Friday, September 20, 2013

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Why Does Thinking About My Daughter’s Teen Years Make Me Think About Murder?

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(Part I)
When Norah, my youngest daughter, was a few months old we we drove from Mankato, where I was attending school, to the Twin Cities to visit the Mall of America. As we walked into one department store after another, I started to pay a little more attention to the cost of women’s pants. I’d been told by numerous fathers that having a girl was going to cost me a bundle, and I wanted an estimate. This was around 2009, when women’s pants started to hug and boost, doing to butts what the original Wonderbra did for boobs in the 80’s. I looked at a few tags: $195, $250, $295… I almost shit myself, which surely would have ruined my $25 pair of pants. I started looking around the mall at the girls wearing the same pants I’d seen on the rack, and I noticed that the young men they were with were wearing pants that couldn’t have cost more than ten dollars. They had holes in the knees and frays at the bottom. They hung low, revealing their underwear, their asses looking like sad empty sacks. 
I looked at Norah. She was in the stroller, her short tender pink legs kicking up and down. In her mouth was a green binky, and once she noticed that I was looking at her, she gave me a big gummy smile that melted my heart. All I could think about was that one day she would ask me to buy her a $200 pair of pants. She’d then wear those pants to attract some douchebag in a $10 pair of pants. And I am going to know exactly what that guy is all about, because when I was a teen, I was that same douche, wandering the mall, thinking about sex all day, hiding a lumpy erection in my ill-fitting trousers, and willing to do just about anything to get laid. And when I thought about Norah, my sweet little Norah, bringing home this little ass-clown, I wanted to beat him, put him in the trunk of my car, drive him to the lake, and force his head underwater. Suddenly I understood all those cliché overly protective Dad stories about loading a shotgun while greeting a prom date. I never wanted Norah to grow up because I didn’t want to commit murder.

Clint: Sexual Predator (Age 18)

We moved to Oregon in 2012. At four years old, Norah was short and slender with sunflower eyes and wavy brown hair, traits she received from her mother. If I said she was cranky, Norah stomped her foot and said, “No! I just Norah.” She answered to “Goober Baby” and “The Little.” She had a fat round tummy that I loved to tickle. She still smelled warm and new, like a baby. Sometimes I wondered how much longer that would last.
Sometimes Tristan, my six-year old son, and I played Spiderman. I was always Venom. Tristan was always the hero. He leaped from the sofa, arms spread wide, and I caught him, and we fell to the floor. Then I asked how he got so strong. “When I got big,” Tristan said.
When I was weak, and beaten, and tied up in Spiderman’s webbing, Fee-Fee the Wonder Norah always came to my aid. She gripped my shoulders with small soft hands, her blond pigtails dusting my face. With her embrace I was rejuvenated and ready to keep fighting. I told her I was saved by the power of “Norah Loves.”
I am head over heels for Norah, and ever since that visit to the Mall of America I have been very protective of her. Sometimes I ask Norah if she will stay cute and little and love me forever. She always says, “Yes, daddy!” in her sweet little Norah voice. Then she rolls her eyes. But I know that it isn’t true. Someday I will cramp her style. Someday she will dislike me. Maybe even hate me. I will become an embarrassment. I will stand between her and some dreamy jerk with a nice smile and ill intentions. I think what I hate the most is that someday she will fall in love and leave me, probably much sooner than I’d like, and the thought of that breaks my heart.
Fee-Fee the Wonder Norah

These are the reasons that when my wife told me Norah had kissed a little boy at church, I went cold. I felt a white hot heat in my stomach. I wanted to go to this boy and let him know that he needed to keep his hands of my daughter.

