by CL Bledsoe

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I live in northern Virginia which has the third worst traffic in the country. Since we’re not number one, we have to try harder to be horrible.

I work in Alexandria (near DC), but, on Fridays, I pick up my daughter out near Great Falls, on the other side of the world, strapping my huskies to my Mazda to traverse the hard terrain, and then head South. If you’re not from DC, know that it’s a lovely drive that rarely take more than 2 or 3 years.

One way we fill the time is telling jokes. The problem is that neither of us can usually remember more than a handful, and each leg of this is like an hour drive, easy. So we make them up.

Sometimes, we write them down and send them to Highlights. This is an object lesson in managing expectations. Here are some examples. Brace yourselves:

Knock knock.
Who’s There?
Who.
Who who?
OMG I love owls!

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Conceited Princess.
Conceited Princess, who?
Pfft. Girl, don’t act like you don’t know me.

(Not our joke) Knock Knock.

Who’s there?

Interrupting Cow.

Interrupting Cow —

MOOOOOO!

—who?

Okay, you have to do an Edward G. Robinson voice for this one:

Q: What does a gangster cat say?

A: Meow, see. Meow.

Lately, we’ve been on a Mad Libs kick. I got E a book for her eighth birthday and she got one at a book fair at school. We do it in the car, and lately, she wants to do them when she’s showering (whatever it takes).

But E isn’t big on spontaneity. She’s more of a perfectionist. It’s not good enough for me to just call out, “Gimmie a verb” through the door; she wants to know what the sentence is about. I try to explain that she’s missing the point of Mad Libs when she does that, but she insists.

And hey, it’s her game, so that’s how we do it. The life lesson that she can find ways to navigate the world until she’s more comfortable facing it on its own terms is more important right now than the life lesson that arbitrary rules are all that matter. She gets enough of arbitrary rules elsewhere.

Picture us, if you will. Her, in the shower. Me, standing outside the bathroom, calling out, “Adjective.”

“What’s the sentence?”

“It’s describing a mermaid.”

“Luminescent.”

“How do you spell that?”

“Dad!”

“Okay. Gimmie a color. Are you using soap?”

“I am now. What’s the sentence?”

“It’s describing a mermaid.” (The whole thing is about mermaids.)

“Seashell-Pink-Shadow.”

“Um.”

“Did you write it all down?”

Lately, she’s been reading a lot more. It really wasn’t that long ago that she was behind her grade level and having to go to the reading specialist at school. Now, she’d rather read in the car than tell stupid jokes with me.

Being a parent means balancing the journey of instilling independence in your child with the realization that this means they’ll eventually leave you. It’s not a slow thing, either. It comes in spurts. For a little while, you’re telling jokes and doing Mad Libs in the car. Then, it’s quiet and lonesome while your child reads. I can ask her to tell me about whatever she’s reading, but nobody wants to stop reading to tell people about their book. Soon, she’ll be begging to stay over with her friends instead of coming to see me at all. All I’ll have left will be polite rejections from Highlights and used Mad Libs.

I get it. When I was a kid, I read constantly. I spent most of my time alone. I worry that she’s a lonely child, though she has friends. I worry that she’s trying to escape the world. Worrying is what parents do. I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like, so the time I do have with her takes on a lot of significance. But kids’ lives these days are all manic activity. Reading in the car is a quiet time for her. She’s happy. That’s all I want.

But sometimes, we still tell jokes.

Me: Knock Knock

Her: Who’s there?

Me: Interrupting silence.

Her: interruptingsilencewho? Haha! I beat you!

Me:

Her:

Me:

*She kicks me*

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