I’m entering what I assume to be my last holiday season.
No, I’m not suffering from any sort of debilitating illness. My bout with Covid was, much like most people’s, little more than a couple days of a sore throat.
Why will this be my last holiday season, then? Because my daughter is eight.
Truthfully, she might not even believe in the big guy anymore. Fortunately, though, she’s never brought up any suspicions. Granted, when the stupid, fucking elves “forgot” to move from one spot in the house to another spot last year, she seemed to think we were responsible. Like honestly kid, what the hell do your parents have to do with your elves’ choice of locale? Maybe you accidentally touched them yesterday and fucked up their magic.
Then I politely remind Wife that I never wanted to do NSA on the fucking Shelf in the first place.
Santa Claus isn’t the only one she’s still on board with. She hasn’t even shown skepticism about the Easter Bunny, which I remember giving up hope on long before Big Red. On St. Patrick’s Day, she still giddily set traps out for leprechauns, because evidently that’s a thing now. Why am I not being consulted before we add random nymphs to holidays? I’d like to register my opposition to the forthcoming Fourth of July Sprite ahead of time.
Ditto for the Tooth Fairy, although now that I’m living through it, I realize there’s a long gap between losing tooth number eight and nine, which makes a natural barrier. She lost all eight in a span of twenty-four months between kindergarten and second grade, but the next tooth isn’t likely to come out till fourth or possibly even fifth grade. And by then, she’ll probably want a Target gift card instead of cash under her pillow.
But even if her tooth came out early, I don’t know how vested she’d be in a perverted bone harvester sneaking into her bedroom at night. Because eight years of no verifiable proof is about how long it takes most people. Unless I’m raising a flat-earther or anti-vaxxer or something. Hopefully that’s not in her future. But you know what is? High school.
I teach high school, and for most of her life, there was a clear demarcation between the child in my home and the children in my classroom. It’s still there, to be sure, but it’s becoming blurrier. There are times I can see the high schooler she’ll become. Sometimes in the past, when her school has had a day off, I’ve brought her into my classroom. The teenagers are usually on their best behavior when there’s a little kid. Now I’d be worried she’d sit in the back row rolling her eyes with the rest of them. Maybe they would show her how to take twenty minutes in the bathroom and come back smelling like weed.
Yes, in the year 2022, teenagers still can’t figure out how to mask the smell of weed. It doesn’t matter that edibles are legal. Vaping is also widely available, despite the government’s decided effort to ban them so people go… back to smoking? But nope. Teenagers still feel it’s much better to give everybody else in the room the munchies.
And just like those teenagers, OMG the fucking DRAMA my third-grader brings home. Girl A wasn’t playing with her last week, so she started playing with Girl B. This week, Girl A wants to play and she’s quick to throw Girl B to the curb. Next week Girl A will be playing WITH Girl B and Daughter is just beside herself wondering why she has no friends. It’s sort of like Mean Girls, except it’s not a small cadre holding reign over the school. They’re ALL Mean Girls. Until puberty and/or cheerleading sorts out the alphas, society has no way to determine who has the right to demean others. So they’re all practicing being at both the top and the bottom of the social pecking order.
And to think most of them aren’t even interested in boys yet. Yikes. I always thought those neurotic tendencies only came out when interested in the opposite gender, but if Daughter’s third grade is any indicator, our own gender fucks us up plenty good on its own. I recently took a day off to help the science docent at her school. And of course, when the students came in for the science docent lesson, all the boys went to one side of the room, all the girls to the other. That’ll change by high school, when only about 80% of them self-segregate and the others surreptitiously hold hands in the middle. And all the boys and all the girls were competing against each other in one form or another.
I’ve thought the national obsession with bullying the last twenty years odd. Obviously we don’t want to encourage bullying, and when bullying delves into harassment territory, we should definitely come down with a zero-tolerance angle. But in elementary school EVERYBODY is a bully. I remember kids who bullied me, and I could probably guess at a few kids who thought I bullied them. And the crazy thing is that there’d be plenty of names in the middle of that Venn Diagram. Every elementary kid is a bully and bullied, because they’re still figuring out how reality works.
A funny thing happened a couple weeks ago. Daughter called out from the top of the stairs that the dog had pooped upstairs. Although on second thought, she reported, it didn’t really smell like poop, per se. Maybe pee? “It’s something rotten, like raw sewage,” were her exact words. Imagine her horror when she realized the stench came not from a canine’s nether regions but from her own armpits!
Of course, we still can’t parlay this realization into more than two bathings a week. Maybe we need to get some of those bullies in on her. I started bathing every day around second or third grade, but I still only did my hair once or twice a week. Until somebody rode me mercilessly in sixth grade. “Why don’t you take a shower?” he said to me on a daily basis. When I’d finally had enough and told him I showered every damn day and it was a stupid insult, he said, “Well, your hair doesn’t look like it.” Touche. Guess what I started adding to my daily shower? Now, approaching 50 years old, I still use my hair as the barometer on when I need to bust out a shower over a three-day weekend or over Summer Break.
I took another day off when she was getting an award. Her school, like most, makes up some adjectives they want their students to exhibit and then make an acronym tied to the mascot. It’s bullshit because we come up with the acronym first, then decide how our students should act. At my school, we’re the Hawks, so we came up with SOAR, then found attributes that started with each of those letters. I tried a write-in campaign for “Hawks CA-CAWWW!” but came up just short.
