I write a lot about how parenting is a pretty raw fargoing deal. That’s because it is. You never work so hard for so little appreciation in your life as when you’re parenting a toddler.
I’ve written about how kids are basically black holes, about how I no longer have the freedom even to move around my own house anymore, about how they made me ruin forever my cool by buying a minivan… it goes on. It was pointed out to me by a loyal reader (*cough*totallynotmywife*cough*) that all this ragging on the parenting life makes it seem like I don’t enjoy it. And while, sure, okay, there are certainly moments when I long for that simple childless existence again — a time when I didn’t have to live in fear of some sharp-ended plastic doohickey left by the toddler sticking up into my tender underfoot, when I could rest my hand on the coffee table and not have it come away sticky, a time when I could close the door and enjoy a nice deuce in peace — on the whole I really love it. Being a parent just has a way of filling me with this sense of accomplishment, happiness, and… I dunno… rightness.
That being said, some moments just have a way of refining all that general goodness to a razor-sharp, crystal-clear, shot-to-the-gut point that I could almost forget the week we spent in February washing baby bedsheets EVERY DAY because he was pooping huge quantities of what looked like, but did not smell like, chicken salad. I could almost forget the screaming fit he has every night when I leave him in bed for the night, his betrayed little toddler eyes welling with tears as I close the door on him and leave him with his nightmares (of course, he passes out two minutes later, but those two minutes really hurt the heart).
I had one of those redeeming moments yesterday. I took Sprout #1 on a run with me on the Silver Comet Trail, a lovely little thoroughfare here in the ‘burbs of Atlanta. Sprout loves to ride in the stroller, especially when I’m running and not just walking him around a store (“daddy go fast”), so I switched up our routine a little and took him on this adventure. He indulged me for four miles on the trail before he got restless (honestly, the forty minutes or so he gave me to run that distance is an eternity in toddler time — another testament to the jogging stroller) and I let him out.
Here’s where I have to stop and think about things rationally for a moment. All parents think their kid is special. He’s so advanced, or he’s so intelligent, or he’s so curious, or whatever, blah blah blah you’re a parent he’s just a kid it’s no big deal. And I get that. So when I have moments where I think my kid is really doing something unique, I rein it in and put it in perspective. Okay, my kid knows his colors pretty well, but it’s not like he’s painting the Sistine Chapel or anything. Yeah, he likes music, and he can sing most of Coldplay’s “Paradise” of all things, but he’s not exactly composing symphonies. He’s a cool little future human, but I try hard not to consider him anything more than that because I feel like it would be putting too much pressure on him to perform, and honestly, who needs that in their life, let alone at two years old? I just want him to be a kid and be awesome while he can, before the world starts to kick his Asgard. But at any rate, I let him out of the stroller.
The trail is pretty well trafficked, even by other parents with their kids, some on bikes, some just walking, whatever. The kids are immediately distracted: they want to go poke in the mud at the side of the trail, or tug on the vines hanging at the shoulder, or scream and whine for their juice or to go back to the car. My kid? I set him on the ground and he just takes off running.
I don’t say anything to him, because in moments where he experiences something new, I kinda just like to sit back and see what he’ll do. Like my kid is this big science experiment. But off he goes, and now I have to start jogging again just to keep up. His legs are what, a little over a foot long maybe, and he’s able to run fast enough that I can’t keep up walking. Amazing. But he just tears off down the trail, his arms flapping beside him like some midget scarecrow, occasionally screaming with glee or slowing for just a moment to catch his breath before shooting off again.
The kid ran for a half mile, I kid you not. Sure, he took the occasional detour to peek at the mud, but he ran an honest-to-goodness half of a freaking mile, and was as full of happiness as I’ve ever seen him. And I’m following him, and watching him, and I’m just struck, like, lightning-bolt-to-the-chest struck, with the enormity of the little monster. I couldn’t tell you everything that was in my head, but here’s a start:
- This kid is awesome, and he’s mine. A little tiny me running out into the world.
- God, he’s fast. If I don’t stay on my game, he’ll probably be outrunning me before he’s even in high school.
- How amazing and refreshing and pure it must be to be a kid, when your only worry is what flavor of juice you’ll have with your lunch.
- If my toddler can run a half mile out (and then back, mind you — which he did) with a smile on my face, who am I to say I can’t do anything?
My wife will shake her head and sigh as she reads this, because I get emotional over the weirdest things. It’s true, I do. I’m a big nerd and a big sap. It’s not like he made me a macaroni card, or sang me a song, or finger-painted a misshapen effigy of me on the hood of the car. You know, something permanent that I could keep with me for posterity. All I got out of it was a fleeting moment and a picture or two. But it’s one of those moments that reminded me that, even though parenting is one of the most thankless jobs I will ever do, sometimes, sometimes, those moments come along that remind me what it’s all about.