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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