It was 6:30 AM when my five-year-old walked into my bedroom and said, “Where’s my toast?”
Norah placed her hands on her hips and stomped her foot, lips twisted, hair a mess, eyes slanted. Everything about her seemed to say, “I’m a brat.” It was Saturday. I was tired and irritable and not in the mood to put up with Norah’s crap.
Ever since she turned five, she’d been ridiculously demanding.
I sat up in bed. I honestly had no idea how long she had been up. She was in her underwear, which was inside out. I didn’t put her to bed that way, but rather in a pair of Disney Princesses pajamas. I’m pretty sure her underwear was on right side out, but I didn’t check before I put her down, so I can’t be positive. On her head was another pair of underwear. This I had nothing to do with. She was wearing a pair of her mother’s pink Crocks, and on her wrists were a bunch of rubber bands. I honestly didn’t know what she’d been up to.
Regardless of how crazy she looked, she held her shoulders back, legs straight, like the way she dressed was not ridiculous, but rather held dignity and commanded respect.
“You never asked for toast,” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “I asked you like two days ago and you still haven’t gotten it for me. I want it cut into squares. Eight of them. Remember? And cinnamon.”
“Two days ago? Are you kidding me? This is crazy talk.”
I was trying to reason with her, which is usually a bad idea. Especially when it comes to time.
Norah doesn’t understand how to tell time yet, but she likes to talk like she does. She says things like, “Daddy, you were born 200 days ago. You’re old.” Or, “I’ve been asleep for 40 years. I don’t need a nap.”
She really could’ve asked for two days ago, or two months, or two minutes. Her memory right now is a strange, slippery thing. She can forget that I asked her to get in the tub three minutes after the fact, and then an hour later remember a promise I made 6 months ago to take her out for ice cream. Chances are, though, that she didn’t ask for toast at all.
In moments like this, it feels like she is just screwing with me. Sometimes I can’t tell if my kids are really as ridiculous as they seem, or if they are involved in some psychological, Stanford Prison-type experiment to see how long it will take me to crack.
I think about this a lot when my kids argue with me for a good hour about wearing a Halloween costume to bed, or weather or not I can smell their fart. Sometimes I honestly consider searching my home for cameras or two-way mirrors. I worry that there are psychologists inside my walls, telling my kids to do strange illogical shit just so they can see how crazy I will become. I know this sounds like the ravings of a madman, but honestly assuming that I am involved in an experiment is easier to accept then coping with my kids’ random logic and strange behavior.
“This is the first I’ve heard about toast,” I said.
Norah thought for a moment. Then she said, “Well… you should know that I want toast.”
I looked at her in awe. I suppose I should be flattered that she assumed my parenting super power was reading minds, but it just pissed me off. I looked at her flat, emotionless, face, and wanted to say, “Well… you should know that I wanted to sleep past 6:30AM, but here we are.”
And suddenly I realized that I was expecting her to read my mind, too. Norah doesn’t understand what it means to have to get up early every morning. She doesn’t understand how important sleep is to an adult. Nor does she understand that it is socially unacceptable to wear underwear on her head. Sometimes I have to sit down and really think about the fact that she came into this world with a blank slate. She couldn’t walk, or talk, or eat, or sleep without assistance. What makes me think that she can understand social interaction? And yet, part of the madness of raising my kids has been assuming that they will understand that it’s rude to wake a person before dawn on a Saturday and demand toast, or that any combination of these actions while wearing underwear on your head can come across as crazy.
I took a deep breath. I rubbed my eyes. “I can’t read your mind, Norah,” I said. “If you want toast, just ask for it. Sweetly. Then give me a hug. I could use a reminder of why I’m in this.”
She thought about what I said for a moment, and I saw something click behind her eyes. So often it feels like I’m not getting through to my kids. It seems like I have to teach the same lesson a million times, and still, it’s only a 50% chance that it will be learned. But when something does sink in, it’s rewarding to watch her start to make a conscious decision and begin to understand what is expected of her socially.
“Daddy,” she said. “Can I please have some toast?"
“Yes,” I said. “But only because you asked nicely.”
She out her arms to give me a hug, and I put my hand on her chest to stop her.
“It’s strange to hug someone when you have underwear on your head,” I said. “It’s kind of a life rule.”
Norah took the underwear from her head, gave me a big squeeze, and I rolled out of bed to make her some toast. And as we walked down the hall she said, “Thanks, daddy!”
I looked down at her and said, “Thank you for using your manners.”
You would also enjoy:
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.