Mel had her hair pulled back when she told me about Norah’s kiss. She is slender and short, with thick glasses. Often times people assume she is in her teens rather than 31. She was laughing the whole time. Apparently Norah was in Sunday school with the perpetrator. After singing “I am a Child of God,” Mel noticed that Norah was holding his hand. Then she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
“It was absolutely adorable!” she said, raising her heels. “They are so cute!”
I knew the boy. His name was James. He was confident with a random sense of humor that I found appealing. In fact, I kind of liked the kid and I suppose I understood Norah’s attraction. And I knew his parents. They were good people. The father was a Ph.D. candidate at Oregon State University, where I worked. The mother was sweet and soft-spoken. Their kids were cute and blond. They were an all around good Mormon family. In fact, not long ago we were at their home playing board games. I should have known something was up with Norah and James that night.
The adults were playing games in the kitchen. I went to check on the kids in the living room. James was dancing and singing as Norah sat on a small wooden chair and watched. She clapped every so often, and swooned a little, her small butt wiggling to the sound of James’s voice. James was wearing gym shorts with a Mario Brother’s pajama top. Not what I would have picked to wear when trying to impress a girl, but it seemed to be working for him. In his hand was a long yellow dart with a red suction cup on one end. He was using it as a microphone, his hips swinging, right heel pounding out a beat. He kept singing, “ I choose you. You. You.”
With each “you”, Norah put her hand over her mouth, or her heart, and giggled or cheered, or smiled longingly, the same smile she often gave me when I entered the room after a long absence. I laughed for some time. I didn’t really think anything was up, and in fact, there wasn’t. I don’t think they had any idea what they were doing outside of having a good time. But when I reflect back on my life, some of the worst decisions I’ve ever made have been under the influence of an innocent good time (like when I took my pants off in a hotel elevator while on a fieldtrip with the FFA, or the time I was almost arrested for messing around with my girlfriend in a McDonald’s parking lot).

A few hours after Mel told me about Norah’s kiss, I sat down next to her on our old grey sofa. Her hands were curled down like paws, and she was sniffing the armrest and wiggling her bottom like a puppy. Impersonating a puppy or a kitty was her new thing. She’d been doing it so often that I’d started to find it normal, which it wasn’t, and I wondered if she’d been doing this around James. Was impersonating a dog an attractive quality at the age of four? Kids are strange.
“Tell me about James,” I said.
“Ruff. Ruff,” she replied.  
I wondered if she would use this same dog impersonation strategy when she is a teenager to get out of difficult conversations.
“Norah,” I said. “I want to know what happened.”
Norah sat up, crawled into my lap, and licked my arm. Then she began speaking in the third person, like she often did when pretending to be a dog.
“Ringo wants to play fetch.”
I told her that kisses are very special things and that she needed to save them for very special boys. She got quiet for a moment, just long enough for me to think that I was getting through to her. Then she looked up at me, smiled, and said, “Ringo farted on your leg.”
I wasn’t getting anywhere. So I tried a different strategy. I told her that there was something in her mouth. She furrowed her brow, her face a mix of fear and confusion. Her paws straightened out, and she looked up at me.
“What is it?” She asked.
“I’m not sure. Open wider.”
She opened her mouth and I let out a confused “Hmmmm.”
I told her it was a boy monster. She looked scared as I looked closer.
“Yup.” I said. “Definitely a boy monster. The crazy thing about boy monsters is that you can’t feel them. You don’t even know they are there. But they scare boys away.”
It’s not too often that I feel this clever. I recall thinking that this was probably the best idea I’d ever had. My chest swelled a little as I told her that boy monsters are the most wonderful thing in the world and that she was really lucky to have one.
“Take it out.” Norah said.
“Can’t,” I said. I searched my mind for a responsible age. An age that I felt was old enough. Mature enough. An age that I could say, “Yeah. Norah is ready to date.”
“It has to stay in there until you are twenty eight years old.”
This was only three years younger than I was at the time. It was also six years older than I was when I married Mel.
Norah screamed. It was a long and loud scream. It was a different kind of scream. It was a pitch that I’d never heard before. It sounded like deep pain and anguish, the kind of scream I assume Rapunzel screamed after being locked in a tower. It scared me. It must have scared Mel, too, because she came running into the living room to see if everything was all right.
“We’re fine.” I said. “Nothing to worry about here. I just told Norah about the boy monster in her mouth. It’s nothing.”
Norah started crying at my mention of the boy monster. She asked Mel to take it out. By now Tristan, our six-year-old, had entered the room. Even though he had no idea what a boy monster was, he started laughing at the sound of it. 
“Boy monster.” He said. “Monsters aren’t boys.”
Mel furrowed her brow at me, her lips slightly twisted. It was a confused and frustrated look that she often gives me when discovering one of my non-conventional parenting strategies, like the time I suggested we use cold showers to help with potty training, or the time I tried to convince Tristan to try broccoli because it would give him deadly farts.
Boy Monster
 I came clean and told her about the boy monster and how it can’t be removed until Norah is twenty-eight years old.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” I said.
Just the thought of it made me smile.
Norah was now sprawled out on the floor, right hand in her mouth, using her thumb and index finger to root around and pluck out the boy monster. Mel gave me a slack jawed look that said, You’re a child. Then she reached in Norah’s mouth with two fingers, made a plucking motion, and said, “I got it.”
Norah let out a sigh of relief, while I grunted with frustration.


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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University.