A Small Change to My Parenting Routine Brought Up Big Emotions
A new dishwasher and a new school year had this dad thinking about big changes in his family.
We got a new dishwasher recently. That might not sound like a monumental event worth recording for posterity, but…wait, who am I kidding?
If getting a new dishwasher isn't a life-changing event, I don't know what is.
I love dishwashers. There's just something about rinsing off some dishes thoroughly, arranging them in the machine precisely, and starting them up, so they can get half-clean all on their own that brings me peace. I honestly have no idea what goes on inside the dishwasher when it's cleaning. You could tell me there are little elves that pop out of the sides and scrub the dishes with toothbrushes and I might not dismiss the idea out of hand.
Whatever the method—magic or just plain water squirting every which way—I'm grateful for the orderliness of it all. And while previously, the plastic bowls my kids use for cereal were coated with an obstinate Cinnamon Toast Crunch dusty film, thanks to the new dishwasher, they are practically sparkling now. Well, as sparkly as blue and green plastic can be.
Another big event happened recently. My oldest two children started back to school. My oldest started second grade and my middle child started kindergarten. Based on my limited experience, I'm willing to conclude that the day your oldest child starts kindergarten is more traumatic for parents than subsequent first days. Perhaps the day your last child starts kindergarten is equally or more traumatic, but I won't find that out for two more years. This year's first day lacked drama. We walked the boys into their classrooms and that was it. They were both eager and excited for school, so it felt right.
The third day, though, was a bit different. Like two years ago, I dropped my oldest child off in the car line, and he walked into school on his own. This year, however, my younger son walked with him. They tumbled out of the car as we came to a stop in line, adjusted their backpacks, and walked off toward the building together. I couldn't help remembering the previous two years, when at every morning drop-off, my younger son would roll down his window and wave goodbye as his brother walked away. Now it was me rolling down the window and instead of three, our waving party had dwindled to just two.
Later that morning, as I was unloading dishes from our new, super-duper dishwasher, I noticed something odd. Every time I took a couple bowls or cups out of the machine to put away, I closed the dishwasher door before taking the two steps to the cabinet. I hadn't thought about it, but I never leave the dishwasher door open even for a few seconds because I've grown used to having a small human lurking nearby, waiting to pounce on the open door.
My daughter is three now and her dishwasher door climbing days are pretty much in the past. And, of course, the boys grew out of it years ago. There's no need for me to protect the dishwasher door anymore, but old habits die hard. I looked across the kitchen counter into the living room and my last dishwasher climber turned three-year-old was contentedly snacking on grapes and watching children play with dolls on the TV.
Often with parenting, it's not the big things that get you, it's the little ones. As the years tick by, it's like your heart picks up more and more microscopic cuts. Each of them alone is almost unnoticeable, but when they start to fuse together you finally see the trickle of blood.
Like on those days when you drop your second kindergartner off and watch him walk away with his head and legs poking out from his gigantic-looking Harry Potter backpack. And you realize your dishwasher doesn't require guarding anymore, so you're going to have to find other ways to fill your time.
That's when you have to press start and let the dishwasher work its magic and get on with whatever it is you're supposed to be doing.
For me, right now that's saying yes when my daughter pulls me into the playroom, so we can move dolls or animal figurines around with our hands, and she can tell me what they're supposed to say. That's my daytime responsibility right now, but soon enough it won't be. There's just one year left, two at the most. Then it will be time to move on to something else. Those little cuts keep building up. Some days they feel a bit deeper.
This article originally appeared on Medium as 'A New School Year Can Bring a Flood of Emotions at Unexpected Times.'