The best part of the day for me is picking up my 3-year-old son from daycare. It’s something I’ve waited for since I got to work.
Sentimental as it may seem, I carry him on my shoulder each morning down the long hallway to his classroom toward the back of this one-story building. With every step, he clings tighter to me. I feel his curly hair on the side of his neck. I listen to him breath as I walk.
He knows what’s coming. We are a pitiful collection of seconds away from me opening the door to his room, squatting down and placing his feet on the ground.
He always looks up at me like everything just came crashing down.
“Okay, Kalob,” I’ll usually say. “You need to hang up your backpack and go see your friends.”
Thirty percent of the time, this is effective; he’ll do as he’s told without hesitation. Twenty percent of the time he just has a meltdown on the floor – kicking and screaming until the teacher comes over to hold him while I quickly walk out more frustrated by his stubbornness than anything. Fifty percent of the time, though, he will look up at me, curl his bottom lip and his eyes will start to fill with tears. Then he’ll struggle to say “okay, Daddy” and take his bag where it needs to be.
The routine that happens fifty percent of the time is the worst. I know in that moment he’s learning to force himself to let go of someone he loves.
As hard as it is on him, it can’t be nearly as bad as it is on me. I walk out of the room and down the hall, looking straight ahead without acknowledging other daycare personnel and children in and around the rooms we walked past 60 seconds earlier. It feels like I’m doing something wrong.
I HEAR ALL OF these theories on parenting from caregivers, parents and friends with children his age. I was once told “if you spoil a child, you spoil the world” in reference to my struggle to give my children (this also happened when I was going through the same thing with my now-12-year-old daughter) the recommended proportion of boundaries, discipline and love.
They’re all true. I did most of these things for my daughter and, although it was a tall task back then, she seems to be turning out wonderful.
But I wonder – almost daily – when I get in the car and resume my commute to work what it would be like to do nothing except shower your child with love. My son, for instance, can be extremely affectionate. There are times I believe he would sit in my recliner for hours with me, just rubbing the back of my hand as he looks at it, resting his head on my side and saying “I love you” without being asked.
The world does not work this way. The world is not a larger version of our fathers’ shoulders on which to rest our heads. There will be struggles, there will be rejections, there will be people who do not love us. We don’t always get our way, so teaching children early on to have discipline, understanding and patience is important.
THIS IS WHY I live for the minute I am free from my work to pick up my son from daycare. I don’t have to be strong when he sees me open his classroom door and comes running up to me. I can hug him. I can hold him. I can pick him up and let him rest his chin on my shoulder as his warm hair that kind of smells like spit touches my cheek. I can carry him all the way down that long hall, out to the car, put him in his seat, give him a kiss and say, “I love you – how was your day?”
Nothing can stop me from doing this.
“Let me go get my son,” I will tell people at my work who’ve stopped in my office for last-second things that will “only take a minute.”
My time with work is through. Each additional minute I spend with work is 60 seconds I’ll never get back with my son, who will never be 3 years and however-many-days-it’s-been-since-his-birthday-old again.
I do not live for minutes at my job. I live for moments with my children.