As a man, a father, and a guy who has had his fair share of ups and downs in life, I’d like to think at this point that ‘I get it’. I understand things, situations, and humans better than I ever have and frankly more than most people do.
But then I look at my two daughters, One is the oldest (15) of four kids, the other the youngest (2), and I think I haven’t learned anything at all. I truly believe they are both smarter than me right now.
Mara just turned two. And even though she sleeps in a room that couldn’t be further away from mine, she always knows when daddy wakes up. It’s an instinct she possesses. I know this because the last 4 months I’ve been home, whenever I wake up, she’s never far behind. It doesn’t matter if it is 6am, 10am, or anytime in between. She knows when I’m up and around.
The last month and a half or so I’ve been getting up between 5:30 and 6:30 (depending on how many times I hit the snooze) to go running. When I get back home my hope is always to make some breakfast and watch an episode of West Wing or Curb Your Enthusiasm for an hour or so until one of the little kids wakes up.
It rarely happens.
Mara always wakes up within five minutes of me getting home. I know this because she screams ‘DADDY!’ at the top of her lungs until I go get her. At first I thought maybe I was waking her up every time I used the front door to enter or leave the house in the morning.
Nope. She still wakes up when I use the back door to come and go as well.
It wouldn’t bother me, or even be noteworthy or worth mentioning, but on the weekends when I don’t get up early…she doesn’t either. She’ll sleep until 8 or 9 on those days.
It’s like we’re on the same wavelength.
She comments on everything she sees on the floor as I carry her downstairs in the morning. She asks for milk and a breakfast bar, her blankie, and her babies, then sits on the couch, smiles, and chats it up…all while I’d prefer to go back to bed.
While breakfast is served she’ll argue or agree with Harrison (whichever is more convenient for her agenda at that moment in time) on a multitude of issues.
She screams like a crazy person one minute about Travis or Harrison being too close to her, and will shyly smile minutes later while saying ‘look daddy, I shared,’ as she gives a toy to her brother for no reason.
She always says I wanna shark movie. Then apparently can just sit and watch shark movies, some that would make adults cringe, like it’s nothing. Jaws haunted me so much as a little kid that I’ve never gone back to revisit it. Mara watches 47 Meters Down, The Reef, and The Meg. No problem.
Every single thing she does throughout the day makes me think she’s mentally tougher than anyone else in the family. Just because she can’t physically say or do everything she wants, doesn’t mean she doesn’t know and have better, smarter instincts on the inside.
Her older sister Chloe is sort of Mara’s first wave. She’s just 13 years further up the shore-line. Smart, beautiful and funny. And extremely independent.
She has stolen 8 to 10 of my shirts and wears them day in and day out. It flatters and amazes me at the same time. One shirt I’ve had since high school. It cracks me up seeing her wear a shirt I borrowed from a buddy my senior year and it amazes me she’s already going to be a sophomore. When I met her she was in 5th grade.
She has strong opinions about many things, but her mother has strong opinions about everything. Chloe has an innate ability to pick her spots to take her on. I’ve been in the bedroom a few times when her mom comes in to tell me what Chloe just said to her, or to detail an argument they just had. Some of the time she’s disgusted at Chloe’s opinion and other times she’ll say Chloe’s right, I just never thought about or looked at it that way before. It’s about 50/50. Which is 50% better than anyone else in the house does in an argument with her mother.
Chloe has gone out of her way to personally support me while my wife and I endured problems within our marriage. And has stuck with both of us equally, even giving helpful advice along the way. How many 13-15 year old “step” kids do you know who would do that? Exactly why Chloe and I don’t consider each other “step.”
She taught herself how to play the guitar and now jams out almost everyday. She is the only teenager I know that uses social media responsibly. She steps up around the house and takes care of her little brother and sister, many times without being asked, and only rarely complains about it. Unlike my mother-in-law who lives with us, rent free, and passive aggressively complains about having to do any little thing…All the time.
Four years ago it was just Chloe and Travis, when we told her her mom was pregnant the first time, she flipped out. Told us it wasn’t fair and she’s way too old to have such a young brother or sister. A day went by and she apologized on her own to both of us and said she was looking forward to having another little brother or sister. Turns out in the span of two and half years she got both.
I put myself in the position of being ten years old and all the sudden having a new baby brother or sister. I know for a fact I’d struggle with it. I was always the baby. Never had any real responsibility. So for Chloe to step up around the house the way she has…the value of that has been immeasurable.
About a year after I met Chloe she brought me out to the garage alone and asked me if I would be her father. I remember thinking wow, that was quick. I got lucky there. I thought I was gonna cry. The mere gesture of trust a request like that from her entailed felt like enough to bring me to tears on its own. But looking back, having been lucky enough to have spent these last 5 years under the save roof with her, I had no idea how proud I should’ve been in that moment. I should’ve been the one asking if she would be my daughter. The pleasure has been all mine.
I hope one day I’ll be in my 60’s or 70’s, sitting on a lawn chair, watching and Listening to a 30-something year-old Chloe having a conversation with a 20-something year-old Mara. Maybe even be lucky enough to hear them argue about certain issues they disagree on. I probably won’t understand what they’re even talking about, but I know they will.
And the pride that will wash over my bones in that moment…That’s good enough for me.