We’re about a week into our trip to Juneau, Alaska when I get word my dad is being moved to Johns Hopkins Hospital. There have been some pretty big mistakes made at the nursing/rehab center he’s currently in and, though he is making small improvements, they’re not enough to outweigh the errors, so he’s moving to a center he trusts. This is good all around. The doctors at Hopkins have proven worthy of dad’s faith, and if he’s going to get better, he has to trust the people caring for him. And it appears to work — almost immediately, his health shows strong improvement.
This is all quite a relief, especially since I’m about 10 hours and two plane rides away. I find that I’m able to relax a little and enjoy myself more. Not that I wasn’t enjoying myself before, but there is a distinct shift, as if an unseen cloud had blown away allowing the sun to shine just a bit brighter.
Meanwhile, I’m getting a sneak preview of what my own fatherly future may be. One of the things Lyena and I have been hired to do while we’re in Juneau is teach creative movement and storytelling classes to local kids ages 3 to 12. Lyena has a good amount of experience with kids, having spent 5 years teaching a similar program that she designed in the late 90s, but I have never taught anyone under the college level, and, honestly, have little experience with kids at all (apart from my own inner child).
It quickly becomes clear to me that I am totally outmatched. The very first day, we are met by a phalanx of these little humans with minds of their own, who want to do things other than what we tell them. Wait. No. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. We teach and you listen. That’s how it’s supposed to be. (Yeah, right.)
Within minutes the first morning, one of the kids starts to go off the reservation. Here’s my chance. I turn to him and, with my most calm, assertive self, say “Tommy, stop picking Jennifer’s nose. It’s time to listen to the story.” Tommy looks over, and with his most calm, assertive self, completely ignores me.
Okay. It doesn’t always work the first time. I know this. I’ve seen The Dog Whisperer. So again, only with a little more authority, I say, “Tommy, stop picking Jennifer’s nose and listen to the story.” This time the little twerp doesn’t even bother to look at me – he just goes right on picking.
I’m considering the potential legal ramifications of putting this kid in zip-tie handcuffs when Lyena interrupts the story she is telling and gently says “Tommy, stop picking Jennifer’s nose. It’s time to listen to the story.” As my brain rather indignantly starts to think, “I tried that already,” Tommy removes his finger, turns to Lyena and begins obediently listening.
What the hell??? I said that. That exact same thing. And all he did was go DIGGING FURTHER UP JENNIFER’S NOSE!
Breathe. Calm down, Dean. Maybe it’s like a jar or something, and you had to loosen it up for her.
For the rest of the morning, at least half a dozen times I am completely ignored, while Lyena is dutifully obeyed. It takes me a while, but I finally get over my ego enough to accept that this isn’t some sort of spousal conspiracy and instead see it as (my momma would be so proud) a “teaching moment.” Time to watch and learn, young apprentice.
For the next couple of days I carefully examine the master, studying just exactly how Lyena deals with the little shi—, I mean kids, under our care. What does she say? How does she say it? When does she say it? It’s an amazing thing to watch. I swear she’s like The Brat Whisperer or something, turning these unruly hellions into calm and submissive little cherubs with the slightest word, while still managing to give them the creative freedom they need for a storytelling and, you know, creative movement class. If she raises children half as well as she teaches them, I’m going to have to be very careful not to become completely obsolete in this whole parenting thing.
For my part, with intense study, I start to get a little better with the kids. The first to come around are the girls. I’m pretty sure the boys are threatened by my overflowing masculinity, but the girls get me. They understand how funny, charming and, most importantly, in charge I am. That’s it. When we finally get pregnant, I want a girl. They pay attention when I speak. They listen to what I say. They laugh at my jokes.
Until, all too suddenly, they don’t. One day I’m Edward Cullen and the next I’m Ed Gein. It’s as if they all got together outside of class one night and decided I was a total dork no longer worth their eye-space. I feel like I’m back in high school.
And as if the same switch has been flipped in the other direction, I’m suddenly King to the boys. Maybe it’s because they’ve realized I’m just as bad with the ladies as they are, but I don’t really care. Everything I say is cool. Everything I do is rad. If I want to tell a story, they want to tell it with me. If I want to pretend I’m a rock pretending to be a turtle, they want to pretend they’re rocks pretending to be turtles (yes, this is actually something we did – and it’s more fun than you might think). Girls-schmirls. Boys rock.
Not so fast, sucka. I come in one morning and discover that overnight the girls have folded the boys into their Dean-is-Dumb club and now no one is paying attention to me. There is mild consolation in that they’re paying only slightly more attention to Lyena (I’m so mature), but now I’m not sure what to think. If I rule out both girls and boys, what am I left with?
Just when I’m about to dismiss them all entirely and consider getting a monkey, everyone suddenly rejoins Team Dean. They once again laugh at my jokes, follow my lead and listen when I talk. At first I think it’s just an elaborate con to rob me of the last vestiges of my self-confidence, but it doesn’t change. For the last week we’re in Alaska, I am a valid and valued member of both factions in this little tribe. I’m not exactly sure what I did, or even if it has anything to do with me at all, but whatever – they like me… they really like me.
And I realize that, whatever the sex of our future child, this is what it’s going to be. Some days I’ll be the master, some days I’ll be the monster. But if I can just hang in there, I’ll always be dad. And it doesn’t really matter what sex our future child is. Boy or girl, the kid’s all right.
Up Next… The Hits Just Keep On Coming