Monday, April 28, 2014

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My Four Year Old Thinks A Lot About Marriage

Norah in her wedding dress (Photo by Lucinda Higley)


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It was around 7AM when Norah walked into the living room and announced how excited she is to get married.

Norah talks a lot about getting married. Sometimes she says that she and I are getting married. She will grab my hand and drag me into the living room, and then we will stand side by side in front of the TV. After a few moments of silence she will say, “I just love you my husband.” Sometimes she does the same thing with Tristan. And sometimes does it with her stuffed animals. She looks at photos of women in wedding dresses and talks about how excited she is to be a bride, and she always seems to be on the look out, whether in school or church, for prince charming.

I don’t understand any of this.

I was sitting on the sofa, typing on my computer, when Norah announced her excitement about marriage. I looked Norah up and down. She was wearing mismatched pajamas: the bottoms were brown with little giraffes, and the top was an elephant dressed like a ballerina. Her hair was smashed on the one side. She was wearing a pull-up because she still hasn’t gotten the whole “get up in the night and go pee” thing down.

She was a little girl talking about a very adult subject.

All I wanted to say was, “Shut your little mouth! You are four years old! You are my little girl and you will stay my little girl until I say you are not a little girl.” But I didn’t say that. We were driving ten hours that day, from Small Town Oregon to Sacramento, so time was short. We needed to get going.

“Norah, you need to get dressed,” I said. “We have a long drive ahead of us today.”

I walked into her room, grabbed a dress, and handed it to her. Norah took one look at it, stomped her small foot, and said, “That’s not my wedding dress! I want my wedding dress!”

“Norah,” I said. “Why are you talking like this? You’re four. You probably won’t get married until you’re 24. That’s 20 years from now. Stop worrying about it and just be a little girl.”

Norah raised her eyebrows and said, “20 years isn’t that many days.”

“Marriage isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be,” I said. “Your husband will probably fart a lot, just like I do. He’ll probably snore and get fat in his 30s. He might even hog all your blankets, and not wash his hands after using the bathroom.”

I didn’t say what I really wanted to. I didn’t tell her about the ugly side things that I’d seen though my parents’ multiple marriages. I wanted to tell her that finding the right person is a huge decision, and even with deep thought and years of dating, you still might get it wrong.

It’s not something to jump blindly into.

What really drives me nuts about Norah’s marriage talk is that I never thought about marriage at this age, and once I did start thinking about marriage, probably in my late teens, it was more of how to get out of ever getting married.

I just can’t relate.

For me, marriage didn’t sound like a rewarding and dreamy union. It sounded like a mess of infidelity and fighting. It sounded like rules and being held accountable to someone. I never imagined my future wife as this dreamy person, but rather someone who nagged me about where I was, and took all my money. I saw my future wife as someone with a short temper and red angry face because I couldn’t seem to make good decisions. This assessment came from watching my own parents’ marriages. (My father was married four times. My mother three.) Obviously, my young assessment of marriage was very different from Norah’s.

Norah smiled after I told her about what a husband was really like. Then she made her hands into one large fist and pressed them against her chest: “He’s going to be my prince. I can’t wait for our wedding day.”

Obviously there was no getting through to her on this one.

What I think is the strangest part about all of this is how she only talks about the wedding day. She almost never talks about marriage, or being married. She has this fixation on the day, and not the long-term day-in and day-out hard work of marriage.

Later, as we were driving to Sacramento, I told Mel about Norah saying that she was excited to get married and then asking for her wedding dress.

“I just don’t understand where this all comes from,” I said. “I never wanted to get married until you talked me into it. Marriage always sounded scary. And all she ever talks about is the wedding day.”

“Yeah,” Mel said, “I was like that, too. One of the first magazines I ever subscribed to was Bride’s Magazine. I don’t know why girls are so obsessed with the wedding day…”

I told her how I didn’t ever think about marriage when I was a kid. I told her how it seemed scary and strange, mostly because of my parents’ marriage. It made me think that marriage was just one long fight.

“Well…” Mel said, “Maybe she doesn’t think it’s scary because we’re not like that. Maybe we are showing her that marriage can be happy.”

“I like that,” I said. “But how do we get her to understand that marriage is not just the wedding day?”

“I don’t know,” Mel said, “I suppose we just need to keep doing what we’re doing. You know… showing her what a good marriage looks like, and hopefully she will know what to do after the wedding day.”

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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