Monday, September 17, 2007

Daddy Is From Mars

Of course I love my girls. They've had me wrapped around their dainty fingers from the time they were grainy images on an ultrasound monitor. But you have to understand that, love them though I do, I'm still in a part of life where I can honestly say I've never had to deal with certain things before.

This is my second (or "new") life. I was married previously, and that union gave me two children. My son was an open adoption, and we brought him home from the hospital. My daughter was a foster-care placement (age 13!) whom we adopted as an adult because the Great and Terrible State of California doesn't believe that teenagers need parents, just emancipation. Later we took on two additional boys as foster kids, thus giving me three rambunctious young males in the house at one time. Coming home from work became an exercise in pain management.

"Daddy's home!"



[Sound of Woody's back being used as a trampoline]

"Dear? Where's the Tylenol®?"

But I knew how to deal with boys. With boys, you buy lots of things that can be swung, hit, kicked, beaten, and thrown. You take them out in the backyard, let them do precisely that, and let them run themselves into the ground so they can burn off the pound and a half of sugar they've consumed when Mommy's back was turned. Then you put them to bed, wait five minutes, put them back in bed, wait another ten minutes, put them back in bed again, and cross your fingers. Then you go to bed and wake up three hours later to begin your hellatious commute "down below." At least that's how I handled it. Your actual mileage may vary.

Unfortunately, my eldest daughter gave me absolutely no warning as to what to expect with girls under the age of 13. By the time she came to live with us, she was already in junior high school. Preparing for puberty was not the issue. Dealing with a post-pubescent adolescent was suddenly de rigeur. I found myself asking my brother-in-law, the deputy sheriff, for tips on how to keep boys at bay. Cleaning the shotgun on the front porch when they came to call was his considered response. (I note, for the record, that to my knowledge, Deputy Dan has never once cleaned his shotgun on his porch when boys call at his house.) (I'm not actually certain whether he even has a shotgun.)

(I certainly don't.)

Anyway, girls between the ages of zero and thirteen remain a mystery to Woody. You might think, now that my girls are 10 and nearly 8, that I have at least 10 years' worth of experiences from which to draw. You would be wrong.

What follows is a nowhere-near exhaustive list of things that still surprise me about girls, from a parental perspective:

1. The nesting instinct. Boys are pack-rats. Girls are nesters. Boys keep their junk until someone — Mom, generally — forces them to throw it away. Girls line their bedrooms with knick-knacks of all shapes and sizes as if they were children that need constant nurturing and care. Daddy tends to ignore this phenomenon right up until he cracks his toe on some doll with a cast iron skeleton that is always placed strategically next to the door when Daddy checks on them in the middle of the night.

2. American Girls®. Daddies don't get American Girls®. So, okay, I understand the part about telling each girl's life story from the perspective of their time in history. But what they are, primarily, is a merchandising coup. "You want HOW MUCH for that doll?? I guess I can always refinance if she needs clothes, too!" (Warning to Dads: two girls in your home means two SETS of American Girl® products. Do the math.)

3. The marriage thing. Both of my sub-teen daughters are married now. When this happened I can't exactly say, but they both have husbands, neither of whom I've ever actually seen. This is probably good. The bad part is that Daddy is expected to remember who these virtual husbands are whenever their names are mentioned. These names always fail to trigger anything in Daddy's admittedly selective memory, and Daddy is constantly being censured by his increasingly exasperated daughters. So I try to at least acknowledge that their hubbys exist, but I refuse to send them Christmas cards.

4. Inate ability to confound Daddy's logical arguments. When Daddy grew up and became a programmer [insert geek joke here], he quickly came across something called a "circular reference." This generally means you're trying to point to some calculation that is itself dependent upon your subroutine and you get the whole program locked up as a result. When dealing with daughters, this is the point where Daddy must admit that he has met and been subdued by a superior intellect. Whatever passes for seven-year old logic will always (repeat: always) overcome any argument that Daddy might use to refute their statements. This is how we end up buying American Girl® merchandise (see no. 1 above).

5. Reducing Daddy to putty. My teenage daughter was never able to pull this off. In fact, from the moment she first tried to wear her hair in a more "adult" fashion, or go to a dance wearing a skirt that was a bit too short, Daddy was on to her. Thanks to hormones, teenage girls seem to forget about their feminine wiles for a few years and attempt to take the direct route to infuriating their parents. My under-eleven girls are still in the "feminine wiles" stage. If they want Daddy to bend to their will, all they have to do is smile at him. Or cry. Or just pout. Daddy will invariably give them whatever it was that they wanted, usually with interest. Mommy can get this effect, too, because she got past the hormone-driven lack of subtlety many years ago and has returned to her feminine wiles.


As I say, this was hardly an exhaustive list. My elder Woodyette, still only ten years old, has three more years before I'll find myself back on somewhat familiar ground. I say "somewhat" because, addlepated male though I may be, I'm not so dim as to forget that no two teenagers are ever alike, even in the same family. And since my Woodyettes came long after my eldest daughter had grown up and begun her own family, we're actually in the enviable position of being able to compare notes. My granddaughter is about a year older than my ten-year old, and their experiences are pretty similar.

In the meantime, I can soak up the reputation my girls have acquired of being polite, thoughtful little people. We were told this just this evening when their Primary president came to the house as one of our volunteer nurses for Mrs. Woody. "They're always offering to help," she said. "They take their plates to the sink without being asked. I wish my kids would do that!"

Lady, I'm just hoping they'll keep doing that once those hormones kick in. But I guess this is what prayer is for, right?

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