Monday, April 14, 2008


The Girl at Play

I'll admit it: I want contradictory things for The Girl. I want her to grow up to be a strong and independent woman, but wouldn't mind if she skipped the whole 'rebellious' thing, at least in regard to her parents. (Since she's still a preschooler, I can still cherish this illusion.) I want her to be both confident and gracious, both brilliant and humble, and both sociable and autonomous.

How hard can that be?

I may be biased, but she is an amazing kid.

Sunday afternoon I took her and The Boy to the park to shake off some cabin fever. Another Dad was there with his kids, who were the same ages as TB and TG, so the kids paired off and set out on various adventures.

I expected TB to be autonomous and wonderful, and he was. He took the other boy under his wing and demonstrated his advanced rock-skipping technique at the creek, as well as devising various games involving running really fast in wide circles. I didn't catch the rules, but the games tired him out pretty good, and I know enough not to interfere when he tires himself out.

But TG was amazing. She flirted shamelessly with the other Dad, led the other girl around the park, ran after the boys from time to time at breakneck speed, and traversed the creek mud with the best of them. She has a contagious laugh, and she loves to use it. She even tells jokes, in her way. She gets the form of jokes, but hasn't quite mastered the rhythm. She'll get there.

When she gets overtired or overstimulated, she'll either grab a book and climb onto my lap (with an imperative “Read!” that brooks no hesitation), or she'll just find a quiet corner and sit in it silently for a few minutes. (After returning from the park, she retreated to her room for a while. When I went up there to check on her, I found her kneeling before her window, just quietly staring outside. She joined me as I walked away, content to have been found.) I think I enjoy that so much because I recognize it. Any introversion she has, she comes by honestly.

TB, TG, and I often wrestle/tickle on the living room floor when I get home from work. (They don't do that with TW.) I'm trying to teach her that both 'no' and 'yes' carry meaning. An actual exchange from last week:

(I'm tickling TG)

TG (laughing): Stop!

DD: Okay. (I stop.)


TG (confused): Why'd you stop?

DD: You told me to.

TG: Oh.


TG: You can tickle me now.

DD: Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! (tickling resumes)

I'm hoping that she'll get used to being able to define her own boundaries, and to 'no' and 'yes' carrying meaning, so she'll be able to hold her own as she gets older. I want her to know what 'safe' feels like, so she'll sense that something's wrong when she's unsafe. And even though it's tough to remember sometimes when looking at her baby face, she has her dignity, and I want to encourage that.

I know that as she gets older, I'll get dumber and less relevant and she'll know everything. There's probably nothing to be done about that. I shudder when I think about my glorious daughter enduring the slow torture of junior high, the candy-coated brutality of girl culture, and the general horror of the teen years. (And I remain in deep denial about eventual dating. Whenever TW wants to get me going, she just brings that up, and I revert to something along the lines of “LALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU LALALALA.” I'm not proud of that, but there it is.)

I just hope that she'll carry with her some vague emotional memory of when she could just hop on Daddy's lap with a book and make everything right with the world.

She'll remember.

I'm 31 years old, and when I get a chance, I'll still lie on the couch with my head in Mom's lap, for a while.
Beautiful girl, beautifully written.
If my daughter is as stubborn and independent as a teenager as she is now at 2, I'm in trouble.
I've got a question I'm curious about, and I think I might not know the answer because I'm not a parent and therefore not up on some of the subtleties of current parent subculture.

I've heard a number of people talk about their little daughters "flirting" in the same sense you do, but never little boys, though I often run into little boys running up to me and trying to take me by the hand or offer me something. So what does "flirt" mean in the context of toddler behavior?
I have two daughters, 24 and 21. They never rebelled, they've remained themselves, and they are and have always been people I've been pleased and proud to know.

There's no guarantee, but I always made rules that were reasonable, I explained why they had to do things, and I always listened to why they thought they shouldn't be bound by my rules, and then we negotiated. They understood that freedom meant that they used that freedom responsibly, and they never disappointed me (in any major way).

