Tuesday, November 18, 2014

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I thought I understood my daughter, but I was wrong



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When my five-year-old daughter’s teacher said, “She’s a very quiet and reserved little girl,” I checked to make sure that she was reading from the correct file. Obviously she didn’t know Norah, our snarky little self-proclaimed princess who was never quiet.

Mel and I were at Norah’s first ever parent teacher conference, crammed in child-sized black chairs. Across from us was Norah’s teacher, a curly-haired woman in her early 40s, who spoke with a southern twang. Everything in the room was child-sized, including the desk between us; it only came to our knees. In my lap was Aspen, our six-month-old daughter. Tristan, our seven-year-old son, was tapping on my shoulder, asking for something, but I was tuning him out because I was still surprised by what the teacher had just said.

I looked at Norah, who was sitting next to her mother, watching a video on Mel’s phone. I thought about two nights earlier when I asked Norah to clean up her room and she said with a cock of her head, “Excuse me. You don’t talk to a princess like that.” And I thought about a few days before that when she was up well past her bedtime belting out “Let It Go,” as though the house was her audience. When Norah was born, she had under-developed lungs, which caused her to be in the newborn intensive care unit for several days. As traumatizing as this was, it has resulted in a joke around the house where Mel and I often comment on how good the doctor did fixing her lungs. I thought about how many times a day I had to ask Norah to be quiet, to calm down, to stop screaming. Sometimes we call her the Interrupting Chicken. I write a lot about Norah, and never once have I used adjectives like “quiet” and “reserved” when describing her.

The teacher went on, telling us how she has been working to help Norah develop a stronger voice. Trying to help her feel more comfortable speaking up and speaking out. She told me about the little boys in the classroom, and how they never stop talking, and obviously Mel and I had done a very good job teaching Norah not to interrupt. “If I talk directly to her, she will speak up, but otherwise she really keeps to herself. She is such a sweet little thing, and she is learning fast, so I know it is just a matter of time before she figures out how to speak up.”

I thought about how I was that little boy who never shut up, and have grown into a man who never shuts up. I thought about all the times we’ve hung out with friends, and Mel hardly said a word. I once asked her about this, and she said, “I couldn’t find an opening. You were talking too much.” After she told me that, I will admit, that I have made an effort to let Mel have the floor more. To not hog the spot light, but I will admit, it’s difficult. I love attention. I love conversation, and it is easy for me to get carried away. Mel is much more reserved. And when I thought about that, suddenly Norah seemed like this Jekyll and Hyde mix of Mel and myself. Obviously at home she was a chatty snarky little person just like me, and when at school, she was quiet and reserved, like her mother.

We chatted with Norah’s teacher for a moment more. She told us that Norah was doing well in most subjects. Meanwhile, Tristan begged for more attention. During the whole meeting Norah hardly said a word.

As we left, Norah reached up and grabbed my hand. I looked down at her as we walked, her short brown hair bouncing just a bit, and realized that I didn’t know my daughter as well as I thought. Before that moment, it was easy to look at Norah and assume that I had her figured out. I’d known her for five years. I was there when she was born, and have been with her almost every day since. At five years old, her memory is still a slippery thing. If it happened more than two or three months ago, she probably can’t recall it. I know the stories behind her scars. I know that her pinkie toes are a little crooked. I know what she will and won’t eat. I know that she doesn’t like the way I comb her hair, and that her favorite book is Fancy Nancy. I know Norah pretty well.

I act differently around my boss than I do my wife. And I act differently around my kids than I do my friends. There are many sides to my personality and the way I present myself depending on the company. I know this, and I think most people do, and it is one of the things that gives a person character. It’s what makes people interesting and contradictory and complex. But for some reason I assumed that Norah was one-sided. The person she was around me was the person she was in all interactions.

I was wrong.

She was much more complex than I realized.

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. 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 work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter


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