Two little dolls made me cry today.
Little Miss Thing is having a birthday party tomorrow. The big seven. She’s a sassy 2nd grader, enjoying all the perks of being a Big Kid. She’s reading the Harry Potty books. She’s losing teeth every couple of weeks. She’s developed a keen fashion sense. Mostly she doesn’t ask for help reaching the kitchen cabinets anymore, which makes her feel grown up.
We have the kids clean out their rooms right before birthdays, giving their older toys to Goodwill. We like that it keeps down the clutter. The kids like that their old, forgotten toys move on to new kids who will love them. It’s always a difficult process, but they choose very carefully. Who better to know which toys have passed their prime?
Flashback to two years ago this week, when we were in Florida at Disney World. Our kindergartner turned five in the most magical place on Earth. It was a whirlwind of glitter and musical numbers and she couldn’t stop smiling. We have pictures of her dressed as Anna from Frozen, holding an Anna doll while meeting the “real-life” Anna and Elsa. She got the Frozen slippers, Frozen alarm clock, Frozen pajamas, Frozen nightlight, and Frozen toothbrush… the whole setup. She got the movie and the soundtrack, and memorized them both immediately.
But most of all she wanted the Anna and Elsa dolls. They were sisters, she reasoned. They should be together. They rarely left her side, literally sleeping with them for months. Every morning was a fight to keep her from taking them to school. More than once I caught them being smuggled in her backpack. A couple times she got them past us.
When you’re a parent, it’s super rare to feel like you’re doing anything right. Everything is made up as you go, and full of last minute compromises, if not totally half-baked. You always are making do with what you have. You never have enough energy or time to do all the things. You can’t make all the meals, and check all the homework, and clean the whole house, and sing all the songs at tuck-ins, and make all the costumes, and kiss all the boo-boos, and right all the wrongs. You just can’t.
But every once in a while, you hit a sweet spot. If you keep at it, eventually things will line up. You’re never sure if it was truly you that made it happen, or if it was the Universe or God or pure dumb luck. But, you take it. You claim it as your own, and for that one single moment you get to feel like a real parent. You get to feel like you can do this. Like your kids aren’t going to be screwed up like you are. You hope. Maybe.
Little Miss Thing on her birthday at Disney World was one of those rare times when I felt like a good dad. Yes, it was stupid commercialized plastic crap that cost too much. Yes, it was scripted by marketers. Yes, it’s basically a scam. But, dammit, she was happy. Really, really happy. The smile on her face was big and goofy and new. Those two over-priced, Chinese made, big-eyed dolls made my baby girl very, very happy, and that was a good enough for me.
So, this morning when those dolls showed up on the pile for Goodwill, some tears may have come out of my eyes. Gently squirted. Lightly dribbled. Briefly sprayed. I mean, I didn’t weep or blubber or anything. Well, maybe a little.
What’s odd is the same thing happened with the older kids, but I didn’t cry about it. With my Oldest, it was Dora the Explorer. For her fourth birthday she got the whole Dora miniature playset with optional swimming pool. It had a fridge and stove and wardrobe and her Abuela. That girl must have danced those tiny Dora and Boots dolls for ten hours straight that first day. And probably every day after, for months. Those lumps of colored plastic made her very happy, and that made me happy. And, then, a couple years passed in a blink of an eye and Dora, her Abuela, and the optional pool were all on the pile.
For the boy, it was Thomas the Tank Engine. That kid knew every name of every train. He knew who was nice, who was mean, who worked hard, and who pulled pranks. He knew the tractor, and the bus, and helicopter, and the people who drove them. I remember how he would patiently correct me when I confused Percy for James, his tiny voice full of pity for my incompetence. He deeply loved all his Thomas DVDs and his train play table and Thomas blanket and Thomas sheets on his big-boy bed. They made him happy. And then, in a hot blink, they all showed up on the pile.
I guess today hit me hard because our little one is not so little anymore. She doesn’t need us like she used to. Even as irritating and time consuming and messy and loud and smelly as it can be, the truth is that — being needed by your kids is kinda nice. You know your place, and you know you matter. You matter a lot.
I think maybe it’s different this time because she’s our last. Today’s Frozen purge means that our baby isn’t really a baby anymore. Ready or not, that chapter of our lives has ended. And, sure, you won’t catch me complaining that diapers are a thing of the past. But it hurts a little to not be as important as I used to be.
As a parent, I know it’s my job to make sure that eventually they won’t need me. It’s a job I take very seriously. They’re great kids, growing up strong and smart and funny and kind. I’m proud of all three of them. My heart swells to see my babies become such cool young people, and I get some wonderful glimpses of the awesome adults they will become. But none of that means it doesn’t catch me right in the tear ducts sometimes.
This is all just the way these things work, of course. It’s all part of the big circle of life that’s been happening since we pulled ourselves out of caves and stood upright.
I guess I’m just sad knowing that, in a quick blink from now I’ll be on that pile myself.