Treat your children with dignity and respect, and you get it back.
I have to agree with Helen's comment. As much as I love reading DeanDad's postings and his insightful observations (his comments on the children growing up are especially heart-warming), I do detect at times, a slight gendered tone (TG 'flirting' with grown-ups and TB finding girls his age inexplicable etc -- all at their very tender ages). Trying to analyse children's world/actions through very adult eyes - it makes for amusing reading for sure, although I do also wonder what impact this will have on the children's future behaviour.
Some toddlers treat other people like static objects that are part of the background. They make no attempt at communication with these "objects" as they are not worth notice when there's a lollipop to pull of the pavement and lick or a bug to examine. Then, there's the kids who are people oriented, and they learn how to get people's attention. They flirt.

I have a little boy who flirts shamelessly with other people so I know exactly what DD is talking about. I can't get out of the store without what I call attack of the Grandmas. It goes something like this. The kid makes eye contact with someone. They make eye contact back. He smiles his cute 15 month old smile and shows some gums. They smile back encouragingly. He does something cute like covering his eyes or clapping his hands or wiggles to the music playing in the store we're in and then looks at his observer from the corner of his eye and tilts his head and bats his eyelashes. Sometimes he giggles or chuckles. They inevitably melt, overwhelmed by his incredible cherubic cuteness. He repeats this over and over until I'm pushing a shopping cart through puddles of disintegrated humanity.

Male, female, - anyone is fair game as far as my son is concerned although I think older people are more susceptible to his charm. And my boy is good - really good - at picking just the right person to target. I swear someday he'll be in sales or HR.
I agree that there's a gendered tone, but it turns out that DD has a gender -- which is disclosed early in the text -- so I think we as readers can appropriately compensate.
Ivory, thanks, that's what I thought it meant.

Little ones do that to me all the time, both boys and girls. That's why I was wondering why it seems quite common to describe the behavior of girls that way, but until your comment I've never seen anyone describe the behavior of boys that way even when they're doing the same thing. It seems strange to me to label the behavior differently when it's identical.
I'm crying as I read; this is SO sweet and touching -- TG's quiet reflective time, the way you recognize it, your respect for her, your understanding of her dignity. I hope someday my child(ren) can meet you.
Yes, Ivory "gets it" with regard to flirting. It's not sexual, it's an aspect of human communication. I've actually heard it used more in relation to boy babies/toddlers than girls, but whatever. My 7-month-old son is learning it quite well, actually.

And Vicki is right too - my sister and I never rebelled, mostly because we were smart enough to understand the reasons behind what our parents were asking/telling us to do, and the logical consequences of disregarding those directives. Or maybe it wasn't smarts, it was that our parents raised us with an understanding of those reasons, and an understanding of consequences. Take your pick.

I've forwarded this to a new father of a baby girl. It's just lovely.
Whither The Girl's future boyfriends. They will have a lot to live up to, in trying to love her as much as you do.

She sounds absolutely delightful.
Lovely post!

(And I share your apprehension about the teenage years!)
For what it's worth, I never really rebelled, because my dad basically said "look, I'll let you do whatever you want, as long as you tell me what it is, because I trust you to not do anything stupid. If you *do* do something stupid, call me, and I'll come and get you and we can talk about it later." It was weird -- even while I was aware of the burden of responsibility that a lot of my friends didn't have, I also had a lot more freedom than they did.

It seems to me that you have the same kind of respect for your daughter's needs and personality that my parents always had for me.

I'd also like to point out that it's entirely possible to have non-traumatic experiences in both middle and high school -- I did. I don't know if I had a charmed life or something, but I never got involved in "girl culture" -- I hung out with boys, played D&D, ran around in the mud, and when I was done doing that (at about age 14), I started going to smart people summer camp and doing things like debate and community theater. I had way too many friends outside of my school environment to really care what they thought of me, and somehow that protected me from all of it.

Good luck!
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