I am a proud father of two girls.
For years now I’ve been waking them up in the morning for school, driving them to and from lessons and reading them bedtime stories. We spend a lot of time together; most of it wonderful, but some of it hair-pullingly frustrating and mind-numbingly annoying for me as they fight, argue and ignore my pleas.
Through the years I’ve asked questions, I’ve raised my voice, I’ve demanded answers.
And all I’ve received was silence and bewildered looks from the girls like I was speaking a foreign language.
Why do you keep hitting each other? Good question, father. We’ve discussed this at length and, after much debate, believe that we either lack the emotional maturity to work through our multilayered issues of sibling rivalry, jealousy and vying for our parents’ love and attention or we just have a love of hitting things and have found walls and/or stuffed animals quite unsatisfying compared to the soft, subtle, yet firm, flesh of a fellow human.
Are you listening to me at all? Short answer, no. Longer answer, yes, but keep in mind that we are only really paying attention when you utter the following sentences: “Who wants ice cream?, “You can use the iPad now”, “Let’s go to the mall so I can buy you presents” and “I think your rash is infected”.
What did you learn in school today? Two things: (1) work hard and do your best so we don’t have to listen to you and mom go on and on and on, repeating yourself for hours as you lecture us about “doing our best” and “making you proud” and “not making your dad cry” and (2) as our teachers tell us, “if your parents ask you daily, a little too eagerly, what you learned, you should question whether they are a foreign spy and alert the authorities. On a separate note, dad, the CIA is at the front door.
Why do you keep making that annoying noise? Because noises are fun to make especially when it’s clear that it’s getting to your dad who is a little too focussed on his phone/lunch/last remnants of self-esteem instead of us. And, while we have your attention, dad, you aren’t so innocent in the making annoying noise category yourself what with your constant dry throat clearing, singing off key in the car despite clear hints that you must stop, rapidly drinking water as if lost in a desert and the loud snoring that keeps us all awake at night haunting our dreams.
Do you think that money grows on trees? To be honest, we have no idea how to best answer a question that was clearly meant sarcastically, except with more sarcasm. We can either say “Yes, dad, we do think money grows on trees because you’ve raised us to be idiots.” or “No, dad, we know money does not grow on trees and the fact that you continue to ask us this question makes us question whether you are, in fact, an idiot.” See? It’s lose-lose.
Why are you eating so slowly? Well, father, since we seem to have extra time at the table, I also have some questions for you! Have you heard of a little thing as gastrointestinal distress? Excuse us if we want to avoid a lifetime of stomach and digestive issues! Have you ever considered that we are purely savoring the delicious food you’ve provided for us? And, furthermore, why can’t we prolong one of the few chances all day for the family to spend time together? Would you rather we rush so we can lead separate lives? Fine.
Do you enjoy making me late for work? Enjoy is just the wrong word for how we feel. We couldn’t settle on either ecstatic or jubilant. To explain, we care about your health, dad, both physical and mental, and we are worried about you when you yell and stress each morning as you care, disproportionately, about arriving somewhere at a specific time. By taking our time, we are trying to help you, the only way we know how, to relax, take things as they come, be less rigid temporally and march to the beat of your own drummer. So, sure, you may be late by the rules your boss has laid out for you, but maybe our role is to help you see that you can only be late if you believe in the term late in the first place. Mind blown? You’re welcome.
Why can’t you just be nice to each other? Because our whole raison d’etre is to provide daily challenges for you in the realms of conflict mediation, hostage negotiation, and emotional regulation. So, sure we could just be nice to each other all the time, which would be too easy for you, or we could help make you a better parent and person while also enjoying the unique thrills of getting under each other’s skin, pressing each other’s buttons and threatening to mutilate each other’s Barbies.
Why are you crying? Have you ever listened to yourself? Maybe, just maybe, it’s because we are upset! Ever think of that, smart guy? Now stop with the asinine questions that only make us infinitely more emotional and less likely to stop with the waterworks in a very public place and make with the candy and/or Lego set we so desire. Ever while away the hour, shaking your head as we cry, hoping passersby won’t notice, just wondering who is in control here? Hint: not you.
Who is going to clean up this mess? Allow us to start by taking issue with the use of the word ‘mess’, not because we don’t agree that it’s a mess, but because, in this trial, we plan to so confuse the judge and jury with a pedantic and semantic set of arguments that it will make their, and your, head spin. When we are done, not only won’t you care about this specific mess that we joyfully and willfully made, but you will start sewing your own clothes, considering dropping everything and “moving off the grid” and brewing your own Kombucha.
Are you trying to drive me crazy? You mean you aren’t already at the depths of your crazy? Relax, we kid, we kid. Don’t worry, we need a dad who is operating at a certain, minimum level of sanity in order to “turn out right” and “have playdates” and “not have you turn up unannounced at our school frothing at the mouth wearing a toga”, but, and this is key, the right amount of crazy dad provides endless (and free) randomly exciting entertainment for all. It is, in our experience, the gift that keeps on giving.
Why won’t you, please, just go to sleep? We have wondered, countless times (even lost sleep over it), why you and mom are so disproportionately interested in us sleeping so much and at totally unreasonably early times. So, now we get to ask some questions! What exactly is your angle? What kind of scam is this? What is so important that you need us out of the way and basically unconscious for? And no, we don’t buy your lame excuses that you “just want some time together to relax” and “the house doesn’t clean itself” as be both know that those are complete lies. Have you ever thought that this whole mystery is why we aren’t going to sleep? That’s right “smart” guy, it’s all your fault (and yes, we fully know what putting smart inside quotation marks means, “you” did “raise” us after all).