I’ve never been as good at it as other parents are: pretending to not be forever gobsmacked at your kid’s brilliance, sensitivity, athleticism, beauty, humor, kindness, elegance.
I should be particularly good at this, but I think I am particularly bad.
I should be good, because aside from her other qualities, my daughter has been a speedy, fun-to-watch star on every soccer team she has played on since she was about three. For 15 years, parents have been saying the nicest things to me and my wife. We should be used to this. We should wear hats that say, “Thank you.” We should sit silently, humbly at games, like all the classy parents do.
But I can’t do it, because I am so proud of her—as a person who moves through life like she moves down the sideline.
A child’s daily autonomy is eye-rubbing to any parent who remembers having to wipe the baby’s behind. Recalls the reckless toddler who fell down the stairs the second you weren’t looking (and in Scout’s case, face-first into a tombstone at Graceland Cemetery). Remembers the preschooler who asked you one million dumbfuck questions like, “Why don’t motorcycles have seatbelts?” and “Is it okay not to believe in skeletons?”
A couple of years ago our family was absent-mindedly walking out of a local bar/restaurant after a meal, and that same kid turned around and walked back a couple of steps to casually thank the bartender.
Now, she has a favorite taqueria I’ve never heard of, at the corner of Damen and Belmont. Knows how to deal calmly and humanely with the scary but harmless deranged homeless guy who hangs around her go-to thrift store (and also knows to take a different tone with the sick bastard who propositions her for sex in the high school parking lot, and who to report him to). And drives around rush-hour Chicago with more confidence than her old man.
Between my bouts with her adolescent—shortage of perspective, shall we say—I am dumb with amazement every day.
And so are you. But you probably manage to do a better job of hiding it (maybe even to yourself?)—for three reasons, at least: 1. You also know your child is still vulnerable to many temptations and snares and fatal mistakes in this terrible dangerous world and her happiness is far from guaranteed. 2. You’re afraid the other person’s child has less momentum by comparison and you don’t want to make them feel bad. 3. You don’t want to expose to the filthy open air your own tender, bloody, beating heart—the one that knows that you can only be as happy, yourself, as your least happy child.
But what the hell.
To the extent that I yell from the soccer bleachers, “Great pass, Scout!” “Great hustle, Scout!” “Great shot, Scout!”—I am admitting to the other parents (to whom I am mindfully and authentically generous when commenting on the beauty of their kids) that I think my kid is the greatest goddamn thing that I have ever seen.
Because despite all the things that I could imagine her being that she is not (which is not her business, but mine), and all the things she might become but is not yet—she is the greatest goddamn thing that I have ever seen.
And to pretend that’s not the case is not just a lie—it’s the biggest lie this guy could ever tell. A coverup, of Watergate proportions.
I don’t do coverups well. But I admire those who do.