Daughter got an award in both second and third grade. After her second grade award, she decided she wants to get all four by the time she’s done with elementary school. Let’s see how she’s doing. Second grade, she got Accountable. Third grade, she got… Accountable. Great. I’m raising a narc. At least she’s consistent. Now she might as well go for four straight years of Accountable. Because I don’t think she’s ever getting the “Cooperative” award.
Yes, that’s TWO days I took off to support Daughter’s education this year. Normally I don’t take days off for jack shit, because if I can accumulate more than 185 sick days, I can retire a year early. But in another couple years, she won’t be caught dead having her parents there to support her at a school event. I can recoup my sick days then.
I think that’s where I’m going with the whole “Childhood Sweet Spot.” Most of their childhood, you’re usually looking forward to something. It’ll be so much nicer/easier when they can walk, or talk, or when they’re in school, or when they can watch something besides “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” Now she’s able to do all those things. She’s watched all of the phase one Marvel movies. She’s got legitimate opinions about things. She’s found a sport she likes playing and wants to get better at, and she’s even tried to engage in watching some MLB playoff games this year.
Meanwhile, the list of things we’re looking forward to is dwindling. Acne? Interest in boys? Hard pass. Driving seems pretty far in the distance. Double her current lifespan, in fact, and at the rate the current generation is waiting to get their license, it might be another half-decade beyond that.
Which is not to say everything’s honky-dorry right now. It’s amazing how seeing a video of two-year-old her “reading” (ie reciting from memory) through Brown Bear, Brown Bear makes me so nostalgic for her sweeter days. Missing from that video was the fact that she usually did this while spending a fucking HALF-HOUR on the fucking toilet, with either Wife or I, often both, in attendance the whole fucking time. Now wonder we recorded it. We’d already finished reading the copy of War and Peace we grabbed when she said she had to pee.
But the video of it is sweet. Now.
I’m sure I’ll find things to enjoy about her future, as well. Perhaps she’ll be able to engage in conversation about more worldly topics. Maybe, instead of doing soccer and softball and volleyball and gymnastics and dance and art, all poorly, she’ll focus on one or two activities and excel. Even better, maybe we can drop her off at those things and leave. She won’t be caught dead having her parents come to each practice and game, so Wife and I might actually be able to breathe on a typical weeknight.
I have a friend with a younger child who is in a similar boat I was once in, impatient for the walking, then the talking. I tell him not to be in such a hurry. Looking back, those were some fond times, and they go by so quickly. And now that this age I’ve been looking forward to is skimming by, it’s probably a good note to myself. Each age comes with its own pros and cons, and they ain’t coming back when it’s gone. Sometimes I miss the toddler days with the constant discovery of new abilities.
I distinctly remember the time I took her out of my car with very full hands and thought, “Wait a second, if I put her down, she can walk toward the front door on her own.” Nowadays I’m more likely to remind myself that I can send her to the garage to get a Phillips screwdriver. Or I don’t have to hover over the pool with my shirt half-unbuttoned every time she’s more than two inches away from the side. But the idea is the same.
That’s why I only get a smattering of parents to my high school Back-to-School Night as opposed to the 80% or so who show up to Daughter’s. Of course, when she was in kindergarten, it was pretty much 100%. Because, you know, kindergarten is so demanding, we need to make sure we understand the complicated assignment structure.
Not sure how I feel about becoming less and less important in her educational journey. Or any of her other journeys in life. Sure, it’s a pain in the ass when I’m doing important things, like blogging or video gaming, and she’s asking me what six times seven is. Will I look up from a full blog page one day in 2030 and wonder what level of math she’s in?
And no, I’m not going to get into some Cat’s in the Cradle bullshit where I never gave her the time she needed until it was too late. Here’s the thing about that song. “My boy was just like me.” No he wasn’t, you self-centered ass. Your son blew you off, in part, because “the kid’s got the flu.” So he’s actually being a father to his kid, which you hadn’t been. Him ignoring his father is not the same as you ignoring your son.
Sorry, where was I?
A week or two ago, she came downstairs around her bed time and asked if I was coming up to snuggle her. I had just turned on the baseball game and was preparing to do some editing, and damn near told her sorry, can’t be bothered on this particular night. Or any other night, really, because 9:00 pm is the only time I get to accomplish jack shit on a daily basis, and I’m probably crashing by 10:00. Plus, I remember this game from her youth and if go lie down with her or, hell, even sit on the floor next to her and rest my head, there’s a damn good chance I ain’t getting back up.
But then I realized it’s not a request I hear often anymore. Not that she doesn’t whine about a lack of attention, but it’s usually more along the lines of a passive aggressive “I guess nobody’s going to snuggle with me,” which drives Wife and I absolutely bug-nutty. But this request was an earnest desire, not a spoiled whine. In fact, the way she asked was awkward, almost like she wasn’t sure how to ask for it. did it used to just happen organically?
At some point, she will ask for snuggles for the final time. Maybe this was it. Because it won’t come with a pronouncement. Just like she’s won’t wake up December 1 claiming that by next year, she won’t believe. But they’re both coming and fuck me if I let them pass me by.
If only I could get her to mispronounce all the words in Brown Bear, Brown Bear.
That’s the thing about raising children: The days drag, but the years fly by.