My daughter and I were in the wrong headspace at the beginning of our first yoga class. We just made it, having failed to accomplish our weekly grocery shopping in the allotted time and skipping our Starbucks date (I know, we sound like a yuppy couple). The stress of the morning had caused my 11-year-old daughter to break down in tears. She was frazzled and red-eyed as we laid out our mats.
On the one hand, I felt bad for the less-than-ideal circumstances. On the other, I was aware that the less-than-ideal circumstances were why I’d decided to make yoga a father-daughter activity in the first place.
Life in our house is busy. Really, really busy. There are three kids, three jobs, and two parents. We have difficulty finding time for each other, let alone ourselves. Between my hectic work schedule, soccer practice, dance practice, and fully-booked weekends of sleepovers and swimming parties, we lose track of each other and wind up only catching up when we collapse collectively in a heap.
So, a yoga class seemed like a smart move. Maybe the structured environment filled with deliberate movement — one stop short of kid meditation — could be less a pit stop and more a moment of real connection — a time to share something cool. Plus, considering my daughter’s love of Starbucks, it seemed like a natural bourgeois progression.
By the time we were in front of the instructor, my daughter wasn’t angry anymore. She was just done. She didn’t want to do yoga. She wanted to be alone, in her room, doing literally anything else.
I was having an entirely different experience. I’d never done yoga and I was determined to take it seriously. But it should be noted I do not have a yoga physique. Much of the first part of the class was spent trying not to fall over or fart as I reached into Warrior One. Besides, either of those things would have humiliated my daughter which wasn’t the point of all this. While transitioning into Warrior Two I caught her eye. I was hoping for an incredible moment of connection, instead I got an eye roll so severe I imagined she might be able to see her own white-hot amygdala.
When class was over, we drove home quietly. We had dinner with the family and didn’t cross paths again, one-on-one, until about 30 minutes before bedtime.
“How ace was yoga?” I asked, too enthusiastically. I’d discovered some fleeting peace on the mat. I was hoping she had as well.
“Good,” she replied. “We can do a video next time.”
And, like that, it was decided. We wouldn’t take another yoga class together.
I wasn’t giving up, though. If she wanted to “do a video,” we’d do a proper yoga video properly. We chose a super easy one on YouTube, with jangly music and a flowery, whispery narration. I didn’t fumble once, and we spent a lot of time on our backs stretching out. We did find some calm, but was it the yoga? I have a feeling it was more about stealing 20 damn minutes from the whirlwind of our everyday to just hang out and do something sort of alone, sort of together.
The video finished, and we both lay on our backs for a bit, and then something odd happened.
“This is ‘The Face Crusher,’” my daughter said, launching a pillow into an arc above us. It came down half on my forehead.
This was a game we hadn’t played in years. It’s a game called “Face Smash” which we created back when I was at home more and had hours to kill rather than minutes to find. It’s basically the opposite of yoga. There’s no intentional breathing or concentrated exertion — just two people taking turns half-assedly tossing a pillow in the air so that it lands on the other’s face. And on her turn, she’d just grazed me. Pathetic! I snatched up the pillow and prepared to send it back.
The best part of Face Smash is that you give each toss a name like it’s a devastating signature move. “This is ‘The Widowmaker,’” I said, and hurled the pillow. It bounced off the wall and missed her by a foot.
“This is ‘The Hot Dog Princess,’” she said, as the pillow careened off the sofa and landed right on the bridge of my nose.
“The what?” I laughed. That was a good one. I took a deep breath and growled “This one is called, ‘…and the Dark Lord said unto me, I command you spill the blood of the innocent!’” Bullseye. Right in the eye. We laughed hard for about five minutes and eventually exhausted every stupid idea that came into our heads.
The calm of yoga is lovely, but it’s nothing compared to the silliness of Face Smash. That silliness is a form of calmness too, of being “present,” of experiencing the here and now. Not better, necessarily. But easier to find.
After she went to bed I thought about my daughter’s tears over the missed Starbucks. It wasn’t the drink she wanted. She just wanted to share time with me, doing something fun away from the hustle and bustle of the house, finding five minutes to hang with a dad who wasn’t running around stressed out and insisting we find peace through yoga.
Like I said, family life for us is busy. Real busy. We need to carve out some time alone together — truly alone together — to reconnect and touch base. Whether that’s through the ancient teachings of yoga, or the silliness and punch-drunk intimacy of Face Smash, the responsibility is on me to make those 20 minutes about us, and only us.
So, screw yoga. I mean, it’s fine for a bit of clarity and relaxation. But Face Smash? That’s where it’s at.