Sometimes when I’m awake and my wife and 15-month old son are asleep, I’ll get out of bed and go sit at my computer desk, and almost decide to not bring the baby monitor with me. I always do - it makes more sense for me to have it than my wife, since, after all, I’m awake and she is not - but sometimes I have a moment of selfishness and think, “Maybe he won’t wake up this time and I can get away with an hour of not worrying about it.” And sometimes I just don’t want to be the only one awake all the time.
Tonight I have the monitor, like I always do, but this time it’s more out of guilt than logic or duty. Today I feel like I failed my son, even if just a little, and the least I can do to make up for it is to be there if he needs me.
He had an Easter egg hunt at daycare today, and I left work an hour early to be there for it. By almost random chance I asked his teacher yesterday, “Do parents usually go to this?” Luckily I did, because she said yes, and there was no possibility for my wife to go, so I went.
I arrived, and like I always do when I pick him up, I try to catch a glimpse of what he’s doing when he doesn’t know I’m there. Whenever he sees me or hears my voice, he usually stops whatever he’s doing, yells, and runs over to me. But I like to know what occupies his world when we’re not around, so I try to be stealthy, even if only for a moment.
Today, he was lined up along the wall with his fellow 12-18 month olds (daycares seem to like to do this with kids), all wearing their paper rabbit-ear hats and holding their egg baskets. It’s strange to see him seemingly following directions; that child does not exist in our house.
It was only a few seconds before he saw me, dropped his Easter basket, and charged over to me. But unlike most days when he just wants to be held and then go home, today he was supposed to be getting ready for the egg hunt. Instead, he wanted to show me things. He walked over to the wall where pictures of him and his classmates are hanging. He pointed to the picture of a little boy (“Oh, is that Franklin?” I said), then a little girl (“That’s Mackenzie!”), [these names are fake, btw] and then finally himself, (“Is that you?”).
Then he walked over to one of those tables that looks like a wooden kitchen, with shelves for the plastic pots, pans, and cups. Out came a skillet, then another, then a cup. Each held to me, like, “Hey, check this out!” But at this point I was keenly aware that everyone else had their kids in their coats and was moving outside for the egg hunt. So I just said, “Okay, let’s put these away.” He kept trying to show me more kitchen supplies, as I continued to encourage him to put them away.
It wasn’t until hours later and he was already asleep, that it hit me: this way his way of introducing me to his world. That world I always try to spy for a moment before he sees me, he was willing to share freely. But today I didn’t think we had time for it.
Ever since I became a father, I’ve had “Cats in the Cradle” playing in my mind. I was around 12 when I first heard that song, but over 20 years later, it’s come rushing back, always an ever-present warning. Today I ignored it, and I wish I hadn’t.
As parents, we bear an enormous responsibility. We are the shepherds of our kids’ discovery of the world. We arrange the pieces to make sure that happens in a safe and positive way. But it’s important to remember that our kids are also our biggest fans, and they want us to be actively involved in their worlds. Sometimes it’s important to remember that there’s a time to shuffle pieces, and a time to let it go and just play the game.
I think I redeemed myself during the egg hunt. While it was designed so all the kids found three, my son was happy with just the first one we found together. He was also the first kid to figure out that if you kept throwing that plastic egg on the ground, eventually it’d split open (hello, candy!).
Still, I’m stuck dwelling on the pots and pans. It’s probably why I can’t sleep tonight. But at least this time I gladly have the monitor nearby.