A long, long time ago, in a galaxy that now seems far away, before we had ever even heard of unschooling, our parenting practices were pretty far out of the mainstream. Cloth diapers, washed at home? Check. No vaccinations, no circumcision, breastfeeding? Check. Baby slings? Yep. And more, much more.
One of our least conventional choices has been our decision to co-sleep. We sleep in a family bed, a giant room-consuming contraption composed of two queen-sized mattresses pushed together to form one giant mega-bed. We've been doing this in one form or another from the beginning, and it definitely works for all of us. After a number of different combos over the years, we settled into an sleep order about three years ago that we're all comfortable with: me on the left, followed by Kai, Ging, and Kade. The boys have an option to change, or to have their own room, but they are very happy with the current arrangement. So we're happy, too.
The other night, Ginger was out very late, Annie went to bed relatively early, and the boys and I were flying solo as midnight turned into 1:00am, then 2:00am, and finally 3:15am before the yawns began. As the three of us climbed into our family bed, we quickly realized that Ginger's absence would leave an open space between Kai and Kade. That doesn't really work for either of them; they have always enjoyed having someone to touch while they fall asleep. So I took my seven pillows and quilted blanket over to Ginger's space, and we talked and told stories and held hands until we were all finally and thoroughly on our way to the land of Nod.
As they began drifting off, I found myself enjoying the comfort of being surrounded by these two amazing boys with whom I have shared so much. They have seen me at my worst, for sure, but they have also inspired me to be at my best on so many occasions. And while their love and presence have been comforting to me, I like to think that I have comforted them a few times too. Once they were asleep and I was lying there afraid to move lest I wake them up, I began thinking of all of the times when I was at my best, and I could not help but feel a strong tinge of pride at all that I have been able to do as a father, even though I am far from perfect.
In a culture which, in many way, values quiet humility over pride, allowing yourself a moment or two to be proud of your accomplishments can be a very rare luxury. We are taught to focus on what could be better about ourselves, on all of the things we need to change, and on all of the things we do wrong that prevent us from being perfect. When we do something well, we are taught to be humble about it. Don't get me wrong, humble is good; but when humility and a desire to improve provide an obstacle to being able to see and appreciate your own goodness, not only does that hinder your own self-image and self-worth, it sets a potentially negative example for your children. Think about it; how will your kids ever be satisfied with the amazing things they do if they are not allowed to take pride in them, to celebrate what they are and what they do? I'm not saying that we should demonstrate cockiness, but there is something very relieving and rejuvenating about taking pride in a job well done.
So as I lay there surrounded wrapped in a blanket of security woven by the love of my children, I allowed myself a few moments to remember some of the things I did right in the early years - and I took pride in them.
I am proud of all of the times that I went to sleep with just the boys, reading a few books and telling a few made-up stories, sometimes falling asleep along the way, and sometimes staying awake to hold their hands and caress their heads while they fell asleep snuggled close to me.
I am proud of all of the times I was able let go of my expectations and my arbitrary "must do"s and focus instead on what everyone's needs were.
I am proud of hunting down our pediatrician and knocking on the door to her house when she blew us off about a diagnosis; bet she still remembers that visit.
I am proud of silly songs, crazy dances, dressing up, and weird voices.
I am proud of eating the cookie on the Oreo while the boys ate the centers.
I am proud of the times when my head gave up thoughts of the past and the future and allowed my heart to live in the present.
I am proud of the times when I was the only one who could put my boys in a sling, walk them gently around the neighborhood softly humming lullabies or show tunes, and get them to fall asleep. And I am proud that when we got back home, I would usually sit in a comfy chair and fall asleep myself with them still slung to my body, our breathing patterns falling in together.
I am proud of losing a brand new $60 shirt to a giant milk burp without the slightest concern.
I am proud of the times I lost at races and wrestling, of all the times I played Fire Trucks or Space Destroyer on a piece of playground equipment even though I was the only Dad at the park, and of all of the times I let them bury me in the sand.
I am proud of the times when I said "yes" when I felt "no", when I said "more" when I felt "less", and when I said "thank you" when I felt "you're welcome."
I am proud of giving up an amazing Army career because they wanted me to leave my wife and baby for 12 months.
I am proud of seeing mud and mess and temporary and fixable.
I am proud of the fact that I usually never raised an eyebrow during the thousands of books we read, stories we told, and episodes of "Thomas the Tank Engine" and "Dora the Explorer" we watched.
I am proud of skipping in malls, taking off my shoes in the library, and cuddling little boys who were scared of Santa.
I am proud of riding carousels like a cowboy, shouting "Yee Haw!!!" for three minutes straight while the other grown-ups avoided making eye contact.
I am proud of never resenting changing a diaper; I didn't enjoy it, really, but I didn't resent it.
I am proud of always going back and admitting a mistake, and asking for forgiveness while never expecting it.
I am proud of listening instead of speaking, following instead of leading, learning instead of teaching, and moving instead of digging in.
I am not perfect and I will never be perfect; frankly, I'm not really sure what a "perfect" parent is. I have warts, I have quirks, I have things at which I both excel and absolutely suck. But I appreciate the amazing gift of being a parent, of helping these children through their good times and bad, of being allowed the privilege of watching them grow each day. And even on the worst days, I cannot wait to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.
And I am proud of that, too.