The most comforting, safe feeling I can ever remember feeling was in the backseat of my parents car. Anytime we would go on vacation, we would drive all night to get to our destination and by the time we arrived, it would always be very late.
As we traveled, I would drift in and out of sleep, but I would always stir at the sound of our turn signal clicking and the feel of the car slowing, then going around the exit ramp. I would continue to drift in and out of sleep until I ended up in a bed.
That moment of hearing our blinker and existing somewhere between awake and not so much was the safest, most comfortable feeling I can remember. All I had to do was just be there and I knew I would end up where I was supposed to be. Getting there was someone else’s job and there’s such a comfort in that as a kid.
Now, I’m 31. I’ve got a wonderful wife and three wonderful kids. It’s all front seats for me now. I’m the pusher of turn signals and the transporter of sleeping locales.
When I brush my teeth at night and take out my contact lenses and do a cursory glance for new wrinkles emerging and old ones gaining in prominence, I think about how it’s a good thing that my kids have no idea where my mental frame of mind is.
Would they be as trusting as I was with my parents if they knew about how much I overreacted about the sandwich shop leaving the sriricha mayo off my sandwich yesterday? Or how I spent a good portion of the morning looking for the keys that were in my pocket the whole time? Most of the time, I feel like a big dumb kid, just one with more responsibilities. Like Tom Hanks in Big but with no piano skills.
To my kids, I’m like a relatable and scaled down version of Superman spliced with Wikipedia. Don’t all kids think that? I did with my parents. I assumed they knew everything and could do everything. It was just a given and I’m pretty sure my kids feel the same way because the other day, I told them the following story about how we came to have our dog, Ajax.
SON (5 yrs old): Dad, how did Ajax become our dog?
DAUGHTER (2 yrs old): (To me) Go get me some juice.
ME: Well, a long time ago, before you were born, your mom and I found Ajax. He was very unhappy because he was owned by a giant and the giant was very mean to him. So, I asked the giant if I could buy Ajax from him. The giant said no, but he offered to fight me for Ajax and if I won, we could have Ajax. So I did.
SON: How did you fight him?
DAUGHTER: (To me, through gritted teeth) Go. Get. Me. Some. JUICE.
ME: Some punches. Some kicks. The usual. Finally, I hit him with a big rock and did some ninja stuff to defeat him.
SON: Ninja stuff?
ME: Yep. And then, because I’d beaten the giant, we took Ajax home with us.
DAUGHTER: (To me, yelling) GO GET ME SOME JUICE, NOW.
And they bought it. No questions asked. The idea of me fist-fighting a giant for a dog, and winning, they did the mental arithmetic and were like, “Yeah. Ok. Sure. That definitely makes sense.” And I don’t really want to do anything to discourage this worldview of me for now.
My son was talking about spiders the other day and how he doesn’t like them. He said to me, “Do you not like spiders like I don’t like them?” (Most questions with him are super convoluted statements tagged with an interrogative and high-pitched punctuation that lead you into agreeing with him. If he was an attorney, he’d be the most objected-against attorney in the history of attorneying.)
I agreed with him, because spiders really are worse than face AIDS. They seriously are. If I was in a movie like Indiana Jones and I was swinging over a pit of something, if it was a pit of Face Aids, I’d be like “This is not really that big of a deal.” But if it was spiders? I would be like, “This is a super not great moment in my life.”
Anyways, in our conversation about spiders, I thought I’d have a life moment with my son and show him my vulnerability so that he can slowly start to understand how the world really works. How Dads have weaknesses too and how it’s ok to not be the best at something or to need help with things. So I looked at him and whispered, “Wanna know a secret? I’m actually scared of spiders.”
The look he gave me. Seriously. So many things about that look.
He looked at me with big eyes and said, “You’re just joking right?” (again, leading the witness) and immediately I hated myself for getting philosophical with a kid who totally just bought a story about me curb-stomping a giant over a dog.
I scrambled and said, “Just kidding. Spiders don’t even scare me a little.” And he was cool again, but I realized something from that exchange: to my son, I’m a T-1000 Terminator just doing whatever I want, however I want. No dog-owning giant, spider, ant-hill or wasp nest can get me down. Basically, I’m Solange Knowles to him and the world is my elevator.
I don’t know if all parents feel like this, but there’s this pressure to make every moment you spend with your child something profound. But sometimes, I think being present is better than being profound.
Clearly, my son wasn’t ready for me to keep it real. Maybe I should have dug in and made the point more clearly or maybe I need to let him figure out my vulnerabilities on his own. Who knows?
Regardless, I realized that my son looks at me assuming that I’ve got my life in order and this assumption allows him some stability. It allows him to feel safe and comfortable falling asleep in his car seat because he knows that I will get us to where we are going. And once we get there, if he’s asleep, he knows I’ll get him to his bed. And I think that’s all he needs to know about me and the world for now.