The email was simple, a one-line sentence from my wife, and I could hear the elation in her voice – even though it was a written message.
“Last payment today … I’m doing a little happy dance right now!”
We had just paid the final invoice for our daughter’s preschool. At the end of the summer she will be in Kindergarten.
I felt the relief, too. Not of the financial commitment – although, that is always nice – but of the added commute time, the stress of getting a five-year-old onto a ferry boat in the morning and afternoon, the pressure to focus on her during these rides when I’d rather be working, or chilling out, or enjoying 35 minutes of “me” time.
I’m not going to lie – having her join me on a daily commute has been a little stressful. Getting her through the city, through walking and public transportation isn’t always the easiest. Walking to drop her off and pick her up adds nearly an hour to my overall commute time. That’s an hour of work I need to catch up on at some point.
And the mornings, or afternoons when her age gets the best of her – and the best of me – adds extra anxiety when you’re already trying to be at your best, be it as a person, as an employee, or as a parent.
My wife’s email sent thoughts through my head about how productive I can now be during the commute. I look around and see people on the ferry reading books, having adult conversations, practicing musical instruments, or a hobby like crocheting.
I’m going to have more time to write. I’m going to read more. I can zoom through some work documents and emails and not always have to turn on my computer at night, I thought.
But, you know what?
I also got a pang of sadness.
As much of an added responsibility it is to drag a child on morning ferries, and on work shuttles, and walking several blocks through the city – as I sit here typing on a morning ferry, I miss my little ferry buddy.
My daughter has a contagious personality. She is nearly always happy, and full of life, and sees the good in people pretty much all the time. She is sweet, and fun, and might have the best disposition of anyone I’ve ever met. Truly.
I’ll miss playing cards with her, and talking to her about life, reading her books, or coloring with her. I’ll miss her curiosity, or how excited she gets when we spot a seal, or an aircraft carrier, or submarine (yes, all true). I’ll miss how she knows our shuttle driver and high-fives him every day.
And I’ll miss being known as “Ella’s dad” around the boat. Because everyone knows Ella.
Imagine hundreds of adults, stuck in their own little commuter world, and a vivacious five-year-old is bouncing through the boat at 7 am. Hard for someone not to smile, no matter how cranky they are (and there are definitely some cranks!). My daughter is the Ferry Mayor because she knows everybody, and if we stay here long enough, will one day be running our little island community.
Case in point: we went wine tasting recently and the waitress saw our daughter. She said: I recognize you from the ferry. Your name is Ella. And now, whenever we see Kim, we say hello.
During the time together, whether the morning or evening, we discussed life. We’ve talked about what it means to be a good person, or what questions she may have about baseball, about something we read in a book. We talk about her days at school, and her likes and dislikes. She has learned to read while riding the ferry, and we’ve drawn some great pictures together. One ride she sold all of her T-ball coupons to passengers, even though she positioned it as selling tickets to come watch her play. Sometimes we’ve had dinner together on a later ferry, or we’ll sit up on the deck and enjoy the sunshine and the views of Mt. Rainier.
It’s true when other parents tell you that you don’t get the time back. And, living in the moment you often don’t think about that.
And as I sit here writing, with just two weeks left of daily ferry time with my daughter, I am a little sad that I won’t have extra time with that little smiling face. I won’t get this time back, but I am grateful that we had this time at all.
Like my wife, I am also doing a little happy dance – but that’s rooted in finances … and a little stress relief.
However, a smiling, bubbly kid is usually a good stress reliever too.