I never realized that parenting would revolve so much around pretending.
I'm not just talking about the greater strokes of pretending, like the kind that preserves the sanctity of innocence, adding the rosy-hued tilt-shift filter around life. Or the kind of self-preserving denial that any of us actually know what we're doing or if our best-laid plans will pay off before they peter out or that at our weakest moments that everything will be fine, just fine, sweetie. But the nuance of pretending, the subtle ways through which you proceed every day riding the small waves of reality and imagination, that was what continually surprises me.
Sure, I was braced for things like playing pretend, or even playing dumb sometimes. I knew there would be times of sitting on the floor where I'd have to pretend I didn't know where a flash card was while my child pretended that they didn't either, so that they could triumphantly "discover" it and proudly show me their astute accomplishment. I knew I'd spend days with my kids pretending to cook or to be superheroes or re-imaging their favorite stories. That kind of pretending is obvious and fairly easy if you've spent any amount of time around small children.
But I never imagined pretending to be invisible, just out of view, as I watch my son carefully try to place my new egg timer back on the back ledge of the oven, where it stays when I'm not using it, as I had been moments earlier. I didn't know I'd hold my breath as I watched him try to figure out the physics of balance and height and arm length. I didn't realize I'd stand there in silent wonder as he tried so hard to get it right, to but it back in a place he knew to be correct, even though he'd seen me set it and leave it on the counter within easy reach while being genuinely surprised that he'd paid that much attention when I went to painstaking length to not draw any attention to the fact that there was a new egg timer at all, since they broke the last one and the new one is far more fun looking than the old one was.
I didn't realize I could fade into obscurity by laying perfectly still next to them on the floor, a book between them and Kiedis turning the page, saying sidter, sidter and pointing to the illustration as Tova briefly mulls it over and excitedly says ceebah! as she, too, points at the image and he tilts up his chin towards her and calmly, yet strongly says zerbreh, googdob at her and turns the page to a new picture, starting anew with the blind leading the blind on verbal identification and pronunciation of Eric Carle animals.
I didn't realize I would pretend to not be right were I am as much as I do, as I watch them figure things out themselves and just marvel, marvel, at how smart and aware and in tune they are with this house and this family. That from the other room I would hear the quiet, playful giggles of excited children and despite wanting to rush to where they are, to see what's giving them such joy together, that I'd stop and pretend I don't hear it, the sounds of them becoming something resembling friends, and I would just quietly smile to myself and internally whisper please let this last another moment longer, knowing that at any moment it will erupt into chaos but wanting to afford them the chance at something much bigger than the heartbreak and betrayal over who gets to wear the witch hat and who doesn't.
I didn't know I'd be so quiet, so still, so often, as if I didn't exist at all or merely a figment of their imagination. That I'd intentionally leave them alone and pretend I have no clue as to what they want in order for them to learn to use their words or that pooping in the big kid potty would be the absolutely most exciting thing to happen ever in the span of ever, hallelujah.
Yet here I sit, pretending I don't hear the garbled chorus of Do Re Mi travelling down the stairwell as Kiedis belts his heart out, still blissfully unaware that this centenarian home's walls are somehow paper thin while being nearly a foot thick, nor that I hear Tova opening her door and running to the bathroom to get the rubber ducks on the sink ledge so that she can align them just so on her nightstand so they keep watch over her while she sleeps. No, I am pretending they are snugly tucked into their little beds, sleeping soundly two hours after bedtime as all little children do.
I realize as they get older the pretending will become more difficult as they begin to understand the world and how it works, both good and bad, and increasingly harder as they age and become increasingly independent versions of themselves and they tackle the coming of age gauntlet with the lack of grace we all did and pretend we didn't.
I'm not quite ready to think about all that right now, the steady chipping away at their innocence and naivete at the expense of the safety and stability of childhood youth. I am content to explore this delicate game of pretend we play everyday; I am more than happy to facilitate the world they create for themselves by pretending I know nothing of it until they request of me to.
I am a watcher by trade and while there was (and still is) so very much that I was/am wholly unprepared for concerning parenting, I am becoming increasingly grateful for this feigning of ignorance, this subtext of pretending I do nearly every day around my children, so that I may see them in their natural states as the subtlety and undertones of their personalities peek through the rougher, harder outers of their ages and developmental stages and give me a brief glimpse into what makes them tick, and what will make them the adults they (universe willing) will someday become.
It is one thing to pantomime through imaginative play with my children and to remember what that happiness felt like a quarter of a century ago; it is a completely other to pretend with the same joy and wonder through observing the actions of the two people who came from me and having that be so much more than enough.