Every day, during dinner, we talk about the best part of our day.
We very intentionally started this practice when our older daughter was much younger and refused to respond to any question with anything other than a defensive “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” We wanted to normalize talking about our feelings and asking questions of each other. It’s also just….nice to do. What follows is a typical “What was the best part of your day?” conversation:
Dad, starting things off: “Sooooooo, what was the best part of everybody’s day?”
Dad uses a tone that, when he first started trying it, he intended to be a mockery of “dad talk”; a mixture of goofiness and encouragement. This tone has since become a way he actually talks. He wonders if this happens for all dads, or if he just really bought into it.
Dad looks at older daughter, who has predicted this question is coming. Quite an easy prediction, it turns out, as the same thing happens every day.
Older daughter, deflecting : “What was the best part of your day, [ENTER]: Mom/Dad?”
The appropriate parent answers the question, and then asks older daughter what the best part of her day was.
Older daughter, deflecting: “What was the best part of your day [ENTER]: other parent?”
The appropriate parent answers the question, and begins asking older daughter once again what the best part of her day was, only to be interrupted by….
Older daughter: What was the best part of your day, kid sister?
Kid Sister, eating: “Mumph mamph muh. Bom mamph bo muh. Uhhhhhh. Uhhhhhhh!” (Reaching plaintively now).
Mom: “Younger daughter, say what you want.”
Younger daughter: “More.”
Mom, enthusiastically: “More! Yes, you can have more.”
Younger daughter offers an accomplished grin, continues eating.
Older daughter: “Her favorite part of the day is dinner! The best part of my day was…” [ENTER]: one of the answers already given by a parent OR “going to school.”
Talking about the best part of our days is often, fittingly, one of the best parts of my day. Helena’s grown into it; her initial hesitancy has given way to a controlled participation. She’ll contribute, but she wants to direct the flow. Sometimes, on particularly good days, she dives in and initiates.
The conversation is especially nice for me nowadays, when my days have started to blend together. I don’t really object to this; we’ve gone through so many transitions lately that I’m glad to settle into some sort of rhythm. Still, I want that rhythm to have enough variety that I can differentiate Monday from Thursday. I want to be able to report in during dinner time; to have a “best part of my day.”
We should all have that.
“Red Letter Days“
We’ve been lucky to recently have a string of what we call “Red Letter Days”; days where so much good happened, it’s hard to pick out the best part. I think we took the phrase from Emma’s mom. Sometimes, when something really great happens, Helena will say “Wow, what a Red Letter Day!” It’s delightful.
“Red Letter Days” typically happen on the weekends, when we’re all together. Here are some scenes from recent Red Letter Days:
The recipe for a Red Letter Day is, so far, very simple:
Good Thing Happens + The girls’ grandparents are involved + Another good thing happens = RED LETTER DAY!
Here’s an example:
We go to the park and run into one of Helena’s friends! + Emma’s parents come over! + We all go for a hike! = RED LETTER DAY!
Or this one:
We go apple picking with my brother and his family! + My mom comes over! + We put up Halloween decorations! = RED LETTER DAYYYY!!!!!
On a Red Letter Day, we don’t need to press the conversation forward during dinner; we all dive in, happily listing off all of the good. “Whoops, we almost forgot that other good thing! What about you, kiddo? That’s at least 5 good things!”
On a Red Letter Day, after dinner and putting the girls to bed, Mom and Dad talk even more about how good the day was. We do this instead of diving straight into our customary game of “who falls asleep on the couch first?”
We still play the game, we just put it off for a bit.
I don’t want you to think this is the downer part, because it’s not. It has a happy ending.
I’m also not changing tone for dramatic effect. I wouldn’t do that to us.
It’s just that Red Letter Days, like anything special, are designated as such because they are the outliers. We’ve been able to cram a bunch of them in recently, because we know the recipe and we have the motivation to do so. The motivation comes from staring down the barrel of the cold-weather seasons here in New York.
We know what’s coming. The other 6 months of the year. We are grasping for as many days outdoors as we can get before we settle into late autumn and winter, where much is left to be settled in terms of how we’ll be living our lives.
A few months ago, we lived outside on the weekends. The girls couldn’t get enough of the park, or the swing set, or BUBBLES!
We felt safe enough at the local pool, a place tucked away behind a building that looks vacant, its parking lot a patch of grass that never fades, so few people know about it. We’d have our friends over, or Helena’s friends over, or our families over, always outside. We didn’t have to enter into careful negotiations; no bubbles, no pods, either because we didn’t know how to broach the subject or because we really didn’t care to. We’re outside! We’re safe, so long as we’re outside!
