We all know your kid is awesome. He poops rainbows and ponies and does charity work for orphans in Africa.
My kid is awesome too. And when I say that, I mean, of course, that I am awesome. Because that’s what those bumper stickers really mean. I dread the day my daughter comes home with one of those little suckers from school and I have to tell her that there’s no way it’s going on my car. Sorry kid, I’m doing my bragging face to face. I want to see the look in their eye when I tell them you can speak Hindi and Mayan and that you just cured chicken pox. I want them to cower in the presence of the Best Father Ever.
That’s what I’m secretly saying every time I brag. I am the Best Father Ever. I want to own seven different "World’s Best Dad" mugs.
Because I’m insecure. I worry that I am not, in fact, the Best Father Ever. I worry instead that even though Erin can sign back to me pretty consistently now, and she is more comfortable in the water than most amphibians, that those things are badges of suburban parenthood rather than evidence of competent parenthood.
I love signing with her, and seeing her sign back, and playing the "Where’s X?" game in ASL. I love that while I was gone she was asking her mom for Dada, using the sign to drive her point home: she missed me and she could tell her mom that.
I love swimming with her, and knowing that if she ever fell in the water on her own that she would be comfortable enough to hold her breath and try to break the surface; that if she could get to the wall she could hold herself up indefinitely.
But these things aren’t parenting, any more than being at home while your kid is at school is parenting. Sure, they are accomplishments, and I had something to do with them, taking her to swimming lessons, or changing the channel to Signing Time. But did I really parent?
I think of parenting as teaching them how to be people, not how to do stuff. And if I’m ever confused about the difference I just need to look back at this morning, or just about any morning really.
"Erin. What are you doing?"
As I looked over at her approaching a trash bag I need to take down to the dumpster I quickly barked: "Erin. No." And I flashed the "no" sign.
She looked up at me, pointed at the trash bag, and then said "ha-anh?" And then she grabbed it.
"Erin. No!" Another flash of the sign, and she quickly drew her hand back.
"Ha-anh?" More pointing, and more reaching.
And then, taunting me, she proceeded to stare me straight in the eye while grabbing and releasing the bag four more times.
"I know what you’re saying. I just don’t care."
As a parent, I’ve taught her how to be defiant and curious. I don’t need any badges for that.
I do need to take out the trash.