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Knot Pining: Dad dance is a constant reckoning

Call me shocked the other day when the 6-year-old started unpacking groceries and putting them away after her long day at camp. Unprodded. She also brushed her teeth that night without any coaxing.

Every day has its moments, and those were nice ones. Of course, parenting is often laden with a tug and pull to get your kid to listen to anything you say or to move one muscle to help with anything.

A lyric often comes to mind when in the throes of child negotiations: "My love and I, we are boxing clever." And that's what we do so often.

That's the easy stuff.

The hard stuff is the nattering doubt that you are doing a good job as a parent. That you are shaping someone to basically be able to live on her own once she reaches adulthood. And be nice, smart, accomplished. Happy.

For now, I often wonder if she even likes me.

The kid told on me this week. "He said 'shut up,' " she pleaded to her mother, eyebrows indignant.

"Context," I said in my defense. Indeed. After the 37th plea demanding something, maybe it was more parade candy after she'd already inhaled about a pound of Dum-Dums and Starbursts, I became breathlessly exhausted. "Oh, could you please just shut up about that?"

Children are great neurologists - they know how to get on every nerve in their parents' cortex.

Or is it simply my adult-braised lack of patience, compassion, care?

Some days.

The kid's mother forgave me, for she knows of these moments. We just have to hope that our low parenting moments are not imprinting on her soul. The harsh word, the firm grab, the talks about truth and consequences.

The psychological toll is nothing anyone tells you about before becoming a parent. It's on-the-job-training, yes, but a little guidance might have helped me feel a bit more prepared.

When I get frustrated, not feeling up to the job, I remember a few things from the early days. The kid's doctor, when asked about appetite and picky eating and my being a bit lost on what to feed her, gave me a wry look. "Just make sure she eats. Anything. Don't worry so much about what it is."

That was freeing.

When the kid was first released from the hospital in Florida (a whole other story), on an impossibly bright, swampy, post-hurricane September day, I realized as I swung her bassinet into the car that this was her first time outside. She squinted her eyes to the sun as if in pain. I glanced back at the hospital doors, then returned my eyes to her. "Aren't there more instructions?" I thought.

Looking better tucked into the back seat and shaded, with her mom driving, I brushed the baby on the cheek. "We'll do our best to keep you alive. I promise. I don't know exactly how, but we will."

There's that nostrum about not sweating the small stuff, because it's all small stuff. Bunk. It's all big stuff when it comes to raising a child that you hope will someday make a mark on the world. Or simply be content and smile when looking back on these days with her parents.

That's big stuff, and the dance toward all that is constant. Bob and weave. Bob and weave.

"Six and three quarters," as she is wont to say of her age these days, and we are doing OK. And OK is good enough. Until that big picture future forms in my addling brain again.

Happy Father's Day. Whether we believe it or not.

Mike is a reporter and page designer for the Pine Knot News. Reach him at [email protected].

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