But now, the cold has started to push us indoors. The sun dips behind a cloud and the day has passed. As I write this, it’s a cold, rainy day, and Oriana and I have been stuck in the house. The day’s event? Watching the city cut down a tree near our yard, broken during a recent wind storm. On the porch, Ori brings me the same book, over and over: Happy Birthday!
Happy Birthday! is one of those 5-page Baby Einstein board books that I’m sure serve no actual purpose in terms of childhood development. I’ll read this and I Love You, Stinky Face 30 times today. “What did monkey get? A banana!” Oh, it’s always banana!
Ori and monkey both love bananas. She beams, a wide, toothy grin. I announce the end of the book, as I always do. She takes it out of my hands, regards it for a moment, then flips it back into my lap, as she always does.
“Do you want me to read this book to you?”
“Ok. This one is called Happy Birthday!”….
We read Happy Birthday! 6 of its designated 20 times and then go inside. I text Emma about how the tree situation turned out, and the day’s excitement, such as it was, winds down. Indoors, I allow myself to wonder-worry on this claustrophobic day. What will Friday nights turn into? They’ve already shortened, now that, when the backyard fire dies down, everyone starts to realize: “it got cold out”. What about the holidays, which were never a gamble before? Not anymore! Want to roll the dice on COVID?
Trick or Treat!? COVID!
Who should I try to see before they determine they’re not seeing anyone at all for the next 5 months? Recently, we bought an air filtration system, hoping to accommodate some type of indoor company. Will we use it?
We’ve started talking about taking up skiing and teaching Helena. Anything that is outside would be safe, yeah? I’ve never skied a day in my life, but what the hell, I’ll break a leg if I can do it with other people. We’re greedy for the outdoors even now.
When the future is uncertain, we take what we can, and as much of it as we can carry.
I put Ori down for her nap and decide I’ll turn my thoughts into this post, which I hope proves more productive than idly ruminating. You’ll be happy to know that it’s helpful.
Welcome to meta-Matt.
I write until I get to the part about Ori and me being outside before it’s time to go and pick up Helena. I have to pluck Ori out of her crib, still half-asleep and all “why are you doiiing thisss to meeeeeeeeee?” as I carry her through the rain to the car. I briefly wonder if there was ever any potential for today to be a Red Letter Day. I wonder if this is like cooking, and I forgot one of the ingredients, like that time I made “Dad’s Signature Poop Chicken” but without any salt (we’ll save that for another post). I decide it’s better to tell myself that “not every day has to be a Red Letter Day”. In doing so, I feel not one bit like Buddha.
We get in the car and I put on a playlist that I made a few years ago, one that’s really stood the test of time. It makes me feel a little better, because music always does. We arrive at the school and I hop out, joining the other wet parents, everyone with an umbrella because they don’t want wet kids. What do we talk about? The weather, silly. This, along with my brief interaction with a city employee about tree maintenance and removal, will be the majority of my adult conversation for the day. This isn’t as sad as you may think by reading it; I enjoy my own company.
On the ride home, we talk about Helena’s day at school. She usually needs a bit of time to decompress, so we do a quick check-in and then listen to the music. A happy memory of a song comes on. I think about how I found it, watching the most triumphant part of Twin Peaks: The Return, a series otherwise entirely devoid of “triumphant” feeling. (It’s from the episode when Dale Cooper finally “returns”, we’re led to believe). I think about the time that we played the song loud in the house and I banged along to the drum section on a conga; the girls running around wildly. It’s a nice place to be lost for a minute or two.
Soon we’re close to home; too close to finish the song. Bummer, it was a nice visit. In the driveway, I motion to turn the car off.
“Dad! Dad!” Helena has an urgent matter.
“What’s up, kid?”
“Keep the song on, I want to hear the rest.”
“You bet, I was hoping the same thing.”
We finish the song, exactly what I need. Thanks, kiddo!
I put Ori in the house first. She wants to stay outside, but I offer some fatherly advice on the importance of staying warm and dry to my 18-month old. I can tell she appreciates it. I go back out to the car to retrieve Helena’s bookbag, because she’s a big kid now and requires such things.
I turn back toward the house and, through the glass storm door, I see Oriana. She’s still in the pajamas that I haven’t changed her out of today, because…..why? I get closer and, opening the door, I see that she’s put on her sister’s old rain boots. She’s ready to go outside. In her hand she carries a book: Happy Birthday! She holds it up to me.
“You want me to read that book to you?”
“Uyuuuh!” She grins.
And just like that, I know what part of my day I’ll talk about during dinner tonight.
Here is the song, for those who are interested: