On another beautiful morning in southern California in the mid-1990s, I pulled the shower curtain back to turn on the water and—lo and behold—the tub basin was covered with toys of varying sizes and shapes. This wasn’t the first time our sons’ toys were left strewn across my path.
On a Halloween night a couple of years earlier, our oldest son left one of those weeble-wobble toys (see photo) on the living room floor. Without seeing it, I stepped where I shouldn’t have in my bare feet and went down with the grace of a tranquilized elephant. With a pinky toe stuck pointing heavenward, my wife drove me to the emergency room where a doctor took X-rays, popped the toe back into place, and put me in a walking boot for a few weeks.
That was when kids’ toys became my archenemies.
From that night on, toys left in my path were a surefire way to irritate and send me into grumpy daddy mode.
“Joshua! David! Michael! How many times have I told you to pick up your toys?” was heard often around our home.
With mostly their mom’s help, the boys got better at picking up their toys, but the bathtub remained a problem. Bathtime was play time for them at that age. I remembered those days from my own childhood but still, the bathtub was not a toy storage solution.
No matter how much I complained and corrected, the issue persisted. Nothing irritated me more at that time than toys in the bathtub.
A lot of years have passed since then. Our boys are all grown now and have flown the coop. As much as toys in the bathtub irritated me as a young father, one of the things I miss most about those days is—you guessed it—toys in the bathtub.
You see, toys in the bathtub symbolize a time in our sons’ lives when fun and innocence ran rampant. A time when they did annoying—albeit adorable now—things like … well, you know.
Toys in the bathtub to me now represent a time of immaturity and thoughtlessness. Mainly, my own as a parent. They remind me to not be such a sourpuss about minor inconveniences. They remind me that each phase of life should be relished and savored for as long as possible.
As I reflect on those days, I wish I’d been more patient with our sons and not been so quick to anger over the inconveniences of youthful behavior.
Parenthood is a funny thing. When you’re in the thick of the battle, you don’t appreciate the specialness of the particular phase of childhood you’re encountering. It’s only after our kids are grown that we appreciate those days and challenges.
This is, in part, why I look forward to being a grandparent. I get to try again.
The next generation
Elijah Joshua entered out lives in August 2018. On his daddy’s birthday, in fact. I can’t even begin to describe the impact that little Eli has had on my life in the few months since his arrival. From the moment I saw his picture just minutes after he was born, I felt a deep love for and connection to him.
Because he lives far away, I’ve only held and spent time with him a few times since his birth. But I can already tell I’m going to be better and more patient with him than I was with my boys and little girl.
Grandparenting is God’s gift to us to get this parenting thing right. A do-over in which we can improve on our parenting skills, to be how we should have been. A Mulligan with which we can trade in the heavy-handedness of a 3-iron for the soft touch of a sand wedge.
We get to see Elijah in person soon. We’re very excited about this. We love seeing the pictures his parents send, but pictures don’t compare to actually holding and interacting with our grandson.
Of all the things I look forward to with our just-arrived and future grandchildren, finding toys in the bathtub again will be one of the most cherished.