It’s Not As Bad As You Remember

I’ve always enjoyed getting a reaction from people. This has caused me to spend a good amount of time carefully planning out surprises or practical jokes, all to see how my intended target would respond. The day I became a father was the day the universe handed me a captive audience for these planned moments of madness.

I don’t like to simply give gifts or surprises. I like them to be discovered or presented in some unexpected way. It’s caused some fantastic moments…and some not so fantastic ones.

crayonThe crown jewel of missed magic in our household has to be the big yellow crayon bank. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Just as Olivia was hovering around two, I went out and purchased a, well, big yellow crayon bank. I told you it was just as it sounded.

Rather than just handing her this massive bank, I hatched this elaborate plan to hide it behind the living room curtain. I’d then ask her to hand me a yellow crayon and pretend to do some insane spell to turn it into its gigantic counterpart. I pictured the look of wonder that would surely follow. It would be the greatest thing in the history of things causing my daughter to see me as a true super hero. Everyone would cheer. There would surely be glitter, magic, and puppies.

Yeah, so none of that happened. It was a disaster. I couldn’t recall the details, but it wasn’t anything close to what I imagined. The gist was that I gave her the bank and she didn’t care. It was so bad that it became the stuff of legends our house. Any grand gesture that I was over-planning brought back fear of that moment. My wife would look at me with a disappointed expression and ask, “Is this the big yellow crayon all over again?”

A few weeks ago, while going through some old videos, I came across the infamous yellow crayon video, which I had forgotten even existed. Apparently the entire incident was caught on tape and, even years later, I was scared to press play.

But I did.

I braced for the horror of the huge letdown and watched as I, at my pre-heart surgery frantic pace, began calling to Olivia.

Olivia. Olivia. Olivia. Olivia. Give daddy the yellow crayon. Olivia. Olivia. Give daddy the…Olivia. Give Daddy the yellow crayon.

She hobbled over on her little legs and I reached behind the curtain to pull the presto-chango. When I yanked the giant crayon out and handed it to her, she stared with slight surprise and walked off. As the clip came to an end, you could hear both me and my wife express mild disappointment with how things played out.

That was it. Nothing more. I kept checking to see if I had accidentally stopped the video early. How can that be? Where was all the misery that was so firmly in my head this whole time? That was it? I called the rest of the family in to watch.

Olivia was aware of the Big Yellow Crayon Incident, but was too young to remember, and my wife was present for it at the time. Yet, when I played it back in digital form, everyone was surprised. Just as I had no recollection of the exchange being as normal as it was, my wife was the same. Even my daughter admitted.

That was it? That wasn’t so bad.

crayon2It wasn’t. With more than seven years of parental experience under my belt, I could honestly say that the Big Yellow Crayon exchange was the exact response I would expect from a two year old. At the time, though, we expected so much more because we knew so much less. For new parents, any reponse short of Olivia vomiting rainbows and doing an Irish jig would have seemed anticlimactic.

That’s what we do, though. We spend our lifetimes beating ourselves up with false memories tailored to make things seem worse. Mistakes that were hardly noticeable to someone else become the only thing we can possibly see. Anything less than perfection at a time when perfection is expected can result in remembering a catastrophe that never occurred.

Thankfully, I didn’t let that Big Yellow Crayon Incident stop me from making grand gestures. I accepted that things didn’t go as planned but continued trying to do better. The real tragedy would have been if I stopped based on, what I know now after years of parenting experience, a completely normal exchange with a two year old.

I’m glad I didn’t and, to this day, Olivia still has that Big Yellow Crayon. Now it’s filled with coins and sits next to her desk. At the end of the day, this toy that I symbolically saw as a source of disappointment has continued to be part of our home. That’s more than I can say about the piles of Lala Loopseys, Shopkins, American Girl Dolls, and other expensive gadgets that have found their way to banishment on our personal Island of Misfit Toys.

That’s the reason they tell people not to live in the past. Most times, you’re not. You’re living in a past that you unknowingly created in your own mind. The only real moment is the one you’re living in right now. If you make the most of it now, none of the missteps you’ve made before – imagined or otherwise – matter.