“Zoë, sit down please. Zoë, sit down. Zoë, sit. Down. Zoë. Sit. Down.”
7:00 at the Souplantation, after an hour and a half in the car. I’ve just finished convincing Zoë that she needn’t down the little paper salad dressing cup full of Ranch in one swift gulp. “Dip, don’t shoot, sweetie.” Now she is, as you may have surmised, standing up on her seat, gazing longingly at the sneeze-guards in the distance.
Four years ago this would have been a test of sorts, although at that point, per my calculations, I would have had 5,840 hours of experience as a parent (that’s 730 days times an average of eight hours spent on active parenting per day). As of May 1, I’ve been a parent for 2,371 days. Keeping that same hourly active parenting average, as of yesterday I had 18,968 dadding hours under my belt. That would make me an expert, at least according to Malcolm Gladwell.
Gladwell is the guy that wrote the book Outliers, the one that all of your friends who read (or who want you to think they read) tell you is a must-read. It’s about how really successful people become really successful. One of Gladwell’s key ideas is the 10,000 Hour Rule. To become the best at something, one needs to put in an enormous amount of work. Gladwell argues that every successful person, whether they’re a scientist, a musician, a businessman, or an athlete, puts in at least 10,000 hours of practice at his or her chosen field.
The Beatles, for instance, played some 1,200 gigs in Hamburg, Germany from 1960 to 1963, enough so that when they reached that 10,000 hour mark, they were, well, The Beatles. (This is why I’ve yet to receive that phone call saying that Robert Pattinson will be playing me in Michael Bay’s DadCentric: The Movie.)
18,968 hours. That’s a lot. I pause to consider this. We are at a crux of their development, these two little rapidly filling tabula rasas. Zoë is two and a half, speaking in complete sentences, learning her letters, and absorbing new songs like a sponge (pretty good with the lyrics, although when she sings her ABC’s and says “H I JASON L M N O P”… well, far be it from me to correct her).
Lucas is diving into the more complex waters of Right and Wrong, and getting it, for the most part: his biggest sin is the occasional eyeroll and backtalk, but we’ll take that over hitting his sister and getting sent to the principal’s office any day.
The panicked days of Are We Doing This Right? are over, at least for now. We’ve come through the crucible, and those 18,968 hours feel earned. Despite the gazillions of parenting books and magazines and websites, I don’t think anyone can truly call themselves a parenting expert, but most of the time, I feel pretty close to being an expert, at least when it comes to my kids.
“Psst! Zoë!” New tactic. Switch to Whisper Mode—change the volume, get the attention. She looks at me, all red hair and big brown eyes. (I’m pretty sure the Are We Doing This Right Days will return, when she’s 15.) “Please sit down?” I ask softly. “Ok, daddy!”, she says, and does. Have I read Outliers? Pfft. I don’t need to. 18,968 hours. I look around the crowded restaurant. That’s right. Dad’s got it under control.
Then she stands right back up, knocks over her milk and spills it everywhere, and yells “OH JEEEEEEESUS!” at the top of her lungs. She still has 21,900 hours of being a kid.