School opened this week, and for many accidental adults like me, it was a bittersweet reminder of just how out of touch with children we’ve become.
“I’ll get you up an hour before the bus arrives,” I told my nervous 11-year-old daughter the night before the first day. Her incredulous response? “Dad! I’ve got like, a zillion things to do in the morning! You just don’t get it!”
In her defense, it appeared she did have about a zillion things to do, as evidenced by the morning beauty rituals she scribbled on the Post-It note she stuck to the bathroom mirror, which read:
- Apply glow moisturizer
- Tame eyebrows
So my daughter was right. I just don’t get it. Because to my way of thinking, isn’t 60 minutes ample time to prepare for school? Just what is she “concealing” on her face anyway? And what pre-teenage girl really needs to tame her eyebrows unless she’s Brooke Shields’ daughter?
These and countless other questions lead me to conclude that when it comes to children – my own offspring included – I feel like I haven’t really “gotten it” for quite some time.
There was a time when I knew all the developmental stages of children and could usually guess the age of a stranger’s baby within about three months. Not anymore. Now that my youngest child is inexplicably six years old, I’m a bit out of practice, but not smart enough to stop guessing. This summer on a crowded flight into Chicago, Kelly and I met a cute, well dressed and great smelling twentysomething mother whose daughter shared the same name as our youngest – Maeve. Desperate to keep the conversation going with her, I took a look at the daughter she had hanging from a Baby Bjorn carrier around her shoulders and said, “She’s what . . . about three years old?” Horrified, the mother replied, “Um, she’s 18 months old.” And with that, the babe and her baby abruptly turned a cold shoulder on me because of my spectacularly bad speculation. Should’ve kept my mouth shut.
There also was a time when I could remember the names of all my children’s little playdate friends. Yet as years have passed, and my memory has become foggier, more than once I’ve misdirected a “Happy Birthday” wish to the wrong little girl (usually in front of a stunned crowd of mothers) as I delivered my daughters to a birthday party. Again, should’ve kept my mouth shut.
Certainly, a little more self-imposed silence will keep me from looking as clueless as I often feel around kids. But I’ve been a parent for more than a decade now. I know I can do better.
As I watched Jurassic Park with my grade schoolers before bedtime this week (nice soothing film selection, I know), my mind drifted to a new school year’s resolution. I may be just another frazzled father, but I resolved to sharpen my understanding of kids by doing a better job of thinking like a kid. (That really shouldn’t be too hard for the guy whose list of personal heroes includes Tommy Lee and Chris Farley.) If I can successfully think like a kid, I figure I can ultimately improve my ability to predict their age-appropriate behavior, relate to their warped perspectives and when necessary, thwart their illogical and ill-conceived maneuvers. I smell a “Father of the Year” award coming!
Some will say there’s no way the average dad can ever completely “get it” when it comes to understanding his children. Nevertheless, I’ve made a mental list of all the ways I can relate better to my children this school year. I think it will be worth the effort, but clearly it’s going to take some time. I need to pace myself.
I’ve got like a zillion things to do.