I don’t enjoy being kicked in the head, and I’ve never met anyone who does. Even really, really tough guys who fight a lot probably don’t enjoy that part of the job.
I’ve managed to steer clear of any serious fisticuffs thus far in my life, but I do frequently wake to being repeatedly kicked in the head. It’s my son and daughter who do the kicking.
Ezra is 3 and Mia is 5, and they’ve both slept in their own beds for a long time. But they’re clever and stealthy, so occasionally they’ll go on streaks of waking up in the wee hours and climbing into bed with me and Mom. And while I never hear them climb in, I do feel it when they sprawl out in their slumber and start kicking me in the head.
I have already mentioned that this is not enjoyable. It’s uncomfortable and robs me of sleep that, as I get older, I find myself really needing to stock up on in order to make it through the next day.
The fireman and the house-helper
But here’s the confounding difficulty of parenting; I’m supposed to enjoy those particular head-kicking instances. If you have no children it’ll be hard to grasp this, but if you do, you’ll understand.
My daughter Mia is 5, and my son Ezra is 3. They still think my wife and I are pretty much the most awesome people in the world. They actualy wake up in the middle of the night and think, “Hey! This is an opportunity to be closer to Mom and Dad! Hell, I could actually be pinned right between them for the next several hours if I play my cards right!”
Of course, this won’t last forever. It’s a virtual certainty that my daughter will begin to at least occasionally hate my guts in a handful of years. Who knows exactly why (as if they need a good reason) — it could be (pick one) because I won’t let her wear skirts that aren’t at least within shouting distance of her knees, because she has to check in with me every 2 hours, or whatever. My son will be in a similar boat; I’ll be a savagely uncool dork of a father who, if at all possible, should be avoided completely in the company of friends.
I can deal with all that, and I think that I’m probably as cognizant as the next parent about the fact that, as Billy Joel might say, these are the times to remember because they will not last forever.
What I never understood until recently is how the belief, recognition and acceptance of the need to cherish your moments with them while they’re young doesn’t make it any easier to watch their youth slip away. I thought it would, but it really doesn’t.
Ezra was born four weeks early and spent a couple days in an incubator. We just explained this to him a couple days ago. I called the incubator a “tube.” Last night in bed, he got curious. Concerned, almost.
“Why was I in the tube?” he asked.
Because the doctors just needed to be sure you were ok.
He pauses. “Did you stay with me when I was in the tube?”
Yes, I tell him. Mom and I were there the whole time.
He pauses again. “Was I OK?” he asks. Yes, you were just fine.
“Were the other tube babies OK?” he asked. I lied and said yes, they were all fine.
“Was there a smoke detector in the tube room?” he asks, and for the next five minutes, we hold court on smoke detectors and industrial sprinkler systems.
I’m already gonna miss these late-night talks. I squeeze him hard and tell him there will be no fires, and that it’s time for sleep.
Mia likes talking about college these days. “Let’s talk about college!” she often says at the dinner table, and we talk. She asks what she can study, and I say just about anything. “Can I study colors?” I say yes, you can. I also drop subtle hints about how nice it would be if she goes to college close by (hey, I’m human). I tell her she’ll do great in college, but I’ll be a little sad when she goes.
She doesn’t understand. “Why can’t I just live here?” she asks. I say she can if she wants to, but there aren’t many colleges close by, and I also tell her lots of kids like to move away from their parents when it’s time for college.
Her smile goes south almost instantly and her eyes get wet. She pops out of her seat and into my arms. I ask what’s wrong, and she just says, “That just made me a little sad, too.”
She asks what jobs you have to go to college for. I tell her to bounce some ideas off me. She mentions a veterinarian, a doctor, and a police officer. College, college, and college, I say.
She thinks long. “How about a house helper?” she asks. “Like a house cleaner?” I say. “Yeah,” she says.
No, I say. No college needed for that.
She pauses. “I think I wanna be a house helper when I grow up.” I say that’s fine with me and squeeze her tight.
I feel myself trying to squeeze the sadness out of her, and maybe even more so, to squeeze a memory into my head that can’t be erased by the passage of time.
My mom always said it gets easier as they get older; that the sadness at the loss of youth and innocence is tempered by the pride in the mature tweens, teens, and young adults they become.
I’m not there yet. Until then, my best answer is squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, every change I get.