Tonight, I was playing in the living room with my girlfriend (Sarah) my oldest son (codename Oot: age 5.5) and my youngest son (codename Cutie Snoo, age 1.5)
It wasn’t anything fancy. Nothing organized. I’d just come back from recording this week’s podcast with Max Temkin, and rather than head upstairs to do more e-mail, as I am wont to do, I decided to stay downstairs and play with the kids.
A large part of this is because my Cutie is at a magical age. 18 months is pretty awesome. After a bit of a hiatus, he’s saying da-da again, and it pulls at my heart.
Those of you without kids might have trouble understanding how enthusiastic an 18 month-old can be. Let me explain.
You know how excited a dog can get when you’ve been away for a couple hours? (Or let’s be honest, when you’ve just left the room for a couple minutes). At 18 months, my little boy has that level of enthusiasm. He runs up to me, his face all lit up, grinning, his legs doing that straight up-and-down stomping walk that’s the closest he can get to a run.
And all the time he’s saying “da-da-da-da-da-da!”
So yeah. It’s pretty fucking amazing. I’m not going to lie.
Anyway, I’m hanging out with my family, and Oot walks up to Sarah and says, “I’m so… thirsty! Can you please… get me… a drink of water?”
His performance makes it clear that he is about to die from thirst. People in the desert don’t have it this bad. He’s really going full Shatner in his performance.
Sarah starts to get up to get him a drink of water. She does this because she loves him.
“You know where the water is,” I say to Oot. “You can get yourself a drink. You’re a very grown-up child.”
I say this because I love him too. Sarah and exhibit our love in different ways. She wants him to be happy now. I want him to be happy in the future, and part of that is making sure he’s self-reliant.
Plus he’s five. If we were living in the wild, he’d be hunting and cooking birds on his own. So yeah. He can get his own drink of water.
But here’s the thing, it’s a little late at night. The kitchen is on the other side of the house. It’s a whole, like, 50 feet away. And it’s late in the evening, so that part of the house is kinda dim.
And he’s five, so he’s a little scared of being alone, and of the dark.
“Will you come with me?” he asks.
This is a familiar dance. We want him to do things for himself. He wants company. We want him to be brave. He wants to feel safe.
Nobody’s wrong here. We all want good things. But they’re in conflict.
“You can do it,” I say. “I know you can.” (Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not some muy mas macho monster. If it was fully dark in there, I’d work with him. But it’s not. He can handle it. He has before. It’s good practice for him.
“I’ll tell you a story,” Sarah says.
This is a compromise we use sometimes. If he hears our voices, he knows he’s not alone. So one of us will tell him a story, and it will help him go somewhere in the house when he’s a little spooked.
“I’ll tell you a story,” I say.
“I want mom to do it,” he says, moving toward the baby gate that leads into the dining room.
He’s on to me.
“Once there was a little boy who really liked candy,” Sarah says. “So he decided to go exploring.”
I’m going to be honest here, Sarah’s narrative structure isn’t the best. Her themes can be kinda muddy sometimes, and, truthfully, her stories are often really lacking in terms of the Aristotelian unities. But even so, I know she’s up for this. Two minutes of story will get Oot into the kitchen and back. I watch as he opens the gate then turns on the light to the dining room. Out of our line of sight. Out of his line of sight. He’s gone.
“So one day he walked out into the the backyard and he found–”
“A Thousand Angry Ghosts!” I say. I don’t yell it. But I say it in a really loud voice. My phantom of the opera voice. I project from my diaphragm.
And from the other room, comes a high, piercing scream. It lasts for a full two seconds.
Then Oot comes running back into the living room.
You’re going to have to trust me on this, it was *super* funny. Sarah will back me up on this.
You see, most days, I’m a good dad.
Other days, I’m an AWESOME dad.
Stay tuned, everyone. Soon we’ll have bedtime stories.