The other day, when my daughter, Violet, showed up
fully-dressed in the Hall of Chaos (the one outside our bedrooms and the
bathroom, which between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., is just crazy—just pure Times
Square, circa 1982), I found myself stopped in my tracks, unable to speak or
even move, really.
With kids, you try and show them things, like how to put
their own socks on or how to make sure that they don’t pull their underwear on
in a way that seems likely to cause it to pop and unravel like a runaway fire
hose, but it’s tough. I mean, unless you threaten them with barbaric
repetition, making them do it over and over again until they pass out from the
tediousness, or stand there with a whole bag of treats and reward them after
each successful T-shirt donning—much like you would teach a puppy to pee on
the newspaper—they pretty much end up doing things when they finally damn well
feel like it.
Which, in a lot of ways, is how it should be, I think.
Violet standing there in the hall, decked out in one of her
striped tops and her black stretchy pants, having put them on all on her own,
that was reason enough to make me happy, you know? She is a great kid, but she
is a stubborn kid. She hates it when you help her do stuff that she wants to do
on her own. And she hates it worse when you don’t help do the stuff she just
can’t be bothered wasting a single calorie of her energy on.
Up until lately, getting her dressed had fallen into the
latter category. She would show practically no interest in dressing herself,
interspaced with brief flashes of absolute commitment to not letting anyone on
Earth slip a sweater over her head except her.
It was baffling and mind-boggling to me. But she is 4 now, and that is how things go with people who just so happen to be 4. So I just
held on tight and rode that lightning bolt across my days.
And then, out of nowhere, this happened.
I smiled at her smiling at me. She knew what she had accomplished, and she knew it carried heft and value. Hell, she knew her mom and I would be proud, that her mom would make that coyote-hit-by-a-car clarinet note with her throat that she always makes when she is surprised or delighted by the superpowers that one of her kids surprises her with. She knew that I would high-five her, because I’m an idiot, and because my high-fives are my way of making clarinet sounds, I guess.
She felt the power of independence hurtling through her veins like a locomotive.
Still, what really got me, what really got us, was the socks. Oh, the socks. I’ll never forget them, in this world or the next.
Pulled up high.
With stretchy pants tucked into them.
It was, I dare say, one of the finer things I have ever
witnessed in a life fairly slathered in sunsets and chunky trout and marbled
steaks and gorgeous women.
I wanted to goddamn cry is what I wanted to do.
Violet stood there, her grin like some new sun up in the sky
, in an outfit she had pulled on all by herself before mom or dad had even
begun their daily call to get dressed for the Y or for preschool. It wasn’t any
kind of event in the grand scheme of the world or anything, of course, and I
knew it then and I understand it even now. But that doesn’t lessen the
intensity of this sort of thing, if you know what I mean.
In just a few passing seconds, I could see my baby girl moving a little higher up a ladder,
and a little further away from me.
It was there, in her sparkling brown eyes, impossible to
miss. She felt the power of independence hurtling through her veins like a
locomotive, like a drug, and I could see it in that moment, in that instant,
setting its tiny hooks into her tender heart.
If I had the money, I’d probably have built an enormous
F-YOU statue on my front lawn by now; a 30-foot high grotesque bronze
Stalin of a monstrosity right out there on the tiny patch of grass where my
dogs piss their hot streams of piss in the predawn dark; a statue of my little
girl standing there with her pants tucked into her high purple socks. People
would come from all over to see it, to drive by real slow in their SUVs and
their Subarus, turning the Mumford and Sons down just enough to call me a kook
as they pop off a picture of the thing on their smartphones.