I am listening to my Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors playlist on repeat as I will the toaster to toast the bread faster so our son will cease making that noise. You know the one. It cannot be described. But my ears are not bleeding yet, so there is hope. There’s steam pouring out of a boiling pot of shell noodles on the stove top for the girl who eats only pasta, and I am making those potatoes you like. In between rationing out tiny buttered squares of toast (finally!) I am thinking about what else I can do between this moment and the one where you will walk in the back door to make you look at me that way you do, the look that tells me you have adequately received the message I am sending your way, which is that I have been waiting all day to hear your hand on that doorknob.
Holcomb is singing “American Beauty.” It will forever be to me “that song from the Dick’s Sporting Goods daddy/daughter basketball hoop commercial” that played on TV approximately 8 billion times last winter. Our daughter is oblivious to it and all other things taking place in our house right now, because even though her step team has been disbanded due to lack of personnel, she still continues to practice that same series of moves over and over and over. I think I could perform that segment of The Step Routine That Will Never Be at this point. I tune out the stomp-stomp-stomp-STOMP sequence happening right now, the one with the little bent elbow-cocked head side-to-side shimmy (I’m sure you are familiar), and think instead about the conversation the two of you had on the way home from soccer practice recently. I wasn’t really privy to the all details, but when you told me what I needed to know, about practice and her emotional ride home and your chat and her decision to let it go and move on, I noted a look on your face I see more and more often these days. It’s a look of pride and confidence and something like heartbreak with a little fear mixed in. It’s the look of a dad, a guy who loves his little girl a devastating amount, who is aware that he has said just the right thing in this moment, who knows he’s doing a lot of things right by her, but who still worries about getting this parenting thing right.
You tell me all the time what a great mom I am. I don’t tell you nearly enough what a great dad you are. You used to say you were learning how to parent from me because I had some years of experience on you, but I don’t hear that from you much anymore, and I am glad. I worry about getting this parenting thing right, too. I am mostly flying by the seat of my pants and using instinct as my GPS, but sometimes the signal dies and I have no idea what to do. In those moments you always seem to have perfect direction. I think this is how parenting is supposed to be. Sometimes we work together directly, and sometimes one of us takes over, and sometimes we mess up and scratch our heads and spend a lot of time huddled together trying to figure out what just happened. We mostly know when to use a zone defense and when we need man-to-man, but like any good team, there are days when the opposition defeats us. It’s bound to happen: one of them is really cute and hard to manage, and the other one is probably smarter than us both, and we cannot maintain a perfect record under those circumstances.
We do okay, though. Better than okay. We are doing so many things right. I’m not suggesting we are perfect–far from it–and I’m certainly not under the impression that we don’t have a lot of learning to do, but I was so ready for you, I waited so long to find you, and I am not prepared to let the hard times and challenging moments chip away at this thing we have. We both have our lists of issues we’ve decided to either accept, ignore, or go to war over (well, I do. I am sure you have no idea what I am talking about, because I am a true joy and so easy to live with all the time….), and we are so driven to help each other do life, and we are willing to say the easy things and the hard things every day. I know I make it sound simple, but we both know it’s not. It is so hard sometimes. How easy it would be to look around at the chaos that is often our house, our life, at the unfolded laundry and the animal hair dust bunnies clinging to our childrens’ socks, at the little squares of toast soaring across the kitchen like manna for the dog, at dinner still not ready when we are both tired and hungry, at the unsigned 3rd grade reading logs and planners, at the ever growing pile of papers and bills and magazines that may soon eclipse our kitchen counter, and say, “You know what, screw this mess. I am going upstairs to play mindless video games.” But we don’t. We meet in the middle of all the crazy. We laugh together and play together and figure out how to make it all work. And it mostly does. It works better than I ever imagined life could work.
I am about 10 minutes from finishing dinner when I hear your car pull into the driveway. From our very first months together, this has made my heart do a funny little skip. Knowing that you’re here, you’re getting out of the car, you’re coming down the walk, you’re opening the door. And then you are there before me. I still get butterflies when you enter a room. I am still so excited to see you every time I see you–no matter if it was just 10 minutes ago, or 10 hours. I don’t care what people say about the seven year itches and the 10th anniversary slumps. There were so many years of no you, no us. I pity the you and the me who lived through the time before this time. I will not squander this time. I promise you, every day of every year for the rest of our lives, my heart will leap up in my chest when I turn and see you walk into a room.
Drew Holcomb is singing “What Would I Do Without You” now. This is secretly my song for us. Secretly because of course our actual song is another Holcomb tune, and secretly because it says so many of the things I carry in my heart every day, these huge, amazing things that are sometimes just too big and important for my words to construct, but here is this song saying all my feelings, and I can play it and sing along and hope you hear me in those lines. And I do. I make sure it is still playing when the door opens, when your step hits the cat-littered laundry room floor, when you walk head on into kids squealing and animals scurrying, when you step into my arms. You hold me, and I hold you back, and I know you are listening, and I know what you’re saying back. I am so glad to be here, in this kitchen, in this house, in this family. I am so glad to be here with you.