Shortly after we discovered Mel was pregnant, she asked me a basic question. The same question she always asked after she gets pregnant: “Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?”
We were driving across Small Town Oregon, to the farmer’s market store. Both kids were in the back seat. It was summer time.
“I’m hoping for another boy,” I said.
“Yeah…” Mel said, “Me, too.”
We both glanced at Norah who was in the back seat, looking out the window, her little legs flapping up and down.
Then Mel asked the kids.
“Tristan, do you want our new baby to be a girl or a boy?"
He was in his car seat, wearing a Mario Brothers t-shirt and a pair of blue cargo shorts. He didn’t even think about it. All he said was, “I want a boy.”
I will admit that this response was not shocking. I think it’s natural for a little boy to want a brother. But when Mel ask him, “Why?” his answer was very revealing.
He thought about it for a moment. Then he glanced at his sister in the seat next to him.
“If we have a boy, I could teach him how to play soccer.”
“That’s very nice,” I said.
“And he won’t yell at me or push me or steal Bun Bun (Bun Bun was Tristan’s favorite stuffed animal) and then hit me with him, or take my candy or take away the TV. He would be my friend. Not like Norah.”
Then we asked Norah the same question and she said, “I want a girl.” And when Mel asked why, she said, “Because if we have a girl, she would be my best friend. She’d give me all of her candy, and clean my room, and tie my shoes when I don’t want to, and take me to the ball and let me dance with all the boys…” She went on, listing all the things her little sister would do for her: give Norah all her toys, tell Norah that she is beautiful, let Norah watch what she wanted on the TV, and so on. All the expectations Norah had for a little sister sounded more like a list authored by Cinderella’s Evil Step Sisters.
Once she was done, I said, “Gosh, Norah. She’ll be your little sister. Not your slave. You need to be doing those sorts of things for each other. In fact, you will be the big sister and that comes with responsibility. You need to help her learn how to clean her room and tie her shoes. Having a little sister means looking out for her and helping to teach her how to be a good person.”
Norah thought about what I said for a moment, and then she said, “Oh. Well then I don’t want a little sister.”
The thing about Norah is, she’s kind of a demanding little turd. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love the hell out of her. In fact, I am crazy for her. She is cute and sweet. And she melts my heart. I’d do almost anything for her. But the sad thing is, she knows that and she uses it to her advantage. There are times that she will manipulate me to get candy or to get her way, and I will not realize it for some time. I’ve written a lot about my frustrated love for Norah on my blog, but here is another example.
Just a few nights ago, Norah asked to get out of bed at 8:30 PM, almost 30 minutes past her bed time, to have a snack.
I told her, “No. You should’ve actually eaten dinner instead of playing with it.”
She about shit herself. She screamed and screamed until she woke up her brother in the next room. Suddenly I had two kids screaming, and Mel getting pissed because she couldn’t concentrate on her homework. I looked into her room, and Norah didn’t look bratty or sassy or snarky. She looked so cute and little and helpless, her small arms folded, head down in a pouty face. It broke my heart, like it always does, so I caved. I let her get up and have some frosted flakes. Then she mentioned that she deserved a dessert because she did such a good job eating her cereal.
I said, “No way are you getting a dessert. You didn’t earn one. You didn’t eat dinner. I let you out of bed well after your bedtime for a snack. I am doing you a favor here.”
When I think about these movements, I often think about how contradictory the situation is. I often don’t eat what Mel makes (especially after Mel became a vegetarian) but instead wait until after the kids go to bed and make myself something else. And I always give myself a dessert. But I’m supposed to be the authority here. I’m supposed to uphold the law, and the rule is if you don’t try some of what Mom made, you don’t get dessert.
Norah stared screaming again. Mel was really frustrated now, so she got up from her desk, grabbed a chocolate doughnut (with sprinkles) from the kitchen, and slammed it down in front of Norah. Norah smiled and started huffing it down. I thought about earlier that day, when Norah refused to eat the dinner Mel had made (I think it was tuna casserole or something). I told her that this was her last chance to eat, and that she wouldn’t get a dessert unless she tried some of what Mom made. Norah looked at me with this little shit eating grin that seemed to say, Sure, Dad. We both know I’ll be eating what I want before I go to sleep.
She was right.
And it pisses me off.
I brushed her teeth again, almost an hour past her bedtime. Now I’d be up an hour later grading papers for my online classes because Norah manipulated me into getting food long after her bedtime. At the time I was angry with her. And I wanted to stay angry. I wanted to hold a grudge. I wanted her to know that she needed to try new foods and not expect to get out of bed late at night by throwing a fit.
But as I tucked her in, she reached out with her soft little arms, grabbed the side of my cheeks, pulled me down, and kissed my nose.
“I love you, Daddy. You are the best daddy ever.”
And with this gesture, all my anger was gone in a flash. It was like magic of some kind. Dark magic that I don’t understand. The magic a little girl has over her father. In that moment, I couldn’t be angry with her, and she knew it. And all I could think about was the fact that this will probably happen again the next night. I hated myself for it. I hated the way she manipulated me. I love my daughter. Sometimes I feel like Norah and I are in this bad relationship. One that is one-sided and manipulative. One that makes me do things I’m not proud of.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley