I was waiting in line at Trader Joe’s when I had deja vu and an epiphany.
I was by myself, having just dropped my son off at school. The guy in line in front of me was with his 2-year-son. The kid was still learning to talk well and use his words, still learning to walk like an expert — a cutie in a parka, looking around at the world.
As kids often are, the boy was both interested and scared of me. As the dad chatted with the clerk, he kept half an eye on his child who was looking at me, looking away, hiding behind his dad, coming back out. I made faces at the boy. A familiar dance for the father of a toddler. The cashier, enchanted by the kid, gave the boy extra stickers and sent him on his way.
“Oh wow! Say, ‘thank you,'” said the other dad. The kid mumbles a few words, the cashier smiled, the dad smiled, and then they were off. The cashier turned to me, still smiling, and there was a weird transformational moment when she took off her “isn’t that kid cute” face, and it was immediately replaced by her more professional “thank you for shopping at Trader Joe’s” face.
I loved being that Toddler Dad, and I miss being that Toddler Dad, and sometimes I long to be that Toddler Dad. I had it all figured out then.
I had a sense of already having played this scenario out. But in that previous experience, I was the dad of the cute little toddler that everybody loves. And the guy behind me in line, he was just some random guy making faces at my kid. Probably thinking of his own kid and the times they had when his child was a toddler, and how he misses having that toddler.
The epiphany I had was this: I will never be that dad again. I will never have a toddler again. My son is 8, going on 16, and he’s never going to be that cute little boy hiding behind his dad’s pant leg. He’s going to be his own self now. Cute is not the word, but handsome, or charming, or perhaps even infuriating. He was that cute boy. But now he’s someone else.
I loved being that Toddler Dad, and I miss being that Toddler Dad, and sometimes I long to be that Toddler Dad. I had it all figured out then. I sometimes feel at a loss now.
I understand that being a dad is a continuum, being a child is a continuum, being a person is a continuum, and it always changes — usually just when you are getting the hang of it.
When you are a new parent, people tell you, “It will go by so fast.” And you don’t believe them because it’s moving very slowly, and there are thousands of diapers and poopy bottoms and crying babies and non-sleeping nights.
But it goes by so fast …
A version of this first appeared on Dadapalooza.