My daughter is an odd duck. And she is lovely because of it (and for other reasons too, of course). My wife and I worried a bit at first- when she wasn’t walking and later, talking. In fact, she was such a late talker that she qualified for speech therapy through our school district. The speech therapist- a tall, gentle woman- came to our house once a week for several months and worked with our daughter. But the kid just would not talk. The therapist wasn’t worried. “There is nothing wrong. The words are there. She’s just not in the mood, I guess. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s like she’s playing a game.”
“I think so, too,” I said, “and we’re the game pieces.”
She did eventually decide to talk and in the years since my wife and I, and now her kindergarten teacher too, have learned her ways. She looks like she is not listening; she claims not to know an answer. We’ll try to teach her how to draw a letter, say. “Draw an up and down line. Good. Now draw a sideways line. Good. Now, if you put the sideways line on top of the up and down line, you’ll have a capital ‘T’, okay? Try it.” And she’ll draw a circle! Or at least she did at the beginning of this school year. We had conferences with the teacher, we talked to our daughter; nothing we tried worked; we couldn’t get through to her. Or so it seemed. One day, she decided to start writing her letters correctly, and doing her math, too. Just like that.
Then we remembered that it had always been this way. She’s playing a game she’ll never acknowledge. I’ve given up, for now, trying to understand why. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. This game is a personality trait. She will never be the first in her class- at least not in an area they test for in school. She’ll drive all of her teachers mad. But I know that she knows what’s going on. And that’s all I care about. I know how smart she is, and I’ll push her to use her smarts when the time comes. For now, she can play her game.
Still, though, it is nice to see her acting “normal”: running and playing with other kids; charging up a ladder on a playground, trying to swing the highest. She is so rarely bold; it’s just plain nice to see her that way now and then. And she will not be pressured into doing something (it’s not lost on me that I will be thanking my lucky stars for this when she’s older). Hours spent begging, pleading, with my daughter to “say hi” “say bye-bye” “say red! Red!” and so on, playing her game, have taught me this—finally. Her game, her rules, her timing.
This is why I damn near fell over in the middle of Macy’s one day, when she ran up to a Justin Bieber pillow and shrieked, “Oh, Justin Bieber! I love Justin Bieber! Can I have this pillow? Please, please, please, please, PLEASE?”
“Wait. Bieber? How do you know him?”
“My friends at school love him, too.”
“Well I’ll be damned,” I thought, “Fucking Justin Bieber.”
I understand that I was supposed to be outraged by this. But I was decidedly not. An infatuation with a talentless, goofy looking pop star because some girls at school like him? That is so…normal for my daughter. And, dare I say it, a little ahead of normal! I wasn’t expecting this nonsense for four more years! Put that in your pipes and smoke it, other parents! My five year-old has a crush!
I also understood that I had before me a wonderful opportunity. You see, my bed had become too damn crowded. We had always let our daughter sleep with us and now our son was two and taking up a lot of room, too. I suspect that all of us sleeping in one bed was unusual, too. I guess most kids are sleeping in their own beds long before they are five. But, it never bothered us much. Until it did. And we had been fighting a losing battle to get our daughter to graduate into her own bed. She’d make it a few nights but then be back. So when I saw how much she wanted that pillow, I found my angle.
“I’ll tell you what. If you sleep in your bed for 14 straight nights, I’ll buy you that pillow.”
“How long is 14 nights?”
“Two weeks. When we get home we’ll make a calendar and you can cross off every day.”
“But how do we know it will still be here?”
“I guess we don’t. I’ll try to find you something else. But, you know, sometimes you do everything that’s asked of you and still don’t get rewarded for it. That’s life.”
“But can we find something else with Justin Bieber on it?”
“Uh, yes, I think so.” (Ya think?!)
“Okay. Deal.” And we shook on it.
That was six weeks ago now. She’s slept in her bed every night since, the past month on a pillow with a goofy looking dope’s picture on it. And she was so proud when we bought it! I don’t mind saying it was a proud day for me too. And now she’s working on a two-month stretch. The reward? We’ll paint her room purple, because, as everyone knows, the yellow she has now, “is not good for big girls.”