IT’S THAT RAREST OF OCCASIONS: For a time, Shilly-Shally is content to sit on our bedroom floor and play while I work at the computer. This doesn’t mean that I can really concentrate. For one thing, she interrupts me at least every two minutes. For another, she’s in one of her “opera” moods, singing as she plays, setting her endless animal-character dialogues to loud and almost tuneless melody. If you’ve seen Three Amigos, you’ll understand when I say she’s turned into the Singing Bush. Wearing a baby-blanket cloak and a tight red swimsuit over her white pajamas, she belts out the following as a halting, half-breathless chantat about 45 decibels:
“MOTHER KANGAROO, I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM! WELL, BABY KANGAROO, WHEN YOU GOTTA GO, YOU GOTTA GO.”
My neighbors consider this behavior unbelievably precious and listen in rapture from their front porch when Shilly-Shally does her recitative from ours. I, on the other hand, find myself wondering if the young Pavarotti’s father ever went after his son with duct tape. But at least I can do a little writingand I couldn’t find a better backdrop for this particular topic than my daughter’s caterwauling. “Most of us have an image of what motherhood entails,” Dr. Alvin Poussaint says, “but few of us recognize the different models for fatherhood and their significance in the rearing of children.” Part of this general ignorance is the simple fact that many men just don’t know enough about kids, which, when you think about it, is like rams not knowing lambs. So Shilly-Shally’s endless bleating is an appropriate reminder of the nature of the beast. My wife dreamed the other night that our daughter had a tail, and that wasn’t just coincidence. Most guys have some vague general notion of how kids act, or at least can recognize them on sight. Why kids are the way they are is another matter. But a good parent needs to learn how to read children, since what goes on inside a child is, ultimately, even more important than how that child behaves. But first, a few reminders of what we’re dealing with here. Consider the following:
When our son Seth was about five, we went to Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s. My wife’s parents are fairly conservative, and a number of other adult relatives were in attendance. I don’t think the group appreciated the educational value of Seth’s pointing to each in turn and saying, “He has a penis she has a vagina she has a vagina he has a penis ” Afterwards, someone said to my wife, “I can’t believe you taught him those words!” But I was actually kind of proudhe’d matched gender and organ perfectly right down the line.
My wife buys ten dresses for Shilly-Shally at the consignment store (at $50 total, a terrific deal!). Shilly-Shally’s in hog heaven, changing like a traffic light. Before the afternoon’s out she’s worn each of the ten at least twice. For the next month she changes her dress every time she eats, naps, or goes to the bathroomand sometimes just for fun. Think she hangs up the discards?
My wife and I were once out doing yardwork when our very young sons went in the house to use the bathroom. By the time we realized they were taking too long, they’d torn open a bag of Fritos, scattered half of them across the living room, and smeared bean dip all over the seat and arm of the couch. When we came in they were happily stuffing themselves with a wonderful new snack: couch-dipped corn chips.
This is an excerpt from Glad to be Dad by Tim Myers and published by Familius. Isn’t it hilarious? To purchase the full book, look under our Books tab.