I’ve been going through quite a lot of shit lately. I won’t bore you with the details because we’ve all got details and they’re equally uninteresting to others yet end-of-the-world urgent and/or life-altering to us. And for any of us who are parents, our children are often the primary recipients of said shit run-off. And for any of us who are parents, our children have gained valuable insight (regardless of their age) as to how and where and when to push all our buttons. However I’ve read official research that age 4-1/2 is the worst. True fact.
Under normal circumstances, our skillful, willful offspring can bring us to the edge of insanity. Add to that an extra layer mountain of work/family/marriage/health/money/life-related crap, and it’s a short trip from tranquility to rage. I’ve only touched on my struggle with anger here a bit. It’s something I prefer to keep private because a) it’s painful, b) it’s frightening and c) it’s embarrassing. I’ve experienced a few moments of pure, unfiltered rage in my life, but for the most part have lived an existence of serene, repressed WASPyness. I’m sure being closeted for the first 26 years of my life didn’t help either.
Having a child has been similar to coming out, in that it opened up an entirely new level of emotion and experience that had lain dormant until that point. Upon declaring my sexuality nearly 20 years ago, I reflected that prior to that, my emotions always toed the line — a straight line, so to speak. Once I started dating and having sex and loving and breaking up and having my heart broken, it was the joyous and jarring roller coaster most people had embarked upon much earlier in life. So while I regretted those lost years and it certainly had its painful moments, I knew I was more alive than I ever had been — getting to live and be the way I was born to be.
My mantra upon becoming a dad has been “I’ve never felt so young, and I’ve never felt so old.” Different feelings and emotions than my coming out, yet similar levels of new extremes.
And recently it’s been a lot of downhill with me and my son. And not the “Wheee! This is thrilling!” kind of way. More of the “Oh my god, we’re out of control and I’m not sure the brakes are working!” variety. Scary stuff.
Truth be told, most of my stress right now is self-imposed. Taking on more of the world than I have the strength to, and losing my ability to support not only myself, but also the little boy in my care. The boy who himself is going through a cyclone of emotions, trying out new adventures, pushing limits, running back on occasion for comfort and encouragement. However, if I’m engrossed in my own crap, he feels shut out and out comes his button-pushing finger to demand my attention.
When I’m in this state, there’s not a lot I’m inspired to write about. There are no cute anecdotes or adorable Daddy/JJ selfies to share. No lessons learned or wisdom to impart.
The one thing that always brings me back is story time.
The moments prior to bedtime have become increasingly hectic, with JJ trying to expel every ounce of energy in his reserves while Papa or I try to cajole him into the bathtub, wrestle him into his PJs, get his teeth brushed, harass him into picking up his battlefield of toys. Yet once the teeth and the living room and the boy are clean, the books are chosen, and my son and I pick our favorite combination of stuffed animals to form our respective pillows, I find my redemption. As we lay back, side by side, staring up at the softly swaying mobile and the polka dot bubbles I painted so long ago, we are both still enough to be. His energy finally subsiding, my frustration finally easing. No multi-tasking — no phone-checking or dinner-making or laundry-folding while he’s playing or eating or bathing. Just me and him, on a down comforter surrounded by a nest of creatures.
I’ve found myself taking this precious moment to look at him and he looks back at me. I explain my reason for whatever thing I did that he didn’t like earlier in the evening. I apologize for anything I did or said that I regret. I assure him that I love him and we cuddle up and delve into a world of bears and pigs, superheroes and dinosaurs, daddies and papas and moons and drowsy children. I pull out my litany of silly voices, on occasion reading an entire story in cornball-dad operatic style.
Sometimes for the first time that day, I’m completely focused on him and the task at hand. Perhaps his stillness while I read is because of that, and not just because he’s sleepy.
And as we finish, he never complains, rarely asks for more than the allotted two books, and crawls under the covers. Often there are still the requests for water or to adjust the covers or to crack the door a little wider, but I try as hard as I can to hold onto the detente we reached as we journeyed through a story or two. I lean in for the loveliest of goodnight kisses and whisper in his ear that he’s my favorite boy in the whole wide world. And I’m reminding myself at the same time, thankful for story time and the peace and reconnection it brings. Thankful that it comes every night, washing away the noise and heat of the day. Calming my soul.