I admit to not always being present. With my daughter fast approaching 13, passing like ships in the night has become the norm over the old days of snuggling on the couch, her ice-cold feet jammed against my ribs.

Pandemic parenting has me going in all directions: maintaining a job, planning for remote learning, managing a modified sports schedule, running my preteen places, and last and least, caring for myself. That tiny electronic computer that also makes calls, an object I never needed as a child, serves as my anti-anxiety medication. That tiny device, which claims to bring us closer together, continually drives me apart from people.

I have never been more present and absent at the same time until now.

So it came as a surprise one evening when my daughter texted me that she would cook dinner that night. After a long day of writing motions and attending court electronically, I had little left in my tank. As I entered the door, the scent of good cooking filled my nose. In the kitchen, I heard the sharp tone of Gordon Ramsay—my daughter decided to watch his cooking videos to properly cook a steak. As she basted the now-seared steak with butter and thyme, she looked more like a woman on a mission than my tiny human.

As she set the plates before us on the table, she beamed with joy at her work. “Do you like it?” she asked in hushed tones, desperately seeking approval. I nodded enthusiastically because my mouth was full.

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She set out to do something and did it.

The two weeks prior to this dinner had not gone well. Almost every night, we had a yelling session about the state of her room. My daughter does not really have a neatness gene. Food wrappers are dropped where they are opened because they no longer have a use. Water bottles and cups that roll under the couch find a new home there. Despite having a hamper three feet from her bed, her clothing ends up under her bed, over a giant teddy bear, behind the dresser, or in the desk.

Infuriated might be the kindest descriptor I could give my emotional state.

Finally, after two weeks, I ripped through the mess and cleaned the room to my satisfaction. I made her watch so she could see my expectations. She cried. She yelled. She apologized. I think we both needed the catharsis. Sometimes, a good cleaning is all you need. As part of her contrition, she wanted to take on some more chores in the house, hence the dinner night.

Everyone says that the pandemic has allowed for more time to grow as a family, but I do not always see that.

The pandemic has allowed for that sometimes, but it has also allowed me to vegetate and grow unconcerned with big and little details sometimes.

I miss them because of another pandemic we silently face—apathy. Sometimes, much like her early childhood, my daughter cannot wait to show me something. I have the chance to be involved, but I let some of it go. For example, this week she wanted to show me everything she has done on social media, and I missed a ton. She posted a video of herself singing a song. For my child, who loves to sing, but hates to let people hear that, this is a big thing. She posted dance moves; she is a weirdo with her dances, but I forgot how much I love them.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I leave my daughter to the wolves. I have created a fake middle school, with all the milestones, just to make sure she has a sense of normalcy in the face of remote learning. We obtained e-bikes during the pandemic, and thanks to pedal-assist, I go out for longer rides with her. We still obsessively watch Youtube videos of an Eastern European guy who restores old Tonka toys. Of course, we also watched Hamilton excessively when it arrived on Disney+. When Thomas Jefferson sings “What Did I Miss,” it stands as a reflection of what is and what should be important.

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I will not say that the light will stay completely on. I will suffer apathy again, as I am human. I will miss things, because I am a single parent and have to work, too. But I will consciously have to make sure I find out things and listen when my daughter wants to sing me a song. Simply because, in six years, I will deliver her to a dormitory room as she will begin her adult life.

That is something I don’t want to miss.

Sean McCumber

Sean is a single father and family law attorney who sometimes manages to find time between work and soccer and parenting to write down a few thoughts. He writes "scholarly" articles about dog custody and co-parenting for work, has an excellent on-time-to-soccer-practice rating on Uber, and somehow holds everything together with rubber bands and superglue.