y sweet angel had a monster week last week – 5 days of girlscout camp from breakfast to dinner. Until then the beefiest time commitment of her life was kindergarten, which typically ran from 8-12. We’d gather her up, give her time to play with her friends, take her home and let her decompress with some down-time on her own. Her little 6-year-old body needs that time to recover and recharge. Without it she’s running a rest-deficit, and it affects everything else in her life.
That down-time didn’t happen this week. She went full-boar from 8-5, toughed the traffic home, then it was a mad scramble to get dinner and a bath before bedtime. She even mentioned it a couple times towards the end of the week, “I just want to draw before dinner. I didn’t get any time to draw”. But knowing the effect that less than a full-night sleep would have, down-time at home was in short supply that week. Combine that with the fact that she stubbornly insists on waking up (through sheer force of will/stubbornness/moxy) no later than 6:30 and you have a recipe for disaster.
It all came crashing down Friday night. To our credit when we signed her up for a solid week of camp we anticipated the crash afterward and planned accordingly light for the weekend. Predictably though, this past weekend wasn’t a good one.
She was combative. She was confrontational. She was difficult. She was snotty. She was rude. She was tearful…
She was tired.
It all came to a head on Saturday afternoon when she was supposed to go to a friend’s birthday party. She was dawdling drawing (having the down time that her body and mind need) and despite several head-up warnings wasn’t dressed or even remotely ready to leave for the party. Never mind the time it would take to get to the party. The party started at 2:00 and here we were at 2:10 at home still arguing about brushing her hair and changing out of her dirty sweatpants.
Tempers flared. Voices were raised. Frustrations peaked. The affect around the house was generally nasty and as I look back as a rational adult I didn’t do much to help the situation. I was ticked-off too. I raised my voice too. I expressed disappointment and frustration to my 6-year-old daughter in a way that really wasn’t constructive. We finally decided that she was in no condition to go to a birthday party, and in a huff I left the house to deliver my daughter’s regrets and the present to the birthday girl and her parents.
After making the delivery I went to Home Depot to cool off by walking around browsing for bits and pieces for my son’s Halloween costume project. As I parsed out the pre-party clamor it became pretty clear that I failed in my part at almost every point. My contribution didn’t do anything to make things better – quite the opposite. I lost my cool, and that stoked the fires. Now my daughter was at home upset and disheveled — as tired as she was from the week’s activities I had to accept responsibility for my own contribution to the situation.
I walked around Home Depot feeling like a rotten father. After all, a parent is supposed to be their child’s advocate. A dad is supposed to know when his little girl is too tired for a birthday party and give her an out, not chastise her for being difficult. It was not my best parenting moment and as I put it in a text to my wife, I felt like “an all-around A-hole of a father”.
I got home and apologized to my daughter for losing my temper when I shouldn’t have. Daddy’s make mistakes too, and I loved her very much. “I love you too, Daddy”. We hugged and moved on. But she was still just as tired, and everyone’s nerves were still raw.
The rest of the weekend followed suit: bickering, yelling, high-drama. We managed to get away with the kids to see a movie as planned, but otherwise the hair-pulling lasted all the way up to bedtime when she protested that her younger brother always got snuggles first, and then couldn’t decide who she wanted to snuggle with her when it was her turn (one of us has to hold the baby). Finally my wife emerged from her room, exhausted herself. She reported as we made the baby hand-off “Your turn. She wants you now”.
I went into my daughter’s room to find her already 2/3 asleep. I looked at her sweet sleeping little body and felt like I had to do something. It truly was a terrible weekend for her. Even if she was the epicenter of the drama, I didn’t want her going to sleep thinking she was the cause of all the strife. That’s no way to finish the day, or the weekend. I’m her daddy. It’s my job to be her advocate. It’s my job to fix her hurts – to make things better.
I laid down next to her as she nuzzled the ratty old teddy bear she’s had since she was a couple months old. I rubbed her shoulder gently, so as not to disturb her, but to let her know that I was there. In that moment the only thing I could think to do was to quietly sing the lullaby I’ve sung for her since she was born. She knows that it’s our song. It’s a father singing to his daughter, telling her he knows that it’s tough to be a kid, but no matter what, no matter how many tough days or how many years go by, that special magic that they share together will live on forever.
As I started singing, from the twilight on her way to sleeping she reached out and put her hand on my arm to tell me she understood. She loves me too. Neither of us had our best weekend, but tomorrow will be better.
Goodnight my angel.