If I were to make a list of things I don’t particularly enjoy doing as a parent, it would likely include kneeling on hard surfaces and handling a toy that has spent most of its life festering in DNA soup.
One day, my gorgeous, sparkly-eyed daughter’s face lit up as she asked me in the sixteenth hour I had been awake so far that day if I wanted to play a hairstyling game with her while she was in the tub.
Actually, no. I absolutely do not want to play that game. Thanks for asking, kid!
The mere thought of lowering my creaking knees to the cold bathroom floor and running my fingers through Mermaid Barbie’s quite likely bacteria-laden hair made me want to make up some excuse to get me out of it. I’m sure there were towels to fold or dishes to wash or my eyeball to stab with a hot poker, but sometimes you just gotta be the grown-up and play with the damn dolls no matter how much you’re not in the mood for it. Despite how much you’d really, really rather just go and take a nap.
I’m sure I disappoint my kids on a regular basis, seeing as how I kiss them in public and don’t let them put tattoos across their faces before religious family gatherings, but I don’t want to disappoint them all the time. I want them to remember me as being much more fun than I really am, smarter than they should give me credit for, and more interested in their blather about Fortnite skins or bracelet-braiding techniques than it’s mentally healthy for anyone to be.
It wasn’t until I threw my kids at my own mom that I came to realize how low her tolerance for children was. Not in a mean way, just in a your-filter-doesn’t-work-well-after-60-years way. I had no idea she was like this when I was a kid. I only remember that she would spend hours waiting for me to make the best book choices at the public library every week, was practically a professional at undoing a knot in anything I was able to tangle, and smiled away as I assisted her in baking dessert after desert after dessert (despite my talent for ruining recipes and lighting foodstuffs on fire). She was patient and encouraging and would stand there like a bird, watching but quiet and ready to flit off to the next thing when it was time.
What I didn’t realize was that in her silence she was probably imagining pecking me to death so she could do something she wanted to do for once.
From driving me around to activities I now know bored her to tears to making sure that every birthday and holiday included gifts with labels that said they were from my favorite cartoon characters, my mom crafted a world that included happy memories of “our things” that she enjoyed as much as I did.
It was all bullshit, and I appreciate that she kept up the facade more than I could ever articulate.
That is why I looked down at my own daughter that night as she waited for my answer with a long-haired mermaid in each fist, surrounded by bubbles I had made extra fluffy using my special claw technique, and smiled while pushing aside my impatience, disinterest and exhaustion to say, “Of course I’d love to, baby girl!”
It’s why I spent the next half hour ignoring the pain in my aging knees, making mohawks and updos and voluminous ponytails on mermaids slick with things I did not want any details about by the side of the tub.
It’s why I taught myself how to French braid the mangled red tresses of an Ariel doll with a fading eye the following morning to be better prepared for saying “Yes” again the next time she asked me to do our special bath time hairstyling game.
A version of this essay originally appeared on ScaryMommy.
Kim Bongiorno is an author, full time freelance writer, and the blogger behind Let Me Start By Saying. Learn more by connecting with her on: Facebook · Twitter · Instagram · Goodreads · Amazon.com · BookBub · Newsletter · Book Announcement Mailing List