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A few days later Norah and I were in her room. It was close to bedtime. Norah’s hair was still wet from taking a bath, and she was in her pink pajamas. She’d put a few of her babies to bed. She does this most nights before her story.
One baby was in a toy bassinet. One was in a toy cubby. The other was in the closet. She bent down and gave each baby a tender kiss and said, “I just love you baby. You go to sleep now.”
Then she climbed up onto her bed, next to where I was sitting, and snuggled into my right arm. I was about to start reading her story when I said, “Are you going to do those things for your new baby sister? Are you going to help get her ready for bed and give her a kiss?”
Mel was seven months pregnant at the time, but I don’t think I’d said much to Norah about what her new life would be like after her baby sister would be born.
Norah didn’t say anything in response to my question. She just smiled and nodded.
“What about when she cries all night? Will you get up and hold her until she goes back to sleep? And will you change her poopy dippers? And help her get dressed? And will you give up some of your chore money so that your baby sister can have clothing and toys?” I went on, telling her all the things she could do to help.
Norah didn’t nod this time. She looked a little frightened. “Real babies are a lot different from your dolls,” I said. “They take all kinds of hard work. They mean getting up in the night. And they mean sacrificing a lot of time and money. And they mean cleaning a lot of poop and pee. They aren’t like your baby dolls.”
I’d tried to tell her something similar the Saturday before, when she made her nursery in the living room. But she was angry then, and I don’t think she wanted to listen.
But now, before bed, she appeared much more receptive.
I don’t know if Norah fully understood what I was saying. But she seemed to have a better understanding than before. There seemed to be sincerity in her eyes.
Then she said something that surprised me. Something that I hadn’t expected to come from a four-year-old. “Will you love the baby…” She paused for a moment, searching for the right word. “Like you love me?” There was a little bit of fear in her eyes, and what I think she was really asking was, Will you love the baby more than you love me?
“I love you and Tristan just the same.” I said. “And I will love Aspen just the same. I love all my kids just the same. Things will change when Aspen comes, but one thing is for sure, I will always give you snuggles and kisses. And as long as you want me to, I will always read you a story before bed.”
“Do you love your babies more than you love me?” I asked. I’m not sure why I asked her this question. It just kind of came out.
Norah leaned in and whispered, “Daddy. My babies are just pretend. They’re not really babies.” Then she snuggled up closer to me, and pointed at the book in my hand.
Hearing her say that her babies are pretend made me feel amazing. I’d never heard her say that before. It showed me that Norah was starting to realize the difference between reality and fantasy. That caring for a baby takes a lot more work and commitment than does a baby doll. And like what often happens in these moments, I started to realize that Norah was no fool. She probably always did understand that it was all just play. And my fears, my anxieties over Norah's baby obsession, was more a reflection of myself, my past, then it was of Norah’s true desire to be a young mother.
That night, after we finished reading a story, and after I’d tucked Norah in, I gave all three of her babies a kiss good night.
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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