The best moment of my day
They're not all winners. But it doesn't matter.
It’s easy to remember the days of unqualified victories as a parent.
It’s mostly easy because those days are so rare.
Those are the days where—miraculously—everything goes as planned. Those days, the children are willing to listen and trust your good intentions. They eat the food you make and actually enjoy it. They play with their toys in a constructive manner and pick them up when they’re done. They get along with one another and even seem to love one another. They are patient and thoughtful and appreciative of your efforts, and no one screams or cries or throws a fit or demands screen time or candy or something you’re not willing to provide.
I believe I’ve had four of those days in my lifetime. (Three were on vacation.)
That’s not to say that parenting is all bad; far from it.
I enjoy being a parent in a way I never could’ve comprehended when we first set out to building our family. It gives me joy and it gives me purpose and it gives me hope for the future in a world where that can often be hard to find.
Most days, though, it also gives me a headache.
For every picture-perfect postcard of a day like the ones described above, there’s a dozen more that feel like outright routs, the kind of days where you wish a mercy rule were in play.
There are the days where a simple, uncomplicated dinner of chicken, vegetables, and rice turns into a tooth-and-nail negotiation every bit as acrimonious as Major League Baseball working out a collective bargaining agreement. Tears are shed and aspersions are cast and threats are made to withhold a weeks’ worth of desserts or screens or after-school activities if a child can’t just eat two more bites of the food in front of them, food we worked hard to put on the table despite being exhausted after a long day of work, and food that’s not nearly as gross as they’re claiming it to be.
There are the days where a seemingly happy moment can turn in a flash, like a cheery five-year-old running up to you for a hug, but bouncing up at just the wrong moment and sending their surprisingly-dense skull crown-first into your lips and teeth, leading to you assuring them that you’re not mad and you’re sorry and you didn’t mean to swear that loud and it’s okay, they’re not in trouble, and doing all of that as the taste of blood fills your mouth.
There are the days where the first official thing that happens in your day is coming face-to-face with a deeply-betrayed child holding a pillow in one hand and a sandwich baggie with a tooth still in it in the other asking you why the Tooth Fairy didn’t come last night and you have to quickly improv a story about how the Tooth Fairy can’t fly in thunderstorms and there were thunderstorms last night and no you didn’t hear them but they were there but don’t worry they weren’t the scary kind just the kind that makes it hard for fairy wings to work and I bet she’s real sorry she couldn’t make it and you hope they’re buying all this because childhood is a house of cards and if they realize you’re the Tooth Fairy then the Easter Bunny and Santa and all sorts of other things are in peril and you quickly set an alarm on your watch for 10pm that night so you don’t forget a second night in a row.
(These examples are all hypotheticals.)
(But, hypothetically, let’s say they all happened to me yesterday.)
Most days are somewhere in the between.
There are moments of negotiation and admonition and instruction and repetition, but those are balanced out by moments of cooperation and capitulation and appreciation and occasionally even celebration.
No matter which kind of day it’s been, though, the best part of my day is always the same.
The best moment of my day—of each day since I first became a parent—happens roughly three hours after they’ve gone to bed. (Depending on the day, this might be only one or two hours after they’ve gone to sleep, but our firmly-held if never-quite-stated rule is that as long as they’re quiet and in their rooms, it’s none of our damn business what happens after 8pm, we’re off the clock. I digress.) This is the moment where, after a couple hours collapsed on the couch either working or writing or reading or simply watching TV in an exhausted daze, we pick ourselves up and shuffle off to bed, and on our way peek in to make sure they’re doing okay.
My daughter snuggles comfortably like a cat in a patch of sun; my son sprawls like he’s been airdropped from a passing helicopter into his bed. In their own ways, they both sleep soundly. We pull a blanket over her, and she smiles reflexively and snuggles even tighter. We adjust him back into an orthopedically-advisable position, and his eyes flash open for a moment. Though never fully waking, he’ll often mumble “I love you” through the slumber.
We close their doors, and then ours, and everything is calm. Everything is still. Everything is peaceful, if only for a few hours before it all explodes again.
We have racked up some losses today, and we have gotten a few wins. I have done the right thing in some moments, and I have done the wrong thing in others. I have been flashes of the parent that I know I should be, and I have abdicated that duty at times. I have been fun and stern and patient and cranky and attentive and distracted and responsible and permissive and I’ve done my best but I’m never sure that I actually have.
It doesn’t matter.
Wherever the day took us, in the end we were able to deliver them back to this point, and seeing them sleep, I know that all of it—the good, the bad, and everything in between—was worth it.
At least until tomorrow morning.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)