I was staring at my feet as I trudged across the crunchy shell of snow that is my children’s, elementary school playground. My thoughts were caught up in a mess of must do’s and can’t do’s and wish I didn’t have to’s. As I neared the spot where my kindergartner lines up for pick up, I saw that he had spotted me first and was running towards me. He held his lunch box in one hand and his backpack in the other as he trotted like he does, in his goofy little way. His arms were out wide as he crashed into me like a tiny wave of adorable and hugged my knees. This moment was the highlight of my day.
He said goodbye to his teacher and we ventured on towards the third grade line to pick up his older brother when tragedy struck his poor, young heart.
He’d gathered some rocks apparently at recess and claimed them for his own. This is a hobby of his. Unfortunately, he’d left his rocks in his classroom.
“My rocks!” He said, his voice thick with panic.
I thought he said blocks because his voice was muffled by his mask. He found my confusion to be endlessly frustrating which only fueled his eventual despair as I informed him that we were in a hurry to get to his other brother’s school and would not be able to fetch his lost rocks. He dropped to his knees and screamed towards the heavens in agony. My middle son joined us now as my youngest did his best Charlton Heston impression. I quietly urged him to compose himself when he summoned forth a thousand years of human suffering over the temporary loss of his treasured rocks and commenced to throw a world class tantrum in the middle of a parent filled, crunchy snow playground. This was perhaps the low point of my day.
It’s embarrassing when your kid throws a tantrum in public but mostly I just felt guilty for not going the extra mile to retrieve his rocks. I had, however committed to our course and established a precedent that he should be more responsible with his treasures. This was a practical maneuver rather than an ideological one and in hindsight I wish that I would have chosen differently. But such is the burden of leadership.
He mourned and he mourned loudly. With each blubber that escaped his lips I felt like less of a father. We picked up his other brother and then went back to the restaurant. His agony had subsided but the pain was still evident by his silence. His brothers rushed in, excited for some afternoon snacks while he took the sullen route. He stared at his shoes as he trudged across the gravel alley towards the back door of the restaurant when he stopped suddenly. I watched from the doorway as he knelt down and gathered three small rocks which he put into his pocket before standing back up and trotting towards me in his funny little way. He stopped, smiled at me and hugged my knees before going inside.
“I love you, Dad.” He said and this too was the highlight of my day.