One of my 6-year-old’s favorite songs came on the radio on our drive home from my parents’ house. The car was dark and my two younger kids were already sound asleep as he crooned along, terribly off key.
“Won’t you help me sober up? Growing up, it made me numb. And I want to feel something again.”
Before you critique my parenting based on the subject matter of songs my kindergartner knows by heart, I should point out that he first heard this song, sung by AJR featuring Rivers Cuomo, in his P.E. class. And who am I to argue with the judgment of the public-school system?
More importantly, though, hearing my oldest child belting out the catchy verse put a bow on my latest parenting epiphany that unfolded over a three-day period.
It started with a frog in our garage, moved on to a volcano on my parents’ driveway, and ended with this pop song in the car while we were out too late on a school night.
As I mentioned, we were on our way home from my parents’ house, leaving behind us a large red stain on the driveway that reeked of vinegar and a soggy, pinkish paper volcano on a cardboard slab that may or may not have looked a bit obscene depending on your perspective.
My son was so excited about the volcano/body part that he printed out a picture of it post eruption to take to school the next day. I was uncertain how my son’s teacher would feel about the unexpected geology/anatomy lesson the class was about to receive, but I considered it payback for exposing my child to songs about substance abuse.
Anyway, a lot of work went into this project that we decided to do randomly on a Wednesday afternoon for some reason, so it deserved to be seen. We used empty paper towel rolls to make tree trunks and attached tufts of green tissue paper to make the leafy part. I cut out a couple of zig-zag strips of haphazardly colored paper to make grass. We taped all that junk down onto a square of cardboard and then wrapped several pieces of brown and beige construction paper around a plastic spool to form the volcano. Did we affix that with about a roll of Scotch tape? You bet. Finally, we stuck an orange pill bottle into the center of the volcano to hold the lava.
Next, we proceeded to the driveway, gathered all the friends and family we could find, mixed some baking soda, red food coloring, pepper (lava rocks), and vinegar in the pill bottle and blew the top off the whole shebang. The boys and I took turns pouring the vinegar into the volcano’s mouth until we emptied almost an entire bottle. With each pour, foamy pink liquid oozed down the volcano’s construction paper sides and pooled on the cardboard base. Washing over my masterpieces—the strips of paper grass—and spilling over onto the concrete. What a moment.
It was random and silly, sure, but it was fun. Days spent parenting often feel so routine with the repetitive schedules and the same arguments over meals and toys and teeth brushing and bedtimes that it’s easy to fall into a rut. The good news, though, is that when the rut gets particularly deep or well-worn, you can always turn to your kids for inspiration. While grownups might be a bit numb from all the years spent living, children approach everything with fresh eyes and naked enthusiasm. It’s magical.
Two days earlier, we found a little frog after a heavy spring rain shower. It hopped out of our garage and I scooped it up to show the kids. I knew they would be excited because, you know, they get excited about everything. The six-year-old carried the frog around for at least thirty minutes—the poor little amphibian might have been a bit worse for wear after all the leaps onto the concrete he made from my son’s cupped hands. Ultimately, we grabbed a small, topless cardboard box and stored froggy until he escaped a little while later. My son was devastated to lose his new best friend, of course. He tends to feel things very deeply.
When you’re grown up and jaded, you forget what it was like to feel so much. You forget what it was like when every day, every frog, every sandwich, every game, every science experiment felt like a life or death moment. You forget what it was like to love simple things. To get excited over nothing at all. Perhaps I wasn’t the most effusive child, but surely, I was more easily moved than I am as a crusty adult. After all, I did relish collecting broken paper signs from high school football games, taping them back together, and busting them all over again. Oh yeah, and playing golf with a plastic ball in my front yard until it was too dark to see.
One magical thing about having children is that it reminds you what it was like to care so deeply. Perhaps it’s difficult to remember what it felt like, but at least you can catch a glimpse, if only a secondhand one. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find that growing up and becoming just a little bit numb does have its advantages. Having so many feelings seems really tiring.
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