This past summer, I was walking Olivia to a playdate with one of her friends. She was excited.
“Are you going to stay daddy?” she intoned.
“Of course I am…you want me to right?”
“No” was her response. “I want you to leave. I want to try (other kid’s) parents rules. Your rules are so strict. They are really nice!”
I felt a little crushed. I tried to save face:
“You don’t think daddy is nice?”. She paused for a moment
“Well, daddy is nice in the love department. You give hugs and help me to calm down when I cry. But your rules are so strict!”
She didn’t know, of course, but she’d paid me the biggest compliment of my parenting life. I had confirmation that I was setting some good boundaries for my kid while making her feel secure that I loved her. I beamed the rest of the walk. Oh and I stayed because I wanted to hang out with her friends parents. Olivia mostly ignored me anyway.
I was reminded of that conversation during Thanksgiving. I got accused a few more times of having very strict rules. It comes into sharp focus with Olivia when she is with her grandparents, who do and should let a few more things go.
Beyond that, I got leveled with a new charge. Olivia didn’t want me to help her with her bath. I was boring. She wanted her grandfather (Baba).
“You’re boring, I want Baba”.
“Why do you think I’m boring?” I probed again.
“Well, you’re not that boring. You tell good stories and sometimes you play with me. But you always make me eat breakfast at the same time, and lunch, and dinner. And you always make me go to sleep at bedtime”.
I had found a new compliment in her insult. Boring is the new reliable. I’ll take it.
The Dark Side
If you’ve read this far, you’re perhaps getting tired of this saccharine story of what a perfect dad I am and how wonderfully cute my daughter is.
Just know this. I’m presenting the highlights. These are the moments that I strive for. In between, there are a hundred tantrums, some of which I shamefully solve with a joke or even just giving in. Just two days ago, Kate and I had managed to get the whole family out to an open air shopping mall.
Olivia all of a sudden screamed at us “I DON’T WANNA WALK”. We had one stroller, with our five month old Jacob in it. There was no practical solution. It was the most embarrassed in public I had ever been by my child. I tried feebly to ride out the storm and let her express herself for a moment. I didn’t make any progress. So I picked her up.
Later on, I take that sort of thing in stride. An occasional tantrum doesn’t make your kid “poorly behaved”. It makes them human. Giving occasionally to such tantrums doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you human.
Olivia has also reached the stage I thought was about a decade off where she said she doesn’t want me to talk about her in public because I am too “embarrassing” when I talk about how much I love her. I’ve toned it down a bit but I’ve decided a little embarrassment is worth the security of knowing where your father stands.
So that’s what i shoot for. To be a human parent who is nevertheless considered to be strict, loving (maybe even to the point of embarrassment) and super duper boringly reliable.