This past Monday morning was basically the same as every Monday morning. It sucked.
I rolled out of bed at 5 AM to the annoying cell phone alarm and fumbled my way through the next two hours fueled by coffee, hollering, and bribes. Getting three young kids ready for their day is the hardest job in the world. I just know it is.
You think that’s a stretch?
Oh, have I got a bet for you:
Give me any high-rise window washer, lion tamer, or world leader and stick them in my kitchen at 5:30 in the morning and point at my three kids (6, 4, and 1), and tell them to get them out the door and delivered to where they need to be in the next couple of hours and I promise you: they will be begging, BEGGING!, to get back to their old jobs as fast as humanly possible.
I’ll bet you free pizza for the rest of our lives. And I will win.
So by the time I walked back into my house at 9 AM on Monday, I was already feeling whipped, defeated, exhausted, and beaten down like an old farm mule.
Then I saw the note. It was just sitting there on the kitchen island. I recognized Violet’s first grader handwriting instantly:
And there were two stick figures beneath the words: one was a boy and one was a girl. And that was me and her.
There are, I imagine, many ways to make a grown man start to cry on a dime in the middle of his kitchen on a Monday morning, but when you break it all down, spotting a note like that has got to be right near the top of the list.
The note killed me in the good way. That happens a lot with me now. I lose my mind so much. I’m a single dad, divorced about a year, and I’m in charge of three young lives half of every week. Beyond the facts though, beyond any of the background that I can give you or whatever, there is this super galactic ebbing and flowing that goes on in my heart every second of every single day.
It’s tough to explain and yet I know that I’m not alone. Divorced, married, widowed, it doesn’t really matter. If you have a child and you are raising that child (or ever have in the past), then we have something in common, me and you. We both have been out there on the loose clay cliffs of madness. We both have gone crazy at times trying to do our best as a mom or dad when everything seems to be falling apart.
And we both have been reminded time and time again — unexpectedly, and exactly when we needed it — that our kids have some kind of freakishly remarkable ability to tune into our inner blues and struggles. Our kids, it turns out, sometimes know us better than we know ourselves.
Violet’s note is the latest in a long and random history of beautiful moments dropping out of the sky for me as a father:
Surprise kisses during a rushed morning breakfast.
A hug when I seem agitated.
An “I love you” from the backseat of the Honda when I’m cursing the school bus in front of us that keeps stopping at every house for a long two-mile stretch on a rainy Monday morning.
A shared potato chip I never asked for.
A simple smile across a noisy room, slicing hard through the fog of my long day when I show up to pick up my 4-year-old from the childhood center.
All of it, every single tiny gesture of love and kindness, knocks me back on my butt with the kind of meaningful power that can only ever come from the littlest things our kids offer us.
Because those are the things that matter the most, I guess.
None of us are here forever. I try and remind myself this every damn day. I’m 44, and my son Charlie is 1. You do the math. I’m desperate to be the guy for him … the dude … his main man, the father to help guide him through his young life with the kind of love, strength, and mindfulness that will mean something to him when I’m gone someday.
But you wanna know something? Sometimes I get to thinking that it’s the other way around. Sometimes when I walk back into the kitchen at the end of a chaotic morning, my spirit sagging a little from having been a loud, militant jerk a few times since 5 AM, and I find a note like this Deer Dad one from my daughter, I start to think that it’s these three kids who are guiding me along actually.
Love, real true love, that’s a thing that is way easier said than done. I’ll never know a love like this one, like these three. I understand that now. They keep reeling me back in whenever I start drifting away. What did I ever do to deserve that? I don’t know the answer. And I don’t even care, to be honest.
I just want to keep finding a note every now and then.
I just want random hugs raining down on me in the middle of the frozen food aisle every once in a while.
Until the day I die, that’ll be enough.