So often it’s big things that make me frustrated and little things that remind me how great it is to be a dad. Here’s one of the latter that I didn’t want to let slip past.
Pip has been taking swim lessons for about six months now. Last fall we started going to a ‘water babies’ session at the local YMCA where kids and parents putter around a pool and get the kids used to the idea of being in a giant tub of water. Pip liked it a lot so when he turned three in January, we signed him up for the full scale, learning to swim version. He’s been going every week since. Last month, the swim instructor invited me to come into the pool with the class under the rationale that if I was there and wanted to help with my kid, he was happy to have the extra set of hands. This has worked out great for us. Pip gets to splash and frolic with daddy and I get to swim a little bit each week. As such Tuesday afternoons have become one of the most highly anticipated and ultimately enjoyable blocks of our week.
Unfortunately, there was one week that did not live up to our expectations. About a month ago we had one of those days when things just did not go the way we wanted them to. First of all, the instructor bailed on us by making the entire hour a ‘free play hour’ instead of going through the set exercises like we usually do. The other kids loved this, but Pip is not immediately comfortable in chaos that is not of his own creation. He prefers to have a certain order around him or at the very least a space separate from the jumping and splashing and shouting of the others. Secondly, the instructor also moved all of us to the facility’s outside pool for our hour of play. This would have been fine if the weather was hot and sunny. However, we had enjoyed some beautifully cool weather over the previous few days and the pool temperature as a result was chilly at best. To compound this, a thin veil of clouds kept the sun out of view for much of the afternoon and a slight breeze frequently blew across the pool area. Thus, we had cool water, cooler air, and a whole mess of kids splashing, jumping, and getting in the way. Not a good recipe for us.
Pip tried to make the most of it. He gamely waded into the shallow end to practice putting his face in the water. Then, he did a couple of doggie-paddle laps before deciding that he would like to do some jumping in instead. I was in the water the whole time bouncing up and down trying to keep warm. After about twenty-five minutes, the chill finally won out and with blue lips and shivering legs we headed into the locker room to take a hot shower.
We came home that evening in a mildly somber and distracted mood which Ava managed to keep from getting worse. She got Pip through dinner by telling him stories about when he was born. There is nothing fancy or outlandish about these stories but an extended version of the basic who, what, and when was enough to distract him for the time necessary to consume most of his food. In this way, we made it through dinner and on to the bedtime routine without any major breakdowns.
Our bedtime routine has evolved over time into a series of shifts and handoffs between Ava and I that finally ends with Pip, Polly and I all together in Pip’s room. Once Ava leaves the room, Pip hangs out on his bed while I walk Polly – happily strapped in a baby carrier - back and forth until she falls asleep. Once Polly has fully crashed, I take her into her room and put her into her crib. Then, I go back and lay down with Pip until he falls asleep, too. The whole process runs about 45 minutes to an hour.
Usually Pip comes with me to put Polly in her crib. He likes to come into her room, turn on the baby monitor, and roll around on the floor while I perform the steps necessary to carefully remove Polly from the baby carrier and get her down into the crib. Oftentimes, Pip will make some kind of low-level noise during this process like kicking his feet on the floor or whispering questions to me or scraping himself back and forth along the edge of the rug. I’m always worried he’s going to wake Polly up with this fidgeting. Usually it’s a silly concern because Polly is out and can’t be roused with a 20 piece brass band. But every once in a while she doesn’t play by the established rules. For some reason, she hears or feels something that catches her interest and she decides to open her eyes and take a look around. Then we have to start the bedtime choreography all over again and its 10 PM before everyone is finally asleep. I never know exactly when such a night is coming so Pip’s noise making constantly worries me.
This particular night Pip added an extra hurdle to getting Polly down on the first try. As we were heading out of his room and into Polly’s, he informed me that he needed to pee. When he said this I thought he was just going to go straight to the bathroom but instead he followed me into Polly’s room and went to turn on the monitor as usual. Then, as I was beginning the delicate process of shifting Polly’s head around to unclip first the left carrier strap and then the right, Pip headed for the door. He passed through the doorway, grabbing the doorknob and pulling the door quickly behind him. As he did so, I tensed up involuntarily in anticipation of the door slamming against the jamb. I could hear the noise coming. I could see Polly’s eyes popping open. I could feel my spirits deflating that much further after the disappointment of the afternoon. All this passed through me as the door swung to meet the frame.
Then, Pip, without apparent thought or effort, caught the door with his hand and skillfully eased it to a stop with about half an inch to spare. No bang. No click. Just the sound of little feet padding down the hallway into the bathroom. It’s a move I’ve done a hundred times but one that I never considered Pip to be aware of, much less capable of executing. And he did it so naturally and with such nonchalant fluidity that I wonder if he was even conscious of what he was doing in the moment itself. All I know for sure is that after putting Polly down, I walked into the bathroom to find Pip sitting on the toilet, dinosaur pajama pants around his ankles and a big smile on his face. He was so proud of himself that I couldn’t help but smile too.