What I learned from a 5 year old about the wisdom of calming the f*ck down
Author: Paul Costianes
Twinkling pianos form a rising crescendo of sound that swirls around me as I recline on a pillowy cloud carried on the wings of angels, lifting me towards a beautiful sunrise. It’s interesting that there are beers available on this cloud, and Burt Reynolds is hanging out on the other side of the cloud talking about jet boats, but I’m not going to interrupt Gator. Rising through this beautiful skyline towards a shining light above, I can feel my mind being pulled away from this scene as if zooming out on a telescope. I know what is happening and what this detachment means but don’t want to accept it yet, trying desperately to hold on to this idyllic journey for as long as possible. Suddenly, I’m jarred back into reality as the twinkling pianos morph into a rather mundane stock alarm sound from a slightly old iPhone. Lying still for a moment with my eyes shut tight, I momentarily consider the idea that perhaps this is a dream. The morning at home and the upcoming cycle of “getting ready for the day” is nothing but a sleep state for some alternate reality version of myself. Is this a simulation or reality? Whatever the answer, my employer and daughter’s teachers don’t seem to care.
Rolling my legs off of the bed and sitting up in one swift motion, I pause at the edge of the bed for a moment, wiping sleep from my eyes and scratching my head to try and force blood into my brain…or whatever rubbing your head in the morning does. After a moment I’m up and begin my usual morning routine. Water, morning constitutional, stretch, a bit of exercise to get the blood pumping, shower and all is well. Depending on where you live, running outside in the Fall can be an amazing experience. Brisk air, beautiful changes occurring in nature as colors take over foliage and mother nature begins to slip into the blanket of winter.
Or maybe you live on the beach or some beautiful Mediterranean climate and your mornings are filled with sun, sand and the awe-inspiring sight of the ocean and beautiful people. If so…whatever.
In my particular corner of the world it’s cold, rainy and unpredictable. Some mornings are great, our city embodying the idyllic fall wonderland of paintings and Instagram travel feeds. This is some of my favorite weather and one of the best parts of living in this place, but it may be snatched out from under you at a moment’s notice as the temperature fluctuates wildly throughout the day. Today was no different, and I’m pelted with freezing rain as the temperatures drop minute by minute over the course of my 45 minutes outdoors. Wim Hof says that ice baths are good for you, so I keep pushing and finish the route. This one’s for you Wim.
After a quick shower to warm up and get ready, my daily routine has reached its most formidable test. It’s time to wake up my 5 year old daughter.
Olive (not her real name) is a beautiful child. She has the kind of youthful sweetness and thoughtfulness that adults lose too early in life, and is a perpetual bright spot. Accompanying this personality is a propensity to stop and sniff the flowers, enjoying everything at her own pace and just having fun with life. She marches to the beat of her own drum and is growing into an amazing young lady right in front of our eyes. She’s also a beast of epic proportions when it’s time to move in the mornings. Here is how the “wake up call” scenario usually takes place.
Me: “Good MORNING! *Turns light on* Time to wake up little munchkin! It’s time for breakfast! Cereal today? Eggs?”
Today she decides not to hear me and pretends to sleep, lying perfectly still until I decide to wake her by a whisper in her ear. She promptly responds with a “NOOOOOO!” and a commando roll under the blankets to hide from the intrusion. I attempt to respond with a song, as the playing of a low volume version of the Frozen theme song on my phone prompted a series of smiles, hugs, and a romping skip to the breakfast table yesterday morning. I have come to learn in my 5 short years as a parent that you can never count on yesterday’s successes to save you in battle today.
I have come to learn in my 5 short years as a parent that you can never count on yesterday’s successes to save you in battle today.
The first whimsical chords of the sweeping tune elicits a flurry of screams and kicks, plus a tornado move under the blankets to hide herself from my attacks. I recoil, trying to process the swiftness of the breakdancing move that just happened. It is at this moment that my wife whisks into the room to save me, gently lulling Olive into a state of wakening through back pats and hummed tunes.
“I think Frozen is a bit too intense today…for both of us,” she says over her shoulder.
“For the first time in forever,” I say, slinking away to the kitchen to pack a lunch.
