1. Keeping your mouth shut on the sidelines of youth sporting events.
2. Not showing your surprise when they figure something out on their own.
3. Sharing your phone.
4. Not vomiting when they vomit.
5. Giving up and tying their shoes for them for the rest of their lives.
6. TIMING WHEN TO HELP A CHILD WHO'S READING AND STUCK ON A WORD.
I don't want to get too dramatic and scary on you, but in 2014 my kindergartner beat the ever-loving shit out of another kid on the playground.
This news came to us as a surprise. My phone buzzed. It was the school. I was pretty sure it was another fundraiser.
You get three kinds of calls from your kid's school. At least I know only of three so far. I have young children. I have no idea what lurks in the future.
The most common call is them begging you to come buy books or brownies. You know, because why fund education? The driving force of human advancement from fire to the Renaissance, to medicine and Snap-On Tools.
The second is that your child is sick. Come get him/her.
Three--and something I'm pretty proud to say I have only received this one time--was a call to say that my son, age 5, a round-faced boy named Otto, who's priors included hugging too much and staying up past nine talking to his stuffed animals, had frightened a substitute teacher. She was on playground duty and this is a quote from the sub, he beat up the kid "gangster style." Now when I heard this "gangster style" my eyes lit up. I was intrigued. Otto was 3% on the growth chart. Below the arch of the average children, my two boys' physical advancement shot like hyper rainbows far below the curve. But gangster style? Was that like in Office Space when they beat up the printer?
So I called Sarah and she was already on her way. I asked her if she'd heard that he'd scared the substitute teacher and she sliced my enthusiasm short with a terse, "Don't get excited, Jared. This is really fucked up."
If I could just drift a bit, I will eventually tributary back into the flow of things. But in that moment--and this is one reason my wife and I co-exist so well--I likened our relationship to me being the kite and she the stalwart force on the ground trying to reel me in. Sometimes I catch a wind and I inspire us together, but mostly it's the reeling.
She was going to handle it. I was at work.
One more tributary: I remembered Sarah going back to work after we had Quin, our first child. That evening she was sad. Not only was she not with her firstborn, but she had to go to work and alphabetize expense reports or some chore so menial compared to creating human life. ANYTHING IS MENIAL COMPARED TO CREATING ANOTHER LIFE. I think right here and now I should propose legislation that, if you have a child, everybody just kicks in and you have a salary. Not that we want you to have a whole bunch of babies, you know, become a baby farmer, but you get a base salary so you don't have to go to some mundane place that ruins the mind-boggling magic that you performed for the world. I mean, think about it. Some dude pulls a rabbit out of a hat and he goes on tour. If he did a trick like a woman does with child birth, we'd be like "Holy shit, a human just came out of that magician!" We'd lose our minds. We'd be building temples and shit.
My wife made a human with little more than wine and Netflix and she had to answer phones for some dude who, it turns out, couldn't even produce a profit.
Back from the tributary, I'm at my 2014 desk with the the gravity of Otto's situation fully set in. I'm slightly suffocated by the realization of how everything else is all so dumb. Coworkers were alerting me to important work things but it was all a mumbling mush compared to our kindergartner perhaps putting himself in the kid clink for a very long time.
My mind jogged into a sprint; a speed far faster than my body could run. I started thinking about Otto. He's the quiet one. You always hear about the quiet one. All of these years he's been duping us. Those sweet 'I love yous' at night were so we just get out of his room and he can do whatever gangster kids do. I was really sinking into thought and wondering what have I done? I'd probably paid too much attention to the firstborn, and then the second born you reel it in a little bit. The second born gets hand-me-down pants and toys with dead batteries. I haven't given him enough attention. He's going to grow up and be dangerous, or worse, be the cat guy. Are there cat guys? Or do they mostly go with reptiles and nunchucks?
He'll be That Kid. There's never a good That Kid. There are good That Guys. "Oh, he's That Guy who gets all the ladies." Positive. Or, I'd say John C. Reilly is a That Guy. Every movie he's in he makes it better but people don't know who he is. "Yeah, it has That Guy in it." Once a kid becomes a guy he can be a That Guy, but a kid starting out as a That Kid usually doesn't pupate into a That Guy. I thought about Otto being that kid. There's no turning back.
Emotions were running high as I sped home to help with the situation. I wanted to sprint in with flowers and say, "Honey, I get it. I get the gravity of all of this. I understand."
When I got home Sarah was quietly making dinner with a smirk on her face. She'd gotten all of the details. Yes, the substitute teacher was marred for life by the violence, but there was another piece. The regular teachers and the assistant principal were less rattled. They explained that this kid had been picking on Otto for some time. This kid had been a problem. He was that kid. The OTHER KID WAS THAT KID.
The teachers explained that they love Otto, and that he's a sweet kid. But they implored that we should talk to him about not fighting at school.
"But this kid was a bully?" I pestered Sarah. I'd forgotten about gravity again. "He went gangster on a bully and he's five!"
Sarah was unmoved. She stirred vegetables and chicken and reasserted that I'd have to talk to him. Without fist bumps and congratulatory high fives. Reeling in the kite.
At bedtime, after books, I pulled up to Otto's lower bunk.
"Otto," I began my lecture, "what you did was, um. It was--" and I looked around the room. "What you did might have seemed necessary. I mean not necessary, but this kid was picking on you, right?"
He didn't say anything; he just looked at me. His reading light illuminating his blond hair.
"Otto, listen." I continued, realizing that I needed to sharpen my point a bit. "You can't fight at school. You gotta talk to a teacher and let them know what's going on. It's much stronger and braver to use your brain instead of your fists...or feet."
Otto looked back at me. I think he'd grasped what I was talking about. I'd made my point.
And then he spoke.
"Dad," he began so thoughtfully. My little gangster grasping the hard lessons.
"Dad," he repeated, probably taking the time to fully understand what I'd imparted.
"Yes, son," I said softly in the quiet night.
And he said, "Do you think anyone's ever gone fishing and caught a duck?"