…As Much As They Need Me

I was annoyed when I woke up yesterday. I wish I could pinpoint one big reason, but I can’t. Sometimes it’s a hundred little reasons. Other times, it’s no reason at all. Yesterday was one of those two.

I woke up earlier than anyone in the house and slowly tiptoed down to my office. After some coffee and yawning, I hopped onto the exercise bike for the rest of my morning routine. I was still annoyed as I started up the Xbox and still not entirely sure why.

Within minutes, I could hear Olivia’s feet stamping on the floor above me. I tracked them as she thumped through the hallway, down the stairs, and flopped onto the couch next to me, holding an iPad with the volume set to max. After exchanging “good mornings”, I asked if she could take the iPad into another room.

No. I’ll just turn it off. I want to hang out and watch you play.

No harm, no foul. I pedaled on until I was stopped again.

Can you make me breakfast?

I silently reminded myself that she was nine and couldn’t cook too many things on her own. So I asked her to wait until I was done fake biking and she agreed.

Then, less than two minutes later:

Are you done on the bike? I’m hungry.

If the bike was real, I would have driven it into oncoming traffic. Rather than overreact, I put on the daddy-smile and again asked if she could wait a little while more. As soon as I hit thirty minutes, I hopped back off and walked into the kitchen. I could hear her turn the iPad back on the second I left. She had won the room.

I guess I couldn’t fault her for being hungry. It made me think about how important I was in the lives of my children. Both Olivia and Lucas rely on me to do every dad-thing imaginable. Not only do I play the obvious roles like cook, driver, and personal shopper, but a laundry list of other unique careers. From stylist for my wild-haired daughter to public spokesperson for my non-verbal son, these two have been getting free labor out of me for years.

I thought this view would make for a good blog post and started planning it out in my head. I could write about how important I am and how kids need their parents to do pretty much everything. Many moms and dads can relate to that, right? We could all pat each other on the back as we beam with pride. Look at us. We’re terrific.

Later in the morning, I managed to escape my house for a solo trip to the weekly railroad station flea market. It was solo because my wife stayed home with Lucas and Olivia refuses to go with me much anymore. Even the possibility of buying toys couldn’t convince her. I was still annoyed when I arrived and the blog post, which I was mentally constructing, couldn’t even distract me from my irritated mood. From relevant personal anecdotes to underlying themes, I was deep in thought about how to structure it as I walked from vendor table to table.

With all that was whirring around inside my head, I was still able to notice a father shopping with his young son. The boy must have been around five and his eyes were filled with wonder as his dad, hunch-walking by his side, offered familiar fatherly tour guide advice.

See? That box over there is all action figures. You just look through them and can get a whole bunch for less than just one at the store.

This scene, which would have produced a nice memory on any other day, led my inner voice to beat me up for no reason.

Your daughter used to come to the flea market with you. That used to be you explaining it. Now she’s old and doesn’t care about coming with you. She just wants you to toast her bagels. You’re old too. All old and 40. Look at you. Wearing your old cargo shorts at a flea market alone. You old jerk.

My brain can suck sometimes. Just to make sure I didn’t go home in a good mood, the Universe had that father and son walk past me as I was leaving too. The boy, who looked as though he just won the super-lottery of Happy Town, was holding an armload of wrestling figures with his father continuing the flea-market newbie instructions.

Now, when we get home, we have to wash those first.

When I moped back in through my front door, I was immediately greeted by Olivia, who asked if I bought her anything. She was disappointed at my “no” but I didn’t care. I slinked into my office chair, which caused her to come running in and flop down on the same couch she had ordered breakfast from earlier.

Want to play Lego Worlds on Xbox?

Tired and defeated, I agreed. Surprisingly, we discovered that we never used “sandbox mode” in the game before, which allowed us to build our own planet from scratch. The next 45 minutes were spent building worlds and creating insane scenarios. We were having so much fun that it took a while before I realized.

I wasn’t in a bad mood anymore.

three.jpgI hadn’t even thought about it. In fact, I hadn’t thought about anything besides Lego Worlds and Olivia. Without even knowing it, my kid had turned my entire mood around. Later, when Lucas and I played with his water table outside, the same thing happened. Nothing existed outside of the time we were spending together.

As parents, our children monopolize a lot of our time – both in our actions and thoughts. While many are quick to point out all the positive things that they distract us from, we forget about the negatives they distract us from too. They turn us into kids again – free from the worries that come with 40 year old cargo shorts and angry inner voices.

Some of my lowest points from the past few years are softened by their links to some great memories with my children. I remember watching Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer with them after I returned home from heart surgery or playing marathon sessions of Lego Dimensions when my father-in-law passed away. For all the jokes about how my kids drive me insane, the truth is they’re the ones most responsible for keeping me sane. Just between us, I need them…as much as they need me.