I can look at Corbett in the rearview mirror and tell when she is re-playing a playground conversation in her head. I make her tell me what she’s thinking because no one ever made me do that. When she’s nervous, I try to expose her fears and tell her the truth. When she wonders who she is, I remind her. But O my GOSH. I did none of that today.
It started when I was utterly unable to understand why she didn’t want to jump out of bed and happily join me in my ten laps around the block. It was 45 degrees, no humidity. I couldn’t fathom how my daughter, my tiny self, wouldn’t want to run in that. After a block or so, I realized that maybe she was just hungry, since she had just woken up and not eaten, so I sat her on the porch with a granola bar and told her I would keep running and be back for her in 4 and a half minutes. Five minutes later, I felt like I was trying to run while pulling one of those toy ducks with big floppy, rubbery feet. She was lagging, her shoes were going FLOP FLOP FLOP on the sidewalk and I was like, “Corbett, what’s up with the feet?” We had a hasty lesson about stride. I was annoyed. No patient, persistent compassion. No mother’s intuition about what was happening on a deeper level. I didn’t care. I wanted her to run.
The day went on like this. I was impatient with Corbett while cleaning the house, making plans with friends, talking about what to do for Father’s day. I was frustrated with her indecision, her daydreaming, her inability to remember what I asked her to do, her lack of desire to run. (That last one was purely selfish, probably.) She got meek and I got mad. Finally, I went downstairs to talk to Jon about it.
I interrupted his work. Told him that we really need to figure out how to train some of the meekness out of this girl. Seriously, Jon. Maybe I need to sign her up for something. He smiled. He loves that little weirdo.
He never wanted to have kids and was devastated when we found out we were going to. He said he thought a lot of people have kids just because they can’t think of anything better to do, and he could think of plenty of things. Over that first year, I watched his despair turn into acceptance, followed by mild occasional interest. At some point along the way, around the ten or eleven month mark, he surrendered. He sent up the white flag and settled forever into that fierce enchantment that is a father’s love.
And today he did that thing that I think I always do. He reminded me of who she is. He knows. He has deliberately considered her identity because he is fervently devoted to her. He has intentionally examined her disposition, identified her genius, and recognized her fragility.
He reminded me that her indecision was partially because she was considering how everyone involved would feel about what she chose, that her daydreaming was probably because she was making up a poem or drawing a picture in her head, her inability to remember what I asked her to do was related to the daydreaming, and the running was because it was morning, and because running is just silly anyway. His face lit up when he was talking about her. He thinks she’s amazing. By the time I walked back up the stairs I was delighted with her again.
I am glad he’s her Dad. Understatement of the century. Happy Father’s Day, Jon. Sorry it’s late.
Jon often reminds me that one of the goals of our company is that we tell stories that we need to hear. He wrote a series of short stories about “Kamikaze Cat” and “Careful Kitten” a few years ago, just to help me realize the futility of my overprotective instincts when our girls were babies and I was constantly sure that they would die any minute. In the stories, Careful Kitten (who was always afraid, and so did everything cautiously) usually ended up homeless or in the hospital. I got the point.
Several years ago, I made up a story (or rather a character) that I and my adorable patient (I was a nurse) needed to hear. I will call my fourth grade patient James.
James needed a nurse to go with him to school, and part of my job was to go to his house in the morning and help him get ready for the bus. Every SINGLE day, this is what I said:
“James, it’s time to do your exercises”. “James, please put on your clothes.” “James, why don’t you have your shoes on?” “James, it’s time to brush your teeth” “James, the care plan says that you’re supposed to put some vaseline on your lips at 8am and 3pm, so we really need to do that now. ” “James, it’s time for your albuterol” “Now it’s time for CPT” “James, can you please give me a finger to put the pulse ox on?” ” James I need to listen to your lungs.”
I mean, really. James and I were worn out. He was tired of hearing me tell him what to do, and I was tired of telling him. And then we met Professor Tingleteeth.
I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but one day I realized that James’ toothbrush was actually a very small person who just happened to stand with his arms very stiffly down to his sides, and whose hair, which was white, persisted in standing straight out the back of his head, no matter what he did to try to flatten it down. He was about 7 inches tall, and he lived in the medicine cabinet. He was often mistaken for a toothbrush, which made him very angry. He was actually a professor of Philosophy at the community college, and he was just renting the space in the cabinet until he could afford a place of his own. I quickly learned that the Professor, despite his size, absolutely loved being in charge. He relished the opportunity to tell James what to do. And so I let him. It was wonderful for all of us. I was no longer responsible for making James’ life miserable, and James thought it was amusing and interesting to be taking orders from a tiny person who looked like his toothbrush.
The Professor eventually introduced me and James to 5 of his business associates (I would call them his friends, but I am not sure that he would agree. He was usually too disgruntled about being mistaken for a toothbrush to be very friendly with anyone.) The five “business associates” were Harold, Elaine, Jerome, Nancy and Martha. They were invisible, and they lived on my shoulder, which meant that they could go with us to school. The Professor had to be at the college all day, so was of course only there to help in the morning. The five associates were reluctant to be in charge of James, so they really served as friendly advisors, (we called them ‘The Committee’) whom I would consult if a question arose throughout the day. Harold, who almost always fell asleep right after breakfast, was rarely much help, but was still nice to have around. When he was awake, he was full of hilarious stories from his Navy days.
I had forgotten about Professor Tingleteeth. One day, a few weeks ago, I was reading an article about this couple in California who is making interactive Ipad stories, and it mentioned that one of their characters is a “quirky” little person called “Mr. Cupcake”. It was as if the word “quirky” was the alarm on a bedside clock in my mind. When that alarm went off, Professor Tingleteeth sat up (very stiffly, of course) in bed.
Now that he’s back, I’ve spent some time imagining how the Professor would react to some of my current daily perplexities. James is all grown up now. But what would the Professor think about Kalley’s system of vigilante justice, or Corbett’s inexplicable fear of animatronic dinosaurs?
Last week was the end of school, and both of my girls were SO sad to leave their teachers for the summer. This inspires a story in my mind where a mom has to be somewhere in the morning, so Professor Tingleteeth is the one at home, getting the kids ready for the last day of school. It cracks me up to think about what words of wisdom a tiny disgruntled Philosophy Professor might expound to two tearful little girls as he pats their heads and sends them off to the bus.
I think I may need to hear that story, too.