Walking the metaphorical tightrope between neglect and coddling. And picking out the perfect birthday gift.
It’s been two years since I wrote a week of lists, but I thought I would start this last four months of 2016 with revisit to that old meme. So, starting on the first, the eighth edition of the Week of Lists begins, called the “Turning 40ish Edition” with deep and engaging topics such as this one…
I’ve written lots of fatherhood over the years, but as 40ish hits and the kid swings into the second quarter of her school career, I’m starting to think more strategically about how to be the parent of a tween.
The key points: she’s not a bundle of incoherent, reaction-based toddler anymore. She’s a logical and all-too-intelligent human who is either plotting ways to spend time together… or plotting ways to outsmart me.
5. Your Time is the Most Valuable Gift You Can Give
Barf. Cliche. But, oddly enough… it’s probably true. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m Mr. Moneybags over here –hardly, actually– but let’s just say that my daughter isn’t exactly wanting for much. We’re cozy. We manage. And if I see an activity or a little book that I think she might like, I hesitate, but not because I’m on a budget or something. I hesitate because I don’t want to spoil her. The meandering point of this is simply that while I could buy her pretty much anything her little heart desires (well..within reason. no ponies!) what I honestly have found over the last few years is that what her little heart desires is QT with her old man. The things she really seems to want are, funny enough, things that force us to spend a few hours together: a game we can play or make a video out of, a set of sketch books we can draw in together, or some other oddly concocted craft she’s determined will result in us “playing” together for a Saturday afternoon.
4. Indulge the Faintest Glimmer of Her Hobbies
Falling out of that time-is-valuable point, she has more and more started to be a kid with a scattered, but obvious wheelhouse of interests and blossoming hobbies. That said –and if you read this blog on a semi-regular basis I’ve written about it recently— we’re dealing with a bit of a stationary inertia issue when it comes to finding and pursuing hobbies. A trend among her age. And while I’m not even really sure that its a problem, I’m operating on the mindset that if we, as her parents, don’t even try budge her into something that might become a life-long passion, then we’re doing her a moderate disservice. Yeah, she’ll find something on her own, but if the kid decides, say, that she wants to draw, I’m gonna make sure she’s got access to some paper and pencils.
3. Be Nice to Her Friends
Five years ago all her friends were these little toddler clones of each other. I couldn’t have told one from the other, y’know. Wide eyed little four year old girls that — while each a unique flower of uniqueness and special-ish…ness — were pretty much all little kids. At nine, my daughter has a rainbow of personalities in her circle of friends. Some are shy. Some are not. Some are already mindful and complex individuals, with opinions and ideas and… they, of course, know exactly who I am. Five years ago it would have been a pat-them-on-the-head and smile situation, but at this stage of the game I feel like a dad needs to actually pay attention and learn the names of the whole team. After all, some of these kids are going to be contriving and conspiring behind my back in a few years — I may as well have a bit of a rapport with them.
2. Quit Something Bad & Start Something Good (y’know… as a Role Model)
Ah… the role model thing. Self-improvement is never in itself a terrible idea. A lofty goal. But add one more motivator to the list of that get-fitter, quit-turkey, read-more, spend-less, love-bigger, rage-softer resolution as 40ish hits: your kid. They are actually paying attention. And if you’ve got a clever kid like me, they’re probably tracking you, making notes, and telling everyone they know each time you fail… or, ideally: conquer.
1. Have A Song
I admit that ten years ago I would have thought this was a super-hokey idea. The first time I heard someone suggest it I probably thought, yeah… right. A special father-daughter song. But shortly after the kid was born I started playing her one particular track that I thought was pretty sweet, but not too saccharine that it would get really annoying from over-use. I would play it during bathtime. Then occasionally when we were hanging out. Sometimes we dance in the living room when it comes on. All this time I’d tell her that this was our special song… which I guess it was. I put it on a bunch of mix-CDs that I’d burned for my car. And… well, nine years later, yes… we’ve got this special song. She keeps it on her iPod. She tells me that she listens to it when I’m missed. (Awwwww….) It’s not quite a surrogate father, but it certainly doesn’t hurt my dad-cred when I’m gone for a long run or home late from work.
Claire’s dad. Or, as so everyone under the age of 12 refers to me.
It would have been obvious to nearly any parent: something was bugging her.
“You look so sad.” I nudged her to chat while she sat slumped in her seat and staring vacantly out the truck window. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” She pouted way too quickly, the inflection in her voice so obviously a cover up for the drama wrecking havoc through her little heart that I couldn’t help but pry a little deeper.