We’re now back on track. Bread, avocado, fruit on the table for breakfast. Carrots, fruit, chicken and rice in the lunch box and into the backpack. Rapidly checking these off of my mental list, I spin on my heel to see if Olive is enjoying her breakfast.
“How are you enjoying that avoooo….” I trail off, realizing that seat is vacant. “Olive?” I pointlessly ask to the empty chair. I begin to retrace my steps through the house looking for the missing girl. Turning the corner into her bedroom I see her sitting at her play desk, pulling a stringy pink goo high into the air, squishing it between her fingers and smashing the air out of it to make lewd noises.
“Whatcha doing?” I ask, figuratively.
“Playing with Unicorn Poop,” she says without looking my way.
“That’s awesome. Let’s go grab some breakfast,” I reply.
“But I want to play with this Unicorn Poop.”
“Well, you can do that after breakfast if you get moving. We have to leave soon.”
“I think I’ll bring it to breakfast,” she responds in a contemplative tone.
“Ok, just get in here and eat. We’ve gotta roll!” I say, tempering my rising blood pressure to sound like excitement.
Back to the kitchen I fly, hearing heavy footsteps following closely behind and mounting the kitchen chair. A spoon begins to clank, all is well.
“Hey Daddy,” she calls. I turn to see Olive holding her spoon high above her head as a mound of the pink slime oozes slowly to the table.
“I didn’t see a Unicorn poop in your oatmeal this morning. Now clean that off and eat!” I say, bolting to the bedroom to continue my morning ritual and briefly wondering how many toxic chemicals were included in that slime. Passing my wife on her way to facilitate the breakfast session, I avoid eye contact as I hear her say “What’s that on your spoon?”
Running through the remainder of our morning tasks, Olive continues to leisurely move through her breakfast, stopping to laugh, play and perform slapstick routines for us. Checking my watch, I announce that we are now 5 minutes past needing to be on the road and are going to be late for school. Olive snaps to attention, puts her Unicorn goo back in its container and flies into getting ready. She is a flurry of brushing teeth, changing clothes, putting on shoes and coat…and then she disappears.
“We’ve got to MOVE! Let’s GO guys!!!!” I say impatiently, raising my action verbs like a sports coach and staring at the kitchen ceiling as I wait for them to materialize.
“Calm down, moving this fast won’t make you on time,” my wife yells back as she and Olive skip into the room hand-in-hand.
“We need to start waking up earlier, this happens every morning,” I respond humorlessly as they skip around me in circles.
“YOU need to start calming down. You work everyone up too much and we start making mistakes because we’re in a hurry. Remember the WATER BOTTLE INCIDENT?” she replies with a wide-eyed, traumatized look.
[Author’s Note – She may or may not be referring to the time I supposedly threw a water bottle into Olive’s backpack without tightening the lid correctly, allegedly causing a flood of water in said backpack. The jury is still out on the exact cause of this, however.]
“We’re at an impasse and she’s late. I’ve gotta go. We can decide what works best later,” I say, grabbing Olive’s bag, kissing my wife and spinning out the door without addressing the water bottle inquiry.
In one smooth series, I throw Olive’s things into the car, buckle her into the seat, rev up the car and blaze out of our driveway…to a dead stop.
Traffic is ground to a halt. I maneuver and angle my way through traffic, internally contemplating which way to go, stressing as my mind works forward through various scenarios and assesses the potential consequences.
“Daddy?” I hear from the backseat.
“I wrote you a song,” Olive says as she launches into song.
“If you’re feeling stressed think of UNICORNS!
Count to 10 and think of UNICORNS!
It’ll help you feel much better if you think of U-NI-CORNSSSSS!
Because their poop is real-ly fun-ny.”
Hearing this song and her ensuing laughter snapped me out of the trap of this forward thinking stress trap and focused me on what was important about this situation. I was getting to hang out with my daughter on her way to school. This was an opportunity that I wouldn’t get to experience forever, so having fun and bonding now is of the utmost importance.
