Magic is found in the small moments of everyday life. It is often hidden in-between a never ending conveyor belt of chores and commitment. In no aspect is that more true than in parenthood.
Being woken up long before the alarm goes off is one example of a situation that most parents are forced to deal with regularly. On the surface, it is not necessarily a situation one would think conducive to magical moments. Unless you consider constant questions about what the clock is and how long it is until you can get up, and an onslaught of more or less well thought out arguments for why it is necessary to get up right now, magical in and of itself.
But the other day, it was a situation just like that which provided a moment of pure magic. What follows is an unabridged transcript of a bedside conversation with my two year old daughter. The context is 5AM and no preceding conversations beyond “not for a while yet” in answer to the question of if we can get up.
Daughter: Daddy, if someone eats you I can’t talk to you anymore.
Me: … what do you mean?
Daughter: If a crocodile or a lion eats you, I can’t talk to you.
Me: Oh, right. Yeah, that’s true.
Daughter: A frog won’t eat you.
Me: That’s for sure!
Daughter: What do frogs say?
Me: Quack quack?
Daughter: What do ducks say?
Me: Quack quack?
Daughter: Do they speak the same (language)?
Me: … I think so.
Daughter: Me too.
I got to be part of a conversation in which a two year old is making her very first baby steps in coming to grips with mortality. And segue directly into the mysteries of interspecies animal communication. Or something related to the scientific conventions of onomatopoeia.
Honestly that’s all a bit above my pay grade.
It is a moment I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Truly magical. And yet… My little girl who we just brought home from the delivery room is suddenly reflecting on the impermanence of all things. An almost ironic sign of the unrelenting passing of time.
Her older brother is five. In half a year, he will be starting elementary school. Impossible! It was only days ago, surely nothing more than weeks, since we brought him back from that very same delivery room.
Alas, here we are. School looms, and with it the inevitable transition. From innocent child into young adolescent fighting for their independence, struggling to find their place in the world. Hopefully it won’t happen overnight. Who am I kidding? I know it will.
The last year, or maybe two, I’ve reflected on how this period of parenthood may be the most beautiful time of my life. Blessed with two healthy children. Both of which are fierce, young human beings. And yes, they challenge their parents. Every day, they test us to discover our limits and see if they are absolute or up for negotiation.
Oftentimes, I find myself longing for a time in the future when they are a bit more independent. A bit less in need of their parents all the time. A time when I have more space to be all the other things I want to be beyond a dad.
But then… then I realise that these years — the very years taking place right now — must be the halcyon days. Sure, between waking up early, changing diapers, keeping them fed, telling them to do this but not that and generally just doing whatever we can to keep them alive, it might seem like a lot. But, at the same time, there are two defining facts of these years that make them everything.
All day, every day, they want to spend time with us.
The five year old is a little shy in new environments. I signed up as a coach to encourage him to try out organised sports a while back. It’s a weekly event. A few weeks in, we were driving home, and I asked him what his favourite activity of the day was.
“When we were in groups, and you were helping another group of kids, because I like it best when we’re not doing the same thing.” he answered. There was no malice. No ill intent. Just a casual realisation on his part that he preferred a little parental freedom.
I realised then that it won’t always be like this. I’m not always going to be among his top three people to spend time with.
It makes me sad.
All of their problems are manageable.
When you’re two years old, parents are — by and large — the cause of, and solution to all of your life’s problems. How infuriating it must be to watch them cater to your needs in one moment, only for some inexplicable reason to turn around and refuse to do as told in the next.
Alas. Inversely, for parents, this is a time of great power. And great responsibility. You’ve got your child’s world in your hands. Assuming you’re lucky and they’ve been born and stay healthy, every problem they encounter is something within your sphere of control. And when the most important thing in the world is the wellbeing of your children, it’s all downhill from there.
There will come a time, and it will be soon, when, as parents, we will be powerless. The world will turn, and the challenges they encounter will be their own, and outside of our abilities to influence.
It scares me.
The Office (US) is one of my favourite TV shows of all time. I’ve rewatched it several times. In the final episode, long after the show jumped the shark and lost most of what made the first few seasons great, there is a quote from Andy that stuck with me since the day I heard it. Back in the office for a visit a year after leaving for his dream job, Andy’s reminiscing about his (often miserable) years that were “documented” on the show:
I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.
Unlike Andy, I’ve been granted that gift. I’m doing my best to make the most of it.