I was at my parents’ house with my two children a few weeks ago when a need arose for me to go to the store while my 3-year-old son was taking a nap. For no reason in particular, I told my daughter to come with me.
Because we never get to go anywhere, just the two of us.
I have an unwritten rule whenever I go somewhere to always make my first stop a gas station for a Diet Mountain Dew. It is as essential as gas in the truck. As we were pulling in, I asked my daughter if she wanted to come in with me. She said “no” because that is just what she does these days. At 13, I may as well be a mass-murdering mutant with four heads when it comes to her being seen in public with me. I’m used to it.
“Can you get me a drink?” she asked.
“No,” I said, remembering she thinks I’m a mutant with four heads.
Since it is the greatest drink in the world and stores are arranged so you have to walk by everything else to get the Diet Mountain Dew, I passed by the cooler with Starbucks iced coffee drinks. I hesitated, then grabbed one for Kalista – the same flavor she requested the last time we rode in the truck together.
IN RETROSPECT, GETTING one’s child a beverage shouldn’t be that big of a deal. But standing in line at the register, I realized it was to me. We never get to ride together, just the two of us. We always have a toddler and her 8-year-old step-brother … and since I bought my truck brand new four months ago, it has been a firm rule no one is allowed to eat or drink in it except me.
(I do not regret this. Parents who allow toddlers to create mayhem beneath their car seat should clean their car, adopt this policy and rejoice in the freedom that is no bathroom stops, rotten apple juice bottles or Frito Lay factory floors in front of the seat.)
Reality is, though, there’s nothing wrong with my 13-year-old daughter having a drink in the truck. That rule is for the younger turds – and that last thing I need is a lecture on fairness from the 8-year-old. So if it’s just us, she can have one.
I never know when the last time will be when she asks for a drink to have on the open road.
THE SAD TRUTH IS everything is changing now. I can’t swaddle her. I can’t praise her for using the toilet. I can’t celebrate everything she does in school, rub her back or tell her what she did was okay when in reality it was not.
Instead, I’m expected to hold her accountable for her actions. I have to call her out when I know she tried to shortcut her way through something. I must punish her when the Power School app shows she did not complete a school assignment. And I must take away her phone, ground her and tell her so-and-so is a bad person to befriend …
… even if any of it makes her cry.
“Oh, thank you, Daddy!” she said when I opened the door of the truck and handed her the drink. Damn thing was $3.80.
“What do you mean?” I joked. “That’s for me.”
“No,” she said. “Because remember the last time I said I wanted one of these?
“You said they were stupid and looked like something Carnie B. would drink.”
She began laughing uncontrollably as she opened the bottle and began rattling off names I thought were the pop singer I’ve hated since I watched her on Saturday Night Live. Little does Kalista know, I know her actual name is Carley B.
SO THAT IS THE LESSON I taught to myself: always buy your daughter a drink when she asks. You may give her a hard time and pretend it was no big deal, but it is. It’s a huge deal. When she’s 13 and private and unsure and putting up a wall of confidence built on the foundation of self-doubt, she’s not going to give you many chances to connect.
But take it.
Even if it only results in 64 seconds of giggling.
Because for those 64 seconds, she’s your little girl again.
And that is worth $3.80.