My daughter Lucy turned eight this week. It’s surprising, because there’s no way I have an 8-year-old. I’m still 20. I still spend extra time on my hair if I go out somewhere. I still care whether my jeans look okay with those shoes. I worry (even though I’ve been happily married since the ’90s) about how I’m going to talk to girls without being a dolt. I still try to cover bedhead with a Red Sox hat. I sing stupid songs to myself about being stupid when no one is around. I make a mirror face every time I look in a mirror. I sneak bowls of Cocoa Puffs. I love gummy worms. I own mostly sneakers. I still miss my jean jacket from 9th grade (back when each pocket had a purpose). I still go to concerts hoping I might meet the band. I can’t dance. I’m nervous around other people’s parents. In my head, I’m always driving my 1975 Nova (no matter which car I’m actually driving). I’m bad at small talk. I make bad fashion choices. I’ll never feel cool. I love Frisbee. I splash puddles. I kick leaves. Farts still make me laugh. I’m 40.
Wow. It stings when I say it out loud. “I’m 40.” I suppose that beautiful 8-year-old daughter IS mine, along with the handsome boy who turns four in a week, and the feisty baby girl who just turned one in September. At some point during the flash of time between high school and now, I seem to have turned into a 40-year-old man with a wife, a career, a dog and three children. Most of the time, I feel like I’m playing someone else’s part in a life I’m still getting used to wearing.
We had a bowling party for Lucy at a Deli/Bowling Alley, and I watched her dance and laugh and bowl with her pack of little friends. I tried to determine what her social status is within the group. Is she the leader? Is she the funny, charming one? Is she the shy one? The smart one? The moody one? It was hard to tell in the party bowling lighting. She seemed to be having fun, which I suppose is the most important thing. I walked over to the arcade section of the Deli/Bowling Alley/Arcade(?).
As I played one of those impossible “win this prize!” games for a dangling outdated iPod I don’t want or need, I started to wonder: When will I start to embarrass her? When will she stop wanting to watch innocent cartoons like Max and Ruby or Bubble Guppies? Is she watching iCarly for the kissing? Does she really hate some kid named JD at school as much as she says she does, or does that actually mean she really likes some kid named JD? Guys, I’m having a hard time with all of it. Plus, I lost at least nine bucks on the impossible iPod game.
Pizza, juice boxes, cake. Balloons, party favors, goodbyes. Parents all getting back to the task of raising their children after a brief reprieve at the bowling alley. A knowing look between us all that the grind continues. Bedtimes and a ticking clock keep us all moving. Every moment is fleeting. We’ll see each other at the next one, probably some jumpy castle and a magician or a pool or a face painting pumpkin carving Christmas egg hunt thing. They all blend together. Checkpoints in our careers as parents.
I can’t be the father of an 8-year-old girl. I’m 16, playing Pac-Man at the bowling alley in Londonderry, NH. I’m 15 in the middle of a “couples skate” at Spinning Wheels roller rink. I’m 14 playing Jumpman on my next door neighbor’s Commodore 128. I still buy Hot Wheels at the supermarket. I still don’t understand girls. I’m not a good dancer. I buy too many jackets. I don’t have any of the answers a dad should have.
Maybe none of us do.
We walked out to the car, another milestone behind us.
“Did you have fun, 8-year-old Lucy?”
“I had fun, oldest Daddy in the world.”
I wanted to tell her I’m not that old; that I still like ice cream cones and funny movies; that I understand how hard it is to be a kid; that I’m not really sure what I’m doing a lot of the time…
…but I didn’t. I laughed and hugged her. Then we packed up the car with our things and my wife and I buckled everyone in, closed all the doors in the minivan (’75 nova) and drove out of the parking lot towards the next moment in time.