It’s Sunday night, which means the girls need to be up at 5:30 tomorrow morning to get ready for school. They should be asleep by about 7pm to make this go off smoothly, and at 7:30 Katie was still calling me from the bedroom.
When she isn’t tired, she just lays there and calls me. In order to keep it from becoming too frustrating I’ve managed to teach them that they have to have a reason for calling me. Furthermore, that their reason must be clearly articulable. This protects me from getting frustrated with repeated summons followed by long silences when I get into the room. It’s a sham, I know all Katie really wants is Not to be in bed, and calling me in is just a diversion from the boredom she experiences when she isn’t able to immediately fall asleep.
She does me the solid of making up reasons for calling me, though, so I can’t really ask for more. I walk in and, in a brisk, business-like tone, say “What do you need?”
Tonight she said “Put the bwanket on me!” I was in the middle of doing laundry, cleaning, figuring out their lunches for tomorrow. I wanted to finish up so I could get some gaming in before my own bed time, and that wasn’t looking very likely. The interruption wasn’t materially impacting my schedule but it was cutting up my flow, and that’s irksome.
So I said, from a place of frustration but not in a tone of frustration, “I bet you could put the blanket on yourself, honey.” and she said “No! Dada! Put the bwanket on me!”
I was at the bed, I bent down and I was pulling the blanket over Katie, when I heard Abby’s voice from the top bunk.
She said, “Daddy, you are my heart.”
Air flowed into my lungs slowly, and the world reoriented itself around this possibility. That for this moment, this girl could say something so raw from a place of guileless, pure love, floored me. It changed things in me. Loving people is a constant reconfiguration, chambers in your heart are always shifting, priorities are always changing, new depths are plumbed at the quietest, most mundane moments.
This is the thing I learned: Expressing frustration never makes me feel less frustrated, it only makes me feel guilty. Holding frustration in abeyance until I can let it out in a safe, appropriate, way opens the door for interactions that I myself might have otherwise prevented. Had I gone in with both guns blazing, correcting Katie’s behavior of repetitively calling me, I may have been justified. I may have been acting the way a Responsible Parent should (in the eyes of other Responsible Parents), and I may have shut off the part of Abby that was willing to share that thought, that perspective, which so deeply moved me.
That would have been an unspeakable tragedy, and one I would’ve never known about. I am a lucky man, to have two girls who love me so much. Me, in all the world. And lucky, having no foresight at all, to have fostered an environment where it could be expressed, when I least expected it.