I was standing over my six-year-old daughter, Norah, who was sprawled out on her bed wearing nothing but underwear and repeating the refrain, “But that’s not how Mommy does it.”
It was Friday, the one day a week that I get the kids ready in the morning. All other mornings I was up and off to work long before my children were awake. But not on Fridays. Fridays were now my days to spend some quality time with the kids while my wife headed to campus and finished up her homework for the week. And the funny thing is, I honestly believed it would be quality time. I assumed this. There is something about working full time +, and the long hours away from home, which makes me think longingly about my children. I think about a lot of the happy moments, the sweet times, when my kids are jolly and snuggly and fun to be around as I sit at work, hunched over a desk. I tend to forget about the reality of it all, that those happy moments are often filled with fits and boogers.
Long story short, spending time with my children in the morning was a new development, one I’d been looking forward to, but the reality of it was not rosy. It was full of longing for consistency and their mother.
“Norah,” I said. “We don’t have time for this.” I was holding out a pair of blue school uniform pants that looked perfectly fine to me, but apparently they were a problem.
“Mommy knows that those pants hurt my hips!” She yanked the pants from my hands, her little face flushed, and pointed to some buttons along the inseam that were meant to help adjust the waist, but instead made her uncomfortable.
“See!” she said. She gave me a look that seemed to say, ‘It’s obvious.” But it wasn’t obvious. How was I supposed to know that those pants, that were basically new, hurt her?
I shook my head. “I’m not your mother, Norah.” I said. “You have to tell me things like this. You don’t need to come at me with all this attitude.”
“I don’t have attitude!”
She screamed it at me.
The rest of the morning was a long tirade of things I should know because mom knew them, and I couldn’t decide if she was struggling with her mother not being around in the morning, or if she thought that her mother and I had some strange mental connection, like our brains were actually working off the same cloud storage, and all our memories, our files, were live and easily accessible to both of us. It was so easy. I just wasn’t trying. When I think about that, I kind of wish Mel and I had that sort of connection. It would really help with transparency in our marriage. No more of this, “I’m not sure why she’s mad” sort of cliché problems.
But the reality is, Mel and I are very different people with different ways of handling situations, and my daughter either didn’t understand that, or didn’t care. Or perhaps she was just frustrated because kids thrive on consistency, and although I was clearly her father, doing things exactly like her mother would make this transition easier.
Whatever it was, I spent most of the morning arguing with Norah. In fact, this wasn’t the first Friday I’d gotten her ready for school, and frankly every Friday had been a long morning battle over how toast is cut, or how bags are packed, or how chairs are slid in or out. At the end of every Friday I assumed I had it down, only to be thrown another curve ball the next Friday.
All of it was infuriating. It felt like a complicated dance, with many opportunities to misstep, and rather than respond with kindness or reason or understanding, Norah responded with anger, and I responded in kind.
But what I think bothered me the most about it all was Norah was coming across like a spoiled little brat. And I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to believe it because she’s my daughter, and that wasn’t the person I was raising, so part of me wanted to change things up intentionally. I often did things my way because I wanted her to be used to change, because life is full of change, but instead of her adjusting, it felt like I was poking a bear.
The morning she got angry with me about her pants with the buttons, Norah and I were sitting in the van. Tristan, her older brother, had already gone inside the school, and Aspen, her younger sister, was occupied with some snacks.
“Norah,” I said. “I’m not your mother. I’m your father and I’m going to do things differently. Every Friday I’m going to do things the way I do them, and I can’t keep up with helping you button your shirt or cutting and buttering your toast exactly the way your mother does it.”
“I want mommy!” She stuck out her lower lip and folded her arms.
I turned around to face her better.
“Mommy isn’t going to be here on Fridays for the rest of the school year. That isn’t going to change. And I am not ever going to be, 100% of the time, Mommy. I’m going to do things like Daddy. I’m not sure how to help you handle that, but what I do know is that we are going to have to work together. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like, but I know that it means being understanding of each other and not fighting all the time. It means no fits.
Norah looked at me with slightly slanted eyes. I don’t think she fully understood what I was asking, but she obviously got enough of it to say, “Fine! I will pick out my own clothes in the morning!”
“Ok,” I said. “That’s a start.”
Then she gave me a hug, like she always does, and grabbed her book bag and headed into school.