and charged almost all the way to the summit, her sturdy little legs relentlessly pushing that one big gear. Livvy made it about two-thirds of the way up with no help, requiring just a couple shoves to make it to the top.
At the event, the kids hung out with their friends, watched some of the movie in the special room we had reserved, but then asked if they could go to the designated kids’ area of the main restaurant where they were showing a different video. They held hands as they navigated by themselves through the forest of grownups’ legs, and settled in some bean bag chairs in the play space, while I chatted with other parents.
We rode home with their friend and her parents, cruising through the twilit neighborhood. Maddy and Livvy encouraged their younger friend, who was being a little timid on the bike, to hop curbs and not ride the brakes on the descents. I could barely keep up on my skateboard, and nearly bit it a couple times.
When my wife and I tucked them in, still a little wired from the exhilarating ride, I said, “Good night, four-year-olds.”
As always, after they were asleep, I felt lucky and proud and profoundly in love.
I used to hold grudges against people. I guess I still do. Or, more accurately, I write people off. Shut them out if they get to be too much trouble. But these two, no matter how awful they get–or I get–every morning starts fresh. The days we spend together are full of peaks and valleys, and very soon, we’re not going to sharing nearly as many of them. They’ll be at school full time. I’ll be at work. I can’t say I’m stoked about that. Even the not-so-great days go too fast.