This is the first list in a new feature I’m calling my “week of lists” and I’m pegging it right into the parenting category. That’s right; My first list is Seven Stupidly Simple Parenting Habits to Make You a Better Dad. It’s not, of course, any way scientific or based in evidence. There is no research that proves these points. There is no literature-supported bibliography to follow. And just so we’re clear: There is no measurable “result” or “effect” falling out of these — neither is there a solution hidden between the lines. These are just fun things to do with your kid — fun things I do with my kid — that bring us closer together as father and daughter. Like’em or leave’em. It just is what it is.
1 : Never Under-Estimate the Value of Shadows
There is a lot of mythology and weirdness with shadows. I just finished reading a book — a real grown-up book — where one of the subplots involved a man getting separated from his shadow and this having all sorts of philosophy-of-mind implications. It was fiction, obviously. But it being summer here and our days filled with bright sunshine, we sometimes take the idea of a shadow for granted. Don’t do that. Shadows are awesome toys. Shadows are the basis of games and races. Shadows spur excitement and competition, bend the imagination, and prompt millions of questions. Go for a walk for the exercise, sure, but don’t forget some shadow play.
Bathtime is a nightly ritual around our house, and there being two parents we (generally) alternate shifts. Now, I’ll admit: bathtime is really boring. A nearly-five-year-old is something like ninety-percent self-sufficient in the tub. I need to be there for making sure she doesn’t overflow the tub, that she gets out eventually, and to make sure she rinses out ALL the shampoo, but otherwise I’m just a glorified lifeguard. But that said I’ve started filling the time, entertaining myself and her, but constructing an increasingly elaborate magic trick. It’s not complex. It’s not even very special. It’s just a simple distract-and-disappear trick, where one of her little toys is stuffed into a washcloth and — presto — it’s gone. I’m getting better each time — though a stage show is still years off — and she not only requests repeated encores, she’s now trying her own. It’s our little thing.
3 : Invent a Silly Character and Plot to Go With It
Maybe you’re not an epic storyteller. Maybe you can’t write your way out of a paperbag — or however that expression goes. But I’ll bet you can invent some kind of simple character that does silly things. And just the fact that this character comes from your brain, and its adventures can continue a little bit each week in those drawn out otherwise boring moments (see: alternatives to bathtime magic tricks) or during car rides or at bedtime — just that fact — will make that silly character an evolving part of your family narrative. You might even get inspired to write some of it down someday.
4 : Make Friends with Your Kid’s Imaginary Friend
My daughter has an imaginary friend. Some days George is her big brother. Sometimes he’s just this kid that lives at our house and eats our food. We can’t see him, of course, and while I’ll be the first to admit I know very little about the pyschology of imaginary friends in toddlers, I seem to recall that there is something fairly natural about the whole process. Thus, it should come as no big shocker that George and I are buds. We hang. We have heart-to-heart conversations (while Claire is in the room, obviously — I’m not totally nuts.) And if I was so inclined as to inventory the number of openings to deep and meaningful conversations this has instigated — oh so positively — between dad and daughter, I’d probably shock even myself. At least more than my meandering bit of anecdotal remembering does.
Being that I’m writing this on a Saturday morning and I’m right now contentedly stuffed with grilled bready breakfast products, I have no qualms about recommending a weekly food ritual. Sure, maybe you want to steer your budding chef towards something more healthy than pancakes drizzled with maple syrup each weekend morning, but that’s where the customization of these little tips is up to you. Each week — assuming we’re not away from home — we spend about an hour on Saturday morning measuring ingredients, prepping our tools, sneaking a few chocolate chips, setting the table, and readying for a breakfast feast. It’s just the two of us, and for the first few weeks I recall that Claire would hint, vocally, that “maybe we should wake mom to help.” But, we’d let her sleep and then wake her just as the first few cakes were hitting the plates. We get to spend a morning together, and now she wakes me each Saturday — earlier and earlier — to start on cooking.
For regular readers of this blog, it might be recalled that a few months ago I bought a new point-and-click camera to take on vacation. It cost me a couple hundred bucks and it comes in very useful for making videos and shoving in my pocket for more casual picture-taking opportunities when I don’t feel like lugging around the dSLR. So, it might come as a bit of a surprise to learn I’ve essentially written it off as lost or broken. Why? Well, the girl like to take pictures. She’s been getting little creative ideas about stop-motion animation (really) and perspective from this CBC kids show called Artzooka, and she always asking to mess around with the camera. And while I’m certain I could fret over the camera, worry about it getting scratched or broken, I get the sense that I’m doing both her and myself a little favour — and maybe being a slightly better parent — by just relaxing the don’t-touch-dad’s-stuff rule with this particular toy. You don’t need to give up on a camera, of course, but bend the rules for something. C’mon. Be cool, now.
7 : Create a Secret Handshake
Or a signal. Or a password. Or something secret. At first I thought an almost-five-year-old wouldn’t get it, but was I ever wrong. She figured it out right away. I’d tell you the details, describe in more elaborate ways the nuances of our just-between-the-two-of-us acknoweldgement and greeting, but then it wouldn’t be a secret, would it?