“Are you proud of me today?”
My son was sitting on the toilet, pants around his ankles, hands bracing the sides — the classic pooping toddler pose. I was leaning against the sink, thinking about whatever it is parents think about when they are trying not to think about the fact that they have to be present while their kids are pooping. Probably penguins. (It’s usually penguins.) You can’t look straight at the kid, that makes him nervous. You can’t wander out of the room, he gets upset. You just have to be present and sort of stare into the bathtub for a few minutes.
“What’s that, buddy?”
“Daddy, are you proud of me today?”
I’ll confess that I don’t put a whole lot of planning into the words I use around my kids, outside of course of trying to stay away from the Sharknados and Mother Truckers that inadvertently bubble to the surface when they, for example, dump entire boxes of cereal on the floor, or throw freshly laundered running shoes into toilets. I mentally replay the conversations I’ve had with the boy in recent months. Surely I’ve told him I was proud of him a few times, but never made a big deal out of it. Oh, you counted to ten. I’m so proud of you!
But here he is, mid-deuce, asking me if I’m proud of him.
“I’m proud of you every day, sprout.”
“Well, are you proud of me TODAY?”
He has this funny way of asking a question where he sort of smiles but forgets to turn his mouth up at the corners. Just bares his teeth at me. It’s adorable but unsettling. He leans his head to the side a little when he does it, sort of like a Cheshire Cat that fails to vanish.
“Sprout, I’m always proud of you.”
“Yes, of course, I’m proud of you today.”
That seemed to satisfy him. He focused on the task at hand for a moment, a tiny vein popping out in his tiny forehead as he strained.
“I can’t go poop, daddy.”
“That’s okay, sprout. Sometimes you just can’t. We’ll try again later.”
He thinks, I think, that if he doesn’t address me every time he speaks to me, I’ll forget he’s speaking to me. I’d be willing to wager that he says “daddy” over five hundred times a day. Easily 50% or better of his daily lexicon.
“Are you still proud of me?”
“Buddy, I will always be proud of you, all the time. No matter what.”
I held up my hand for a high-five and he gleefully obliged, and we went downstairs. He wanted to complete a puzzle for the fifth time of the evening. Sure, kid. No problem.
If only we could all ask so guilelessly for approval for such small accomplishments.