I am now the pleased as punch and exhausted as you please father of a two-year-old girl and a newborn boy. This has been a true statement for almost two weeks. I guess that means I am the father of a two-year-old and a two-week-old. I am terrible at counting ages.
Earlier this week, on one of the myriad of walks on which I take my daughter to make sure she gets physical activity (and I get sleep), I told her that she would be seat-belted into the stroller if she failed to obey when daddy told her not to traipse through other people’s gardens (the kind with flowers and topiary and other such malarkey). She, of course, failed to obey and was summarily relegated to imprisonment in her stroller.
Her ire was fierce and short-lived.
As we sauntered through one of the more pleasantly upscale neighborhoods near our apartment — she strapped into her stroller and I on foot — we passed two other adults.
The first is an older gentleman of Chinese descent. I know this because he told me he is Chinese. He is also awesome. He chatted with my daughter and pointed out the peacock on his lawn and gave us advice about what they like to eat (oatmeal, uncooked, presumably). My daughter, prior to this encounter, had enjoyed a messy snack (a granola bar, I think) and had remnants of said snack smeared across her face in a distinctly toddlerish fashion. This gentleman’s comment was to the effect that my daughter must have enjoyed her snack. A fact to which I can attest.
I walked away from that encounter feeling like a halfway decent father.
The second adult by whom we passed was a woman on her bicycle. She had on the proper riding outfit (the stretchy nonsense that bicycle shoppes — spelled with unnecessary vowels and consonants, thank you — sell) and a helmet which I can only imagine has every safety certification under the sun (possibly including some form of UV protection). Her two children trailed her (by a large margin) on their own bicycles in similar attire and with similar helmets. Nothing was dirty or out of place or even wrinkled (in fairness, those outfits could have been wrinkled when they were donned and no one would be the wiser after one’s body had stretched them out) on any of them. She gave me a look that felt as if it were intended to be withering; a sneer that communicated disdain for my having the unmitigated gall to bring my soiled toddler out in public in a cheap stroller (the one we used that day is, in fact, a cheap stroller). The impression given by that woman was of scoffing at the plebeian classes wandering through her fair neighborhood. And I was left feeling that she could not possibly imagine how my child would become anything more or less than a fry cook.
Now, it is entirely possible that the woman’s look meant nothing in connection with me. She may have been exasperated with her children (who were, after all, lagging an impressive distance behind her) or uncomfortable (I cannot imagine those riding outfits to be anything approaching comfortable) or any of a host of other things. But that look encapsulated a vibe that is given off by a lot of folks — the vibe that I am doing this whole parenting thing wrong.
I get that a lot. There are so many social pressures on us now that the age of social media has impressed upon us the overachieving status of those moms and dads who do it all better than us. But we only get the snapshots they give us. Boards of kitschy ideas abound, but we cannot know how many of those ideas are original and how many derivative. Social media parades the accomplishments of our peers’ children (first place soccer team, honor roll AGAIN — both stories from my own Facebook feed), but omits the daily grind of parenting that child (the kid threw a fit every time he was asked to brush his teeth … for three hours — I made this one up, but it sounds plausible). We get a collage of life — a million million little fragments taken wholly out of context, but not the broad sweep of its landscape. In the midst of this social onslaught, I often feel like I am doing it wrong.
After some consideration, I have concluded that the only criteria for doing this parenting thing right are to raise my children in the training and admonition of the LORD God and to love them as the gifts from God that they are. That is it. Raise them in God’s ways and love them. I am far from perfect in either of those areas, but I am working on both daily. The notion that I can be doing it wrong because my daughter’s face is smudged from the chocolate chips in the granola bar she just finished (a frequent occurrence) or her hands dirty from time spent playing in the sand at the park (often with water, too) or lifting rocks as we walk along (she tries to steal them from people’s yards) or from quite literally hugging trees (She wraps her arms around the trunk and delightedly says, “Tree!”) is absurd. She is loved — which is why her father is enduring the heat to go on that walk at all. She is disciplined — which is why she was strapped into that cheap stroller in the first place.
Two years into this parenting thing and I, like so many who have gone before, am taking the wisdom given by God’s Word and by those who have walked this path before me and playing it by ear. I do not know whether or not I am “doing it wrong,” though social media snapshots seem to indicate that I am, but I am going to raise my children in the discipline and teaching of God and I am going to love them ferociously; protectively; fiercely. I know no other way.