“Are you sure?” I prodded. “How was your day?” I had just picked her up from her summer camp, an all-day-care program offered by the same folks that ran her after-school daycare. Participation in this filled her days and meant that she got to spend the summer going to parks and field trips and swimming pools while we worked, all in the company of many of the same kids with whom she spent the rest of the year in more focused curricular activities. Many of the same kids, yes, but some extra staff meant that they took on some new kids as well.
“It was bad.” She said finally. “I had a bad day.” And I could almost hear the tear welling up behind the words.
new friends, old friends, bad friends, and blue friends
And then she proceeded to tell me the tale of her dramatic friendships torn asunder by the complexities only understandable by the minds of children: new friends, old friends, bad friends, and blue friends. It seemed that in an effort to be friends there was a disconnect between method and result. Tears did indeed follow, and by the time we arrived home, parked in the garage, and clambered into the house she had found her room, slammed her door, and accused me of both (a) failing to listen and (b) having so many friends that I couldn’t possibly understand.
I let her pout for a few minutes alone, and while I pondered I also thumbed through the remote on the television. An idea had struck me and in my temporary genius I searched YouTube for the term “how to make friends for kids” and scrolled through the results, landing on a curious selection that seemed to be either (a) a spot on parody of a 1950s film reel or (b) actually a 1950s film reel.
“Come watch this.” I called to her room, wagering on its quality before I could preview it.
“and Ginger wonders what it’s all about!”
As much as we try to be modern and sometimes frown down on the advice of the past in fear that can be irrelevant or crosses lines of attitude and opinion that are no longer socially acceptable, I think there is often still value to be found in the cracks of where antiquity and serendipity collide. The video we happened to watch pointed out some basic yet classic rules of “being a friend” –smiling, saying nice things, and just talking to people (to be specific)– all in that saccharine feel-good, suburban glow of a black-and-white-toned 1950s reel-to-reel film, rescued and posted online. We looked past that, and as fundamental and obvious as the rules it offered may seem, as parent to a kid in the modern world its easy to forget that old fashioned advice is not necessarily so bad or so plain… especially for a seven year old. A few days later I found her “making friends” checklist stuffed under her pillow.
Making friends doesn’t go out of style, it seems, and our great-grandparents generation may have still have a few things to teach us, even if it means hunting through the Internet to find it. Parents still need to find that balance between modern norms and antique insights, but whether it is the advice itself, or just the notion that some good ideas never go out of style, digging up gems from the past can occasionally pay off.
This is a post from the seventh edition of my (mostly irregular) Week of Lists where I bring you seven list-type posts, one per day starting on Saturday, October 25th and ending on Halloween, leaping from the darkest corners of your internetz and scaring you into mild confusion. Stay tuned!
The more dad experience I gather as I roll through this little job, the more I realize one thing: “Amazing” is relative. To your kid it’s pretty likely that just showing up and playing along is amazing. So needless to say, it’s not that it’s easy to be an amazing dad but to help you out with that, here are…
4 Amazing Things Dads Can Do On Halloween
But… no paint required. I had a long conversation on the way home from school this afternoon with the girl who has –apparently– been putting a lot of thought into how and when we’ll be decorating the front of the house. A couple years ago we stuffed some of my old clothes with newspapers, propped the headless dummy up in a lawn chair, and rested a jack-o-lantern on his lap. It has stuck with her and set the bar for the “amazing” minimum for our annual halloween decorating efforts.
2. Teach Some Knife Skills
We have a couple pumpkins to carve in the near future. And while my one-on-one knife-skills class will likely stay mostly confined to a live audio-visual demonstration lesson and not so much hands-on practical work-type class, getting my carve on to show the girl that “amazing” dads can art-up a jack-o-lantern quality gourd with the best of them. As of yesterday my pumpkin skills have gone (modestly?) viral, the Minecraft pumpkin carving I’ve done in years past hitting the 10,000 views mark. But to be an amazing dad, the only one of those views that really counted came from the seven-year-old who lives in my house.
3. Get into Character
Amazing dads dress up in costume. Period. Do I really need to justify this?
4. Team Up With Other Parents
And it almost goes without saying –what with the door-to-door, neighbourly-type exploration of the local streets whilst gathering candy thing– that I’ve learned over the years to accept Halloween as an inherently social event. Amazing dads make sure that it’s social. Amazing dads wrangle up some friends and neighbours to roam the streets with. (Plus it never hurts to have some grown-up company along for the adventure.)
Being a good dad, and a role model for my daughter.