A while back, I took my daughter to see the Lego Batman movie. We arrived ahead of schedule, which means we got to see trivia questions and Chrysler commercials on the big screen to kill time.
For some bizarre reason, the trivia was all about the film we were waiting to see. I figured it was a test of psychic ability or something. Some answers, like villain names, were easy to guess based on Batman folklore. Others, like naming our Lego hero’s favorite meal weren’t.
Minor spoiler, Lego Batman enjoys Lobster Thermidor. It’s a French dish made with eggs and I only know it because I had it once as a kid. When the question popped up, I saw it listed and had rightly guessed that Olivia had never heard of it. I leaned in and whispered, because that’s what civilized people do in a movie theater.
Lobster Thermidor. It’s like a lobster meal that they serve at some fancy restaurants. I had it once as a kid.
I sometimes offer knowledge that my kid never asked for. I’m a Dad. It’s what I do. She nodded to signal that she heard me and soon the question faded along with three of the wrong choices. All that was left was C. Lobster Thermidor.
That’s when a guy seated a few rows behind us with his children loudly and slowly read it out for all of us.
For those thrown off by the hyphens, he said “Lobster Thermometer”. Like how you figure out if a lobster has a fever. It wasn’t a joke. He didn’t laugh and his kids didn’t laugh either. In my head, I did. I worried that Olivia would point out how his pronunciation conflicted with mine. She didn’t. Then the movie started.
Sure enough, they said it out loud a few times during it. “Lobster Thermidor.” Batman ate little brick versions of it. It was cute. I was right. That dude was wrong. I figured she had forgotten all about it.
On the car ride home, we talked about the film and recounted our favorite parts. Then, we hit a lull and the car was quiet for a moment. My daughter, giggling, broke that silence.
Daddy. Remember when that guy yelled out “Lobster Thermometer”?
Then she paused and started laughing even harder.
…and he was a grown-up!
I lost it. To this day, lobster thermometer is an inside joke we share. If I have to read something out loud or if someone mispronounces something, I will chime in with a loud and enunciated “Lobster Thermometer!” It gets laughs from the person whose laughs I battle for the most.
I think about that Dad sometimes and how he blew it in front of his kids. Things like that are scary and, when you’re a perfectionist-style parent, can really send you into a tailspin. Nothing will send immediate shivers up a fatherly spine quicker than the sentence, “Daddy! Win me a prize!”
For some reason, though, that expectation for perfection has pushed me to achievements that I didn’t think possible. I’ve found missing objects like security blankets and bandanas when all hope had been lost. I’ve lifted up heavy objects, taught her to ride a bike, and won more crane games than I can count. Most times I come through in the clutch when I know her eyes are watching.
Then there are the moments when life doesn’t hand you a magic crane game. There was the Pinewood Derby, for instance.
For those who don’t know, the Pinewood Derby is an event usually linked to Boy Scouts. Traditionally, boys and their dads design cars from blocks of wood and then race them for wooden car supremacy. I did it when I was a scout and, since my son is non-verbal with Autism, I’ve known for a while that my chances of returning to the Pinewood track were pretty low. I hadn’t thought much about it, but when I did, I just knew I wouldn’t be helping anyone carve a wooden race car. No tears. Just facts.
Then, one day, my wife asked if I wanted to do the Girl Scout version of it. Yup. They do a big gathering featuring girls from all the different schools in the area. It’s not called “The Pinewood Derby” and you’re not allowed to refer to it as such. The lady who sold me the parts at the Boy Scout supply store was pretty hardcore and insistent that I sand any references to the Boy Scouts of America from my vehicle. She was doing it for copyright reasons, but deep down, I had a feeling she knew what my car was going to be like.
We were very late to the game on sign ups. There was only about a week until this special event and only one other kid from her troop would be participating in it. Plus, with only a year in our new house since moving from a condo that negated any need for power tools or carpentry, I felt over my head from the start.
I stressed about that car. I worried that it would look ridiculous or disintegrate as soon as they shouted go. Eventually, though, we put together an acceptable looking vehicle that even had weights on it. I wasn’t sure where to put them, but I put them. It seemed like a disaster waiting to happen, but at least she painted it nice.
Olivia was excited and came home from school the day before all ready to race.
I told Kendra that we are going to totally win!
Maybe I should have thought for a second first. Maybe if I did, I would have said something else. I didn’t, though, and I’m kind of glad I didn’t.
Oh no. Don’t tell her that. We’re probably not going to win.
Adult honesty like that isn’t too common for a kid her age. I could tell I knocked her for a loop.
Olivia, we did that in like a week. We put it together and we made it as good as we possibly can. Some people have been doing it all year, though. We could win and I hope we win, but we’re not doing this to win. We’re doing it to have fun. If we do it to win, we’re going to have a bad time.
She looked off, as she does when trying to process my verbal onslaughts. Then replied.
OK, but maybe.
And you’ll never guess what happened. Go on. Guess.
We lost bad. Like really bad.
This is how bad it was. Each car does 15 different races (we were there a really long time). Out of those 15, we came in dead last in all but one. That one we came in next to last.
Don’t go earning any merit badges for tears just yet. Last place in our division, believe it or not, wasn’t as bad as some others. There were tons of different divisions and many of their last place racers were cartoonishly terrible. There were cars that flew off the track. There were cars that had to be pushed to the finish line. Hell, one car seemed to blow up. Like boom. Blow up.
We had fun and that was what she was prepared for. Was it a downer? A little. Are we going to start planning for next year? We already are.
I want my daughter to know that her Dad can do anything he sets his mind to. I also don’t want her to get some sort of false impression of who I am or what she can be. No one is perfect. I’m not and she won’t be.
If I do something wrong, I apologize. I’ve been snippy at times, but I’m always sure to tell her I’m sorry afterwards. I thought it was all going unnoticed until the time I walked into her room to show her something and she snapped at me while on her computer. I left the room without saying a word and, by the time I had reached the den, I got a text message.
I’m sorry I was rude to you. I shouldn’t have done that. I was just angry about something in my game.
That meant more than any half-hearted “sorry” I could have browbeaten out of her. I didn’t solicit it or demand it. There was no guilt-trips or threats of punishment. It was just my daughter, the lesson I had always tried to teach, and her chance to show me she’s been listening.
That’s the race that really matters and she won with flying colors. Still, a Pinewood Derby win would be nice. Maybe next year. If it happens, I’m totally taking her out for Lobster Thermidor.