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Opinion: We do anything to make our kids smile

Scott Simon's daughter Elise and his wife, Caroline, on Elise's first birthday.
Scott Simon
Scott Simon's daughter Elise and his wife, Caroline, on Elise's first birthday.

Our oldest daughter turned 21 this week. I will try to spare her anymore public embarrassment except to say she has grown up to be kind, funny and hard-working. Especially kind.

I have learned to accept that our daughters have no real memories of most of the nutty things I used to do just to coax giggles from them. The times I'd squeeze onto a slide in a park to go down head-first, ker-thunk. The times I'd pretend to be oblivious to walls I would walk into, like a cartoon character, yee-ow, just to make them howl.

It doesn't take stage training at the Royal Shakespeare for a father to play the fool with conviction.

Our daughters figured out long ago there isn't really a magic witch on a star outside our windows, who looks over them; or a zebra named Stripey on our balcony; or a mermaid named Ethel, yes, Ethel Mermaid, who pokes her head out of the swells of Lake Michigan to sing, "You'll be swell! You'll be great!"

What a parent comes to tell themself is that while our children may have no memory of those moments that mean the world to us, they hear the stories, over the years, over and over, and a special sense of closeness endures. They know you would do anything, anything, anything to make them smile.

When our daughters get together now with some of the aunties and uncles they've known most of their lives, they meet them as young adults. They've written school papers on Shakespeare, Dickens, Laurie Halse Anderson, The Great Gatsby, and Langston Hughes. They sit at our table and talk about the news, films, games, articles, videos and friends. I'm the only one in the family who still uses some of the words they babbled as toddlers.

My wife and I are slowly beginning to change places with our children. They teach us things, and not just about tech, TikTok, and Taylor Swift, but history, events, and what they think we may need to survive in the world ahead.

They're breaking free, as they should. But, also seem to find time for us in their full, frenetic schedules, because they can see, displayed in the furrows of my anxious, aging face, how important it has become is for us to spend time with them.

I even think, now and then, I've overheard our daughters asking one another, "Do you remember the time our parents did that crazy thing?"

Copyright 2024 NPR

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.