So we sang. We made up songs, played “I spy,” and did the type of fun kid stuff that we forget to do as adults. We pulled into her school in what seemed like a minutes. On seeing her teachers and the stopping of the car, she gave me a kiss, jumped out of the car and ran to school yelling “I LOVE YOU DADDY!” at the top of her lungs. It was a glorious feeling that made me smile as I pulled out of the parking lot, ready for smooth sailing as I launched my car back towards traffic…and immediately into gridlock.
Inching forward as traffic crawls along the interstate, I slip seamlessly into the mass of cars, bobbing and weaving through the flow of traffic like a salmon swimming upstream, jumping lanes at the sight of an opening. I can FEEL the minutes I’m saving adding up as I go, buying back valuable time lost on the turtle’s pace of the morning at my house.
Pulling into a spot in the city parking garage at work I hop out of the car, a triumphant rush hour warrior who has defeated the traffic beast. I’m also still humming that damned Unicorn song. Opening the door to grab my computer bag I reach in for the handles of my bag and feel a wave of dread come over me as I grab only air. Frantically rummaging around in the darkness of the backseat, I am forced into the realization that there is nothing there. A panic sets over me as I check the same space again and again, supposing that the bag would suddenly manifest from the darkness if I try enough times. No luck bud.
I am at a decision point. Should I go into work and attempt to get a loaner laptop from the help desk before a 9 am meeting, or take a gamble and make the run back to my house to grab it? I assume that it would take longer for them to set up a loaned laptop than it would to go home, plus I’m a far faster driver than they are at showing me attention. There isn’t even a guarantee that anyone is at work yet to help me. Since Google Maps looks clear, I decide that I can make the run through traffic in record time if I move fast enough.
And Google Maps was right. Traffic is thinning out and moving smoothly. Drivers use their signals to change lanes and fast cars roll along in the fast lanes. It’s a startlingly perfect example of traffic patterns working as they should, allowing me to weave quickly through their ranks and make record time home. Bounding through the door of my house I spot my bag sitting in the kitchen, exactly where I left it on my way out the door. Laughing to myself and making a grimacing face about my slip of mind, I walk to my bag and zip it up for the trip as my stomach lets out a growl.
“I should grab something to eat for the drive, since I’ve got PLENTY of time,” I say to myself with a chuckle.
Opening the refrigerator to survey the “To Go” breakfast options. I settle on a string cheese, tearing the wrapper off as I walk out of the house and leap back to my car. The ride back to the office is smooth sailing once again, with surprisingly courteous drivers, low level of gridlock and a general sense of ease. Pulling back into the parking garage I smile to myself upon finding a space particularly close to the door and sing one last bar of the Unicorn song before jumping out to head into work. Strutting to the passenger side door, I feel smiled upon by the traffic gods and impressed by my “Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder-like” driving prowess. Humming the chorus of Danger Zone, I open the door and reach in to grab my computer bag from behind the seat.
“Revvin’ up your eng…” With the tap of a button, Kenny Loggins’ voice abruptly comes to a halt. “Gonna listen to her howlin’ roar,” I mutter to myself, declining my wife’s call and silencing the “Danger Zone” ringtone that I’ve assigned to her. As I wait for the help desk team to finish setting up my loaner laptop, I can’t help but ponder the lessons that I’ve somehow lost from childhood fables like the Tortoise and the Hare. Each member of the help desk moves slowly yet purposefully from task to task, the completion of each piece of their set up routine becomes a dance of practiced efficiency. It takes 10 minutes to set me up and have me on my way. The bat-out-of-hell run to my house and back took 30. By always pushing the pace and making decisions too quickly, I’ve managed to piss off my family, raise my blood pressure, and have forgotten my laptop bag at home not once, but twice in one day. This was not because of a cheese stick, but because I was in too much of a hurry to be deliberate in my actions and adapt to changes in plan.
The importance of living at a slower and more relaxed pace that my daughter and the Help Desk team so expertly demonstrated will become my new north star. No one cares about how early we make it to work or school and if they do, we probably shouldn’t be working with them because they’re most likely assholes. Life truly is short, and when my time is up I want to remember things like playing with Unicorn Poop, singing songs with my daughter, and her yelling “I LOVE YOU DADDAAYY” while running to school. I think it’s time to calm the fuck down.
© 2019 55 Cities
Join our mailing list to stay up to date on new stories, features and more.