My kids need me. That’s the going train of thought usually. As a parent, I am constantly taking stock of all the things I do and all the chores I accomplish just to keep them happy.
We, as parents, gladly accept those responsibilities from the first day we welcome them into the world. From morning breakfast to bedtime stories, their days, weeks, months, and years are planned out by us. Most times, they don’t even realize it. Even more times, they’ll get annoyed at us for it.
This dinner is gross!
That dinner took me an hour to make, you little weasel. I even shaped the meatballs into a smiley face. It’s enough to make any mom or dad drown themselves in the boiling pot of homemade freakin’ tomato sauce.
These daily activities can seem overwhelming and, well, they are. Many times, I wonder if I have the energy to go forward. It seems like things that should be impossible suddenly become possible.
I’m not using some flowery prose either. I’m being serious. This truth first came into my life when my daughter was less than a week old. It was one of our first nights home and Olivia, with her mostly bald head and her almond-shaped eyes, was fast asleep in her bassinet when I went to sleep. I was still at the point where I struggled to hold her; worrying that I would accidentally drop her like a wet pool toy. I’d place both my palms in front of me like an open book and cradle her body as if it was on a platform. Yeah. It was weird.
A few hours into some pretty deep slumber, I was suddenly awoken to, what felt like, a submarine under attack. I could hear sirens and warning sounds. In reality, it was a screaming baby. Before my eyes were even fully open, my wife handed me this tiny human who looked me right in the face and scream-cried her almond eyes out.
It took my brain a minute to adjust to what was happening. Was this a dream? Was this baby going to turn into a sandwich and fly away? When reality stayed real for more than a few seconds, I realized I was back in life. I realized I was a dad. I realized that dads, in this situation, sing.
I knew very few kids songs. I mean, I’m sure I did, but none of them came into my groggy head at the time. So, in a split-second decision that still pops into my memory banks today, I started to sing…
The Happy Birthday song. When that was done, I sang the theme to Diffrn’nt Strokes. After that, the U.S. National Anthem.
The crying stopped and soon, she was looking up at me with a soothing gaze of confusion and restfulness. I had done it. I had daddy’d, even when I couldn’t see straight.
Since that night, both of my children have made me live a life that I might otherwise have missed. Most of the things I do, I do for them. From holidays to weekend plans, it’s all slanted in a child-like direction.
As Christmas approaches and all I want to do is crawl intro a ball, it just takes my daughter asking, “Are you excited about the Elf on a Shelf coming?” Then, suddenly, I’m excited. Not for me, but for them. I smile thinking about how she will react to his whacky scenarios. As exhausting as the holidays may seem, I do them. I do 99% of them for the kids.
It’s not just festive occasions that the children drag me out of my Grinchy hole for. Truth be told, some days I wonder if, without them, I would even get out of bed in the morning at all.
I know we’re not supposed to mention those things. It makes us uncomfortable, but we’re all adults here. As adults, we can venture into some pretty dark thoughts now and then. It sometimes stretches beyond the comical tomato sauce drowning. Sometimes things can get hard to handle and, after a lifetime of body blows and headshots, it’s tough to keep standing.
You shadowbox ghosts from your past and battle haunted memories that you wish weren’t there. You deal with stress, worry, anxiety, and grief. You get tormented by nightmares that linger, even after you wake up. It may not be constant, but even once in a while can be too much to handle sometimes.
Then, I’ll wake up to my son smiling and clapping as I climb over his gate to give him a hug. My daughter will come over and show me a picture she made and ask me if I like it, in a voice that tells me my opinion is the most important thing in her world. I’ll stand up, push on, and start the day with a smile that I can’t believe is on my face, but there it is. And it’s real.
Maybe it’s later in the day and I’m feeling down about all the things that I should feel down about. At times when I might otherwise not want to get up from the couch, I have to because my daughter, the same five day old I sang Happy Birthday to, is throwing an impromptu ice cream party in her room, complete with decorations, games, and homemade invitations. When I can’t find my own sense of happiness, these kids find it for me.
Not everyone needs to have children to face the world around them, but I know I did. I don’t know what I would do without them. They help me, in many ways, more than I help them. They keep me sane. They keep me sober. They keep me out of jail. They keep me breathing.
And they don’t even know it.