March 2, 2010
The last time I made Aegis cry was 2 or 3 years ago. We were at a party, and I remember quite a few people cloistered around the dining room table, some were seated, some were standing. I was fortunate to have a seat. Aegis was fortunate to be sitting across from me.
She was talking to some of the other guests about an upcoming trip to Texas. She’d met this boy who happened to live in San Antonio, and she was going to check things out, maybe see if there were the makings of a relationship between them.
She was acting a little flippant about the trip. “Yeah, I’m going to head down there, you know, hang out, see what’s what.” The women around her couldn’t have been more supportive. I’m sure they said things like “Have a great time” and “Be careful,” but I wasn’t listening to their words. I was listening to their tone. And, to me, their tone sounded a lot like “Oooh, a boy! Ooooh, a boy! How exciting!”
I was annoyed at all of them that day while I sat at that table. But like a good father, I kept my mouth shut. I figured she was old enough to do whatever she wanted or chase whomever she wanted, and I couldn’t stop her. That’s basically what I told her when she asked me, “What do you think about my trip to Texas?”
“It’s your life, you’re an adult, don’t let me stop you. But since you’re asking me what I think, I’m happy to answer. I can tell you right now that I hate this boy. I don’t like that he’s fine with the idea of you hopping on a plane and going to some strange city so you can test the waters. What happens if you don’t hit it off? Is he going to dump you on some street corner and leave you to walk around in your insensible shoes? If he wants to see you, he can get on a plane and come to our front door and take you out on a proper date. Then he can bring you home at a reasonable hour. That’s what I think.”
She thought I was being harsh, and started to cry. “It’s all set up. He’s paid for the plane ticket and everything.”
“I don’t care. You asked me what I thought. Whether you go or not, that’s your decision. I’m just telling you how I’m going to feel about him.”
There were tears and pleas. “But, dad! But, dad!” She wanted me to approve of her trip, but I wouldn’t. I figured I would be proud of her no matter what she did. If she went, I would be proud of her for her rebel ways. If she didn’t go, I would be proud of her for her practicality. She couldn’t lose where I was concerned. Besides, this wasn’t a matter of me approving of her. It was a matter of me approving of her boyfriend. Maybe she cared if I approved of him. Maybe she didn’t.
OK, she cared. Shortly after the party, she called M and told him that she was not going to Texas. He reminded her that he had already bought the plane ticket, and it was non-refundable. She didn’t budge. He was not happy. Aegis was not happy. But I was. I really liked M that day. Not only did he eat that ticket, he eventually started talking to my daughter again. And the next time they saw each other, it was in Utah.
I learned nearly 22 years ago that it takes almost nothing to make my daughter cry. We were in Salt Lake City visiting one of K’s acquaintances who happened to live in a huge apartment building. K was holding Aegis (which gives you an idea of how small Aegis was at the time) while we waited for the elevator to reach our floor. Out of nowhere, Aegis slapped K in the face. My hands and arms were free, so I rushed to K’s defense and lightly tapped Aegis across the face.
“How do you like it?” I said to Aegis.
She cried. Just the sort of response I was looking for.
I was very proud of myself that day, and wondered who could benefit from my parenting technique. So I told a friend what I did to discipline my little pugilist. Then I waited for the compliments.
This friend said to me, “We don’t like to teach our kids non-violence with violence.” I felt like a schmuck. And I vowed then and there to never lay a hand on my child again, a promise that I maintain to this day. It’s a good thing I didn’t say I wouldn’t kick her because then I would have felt really guilty.
The one time I did kick her, right to the face, was a complete accident. One afternoon when Aegis was about 3, I was lying on my bed reading. I never heard Aegis sneak in the room, I only felt the bite on my foot. Having the reflexes of a panther, I kicked hard, completely unaware of my target. Only when I put down my book did I realize that I sent Aegis flying across the room. She cried that time, too.
Sigh. If I could take back the hurt I have caused, I would…except for that one time, on that glorious winter day, when we went outside to play in the snow. I think Aegis was no more than 2. We had this old infant car seat in the garage that resembled a bathtub. I never trusted it as a safety device in the car but thought it would make an excellent snow sled. And I was right. I tied this rope to the front and put Aegis in this ridiculously over-insulated snow suit. She had more padding than the Michelin Man. We started out having so much fun that day. I pulled her everywhere in that sled. It felt like we were out there in that snow for hours. Whenever I stopped to take a little break, she would yell, “More, more.”
I didn’t know how to say no to my precious angel, so on and on I pulled.
I didn’t want to disappoint my little girl but I was exhausted. I pulled her into a parking lot and wanted to collapse.
I could barely move my legs. Fortunately, the parking lot was like an ice rink. With little effort, I could get that sled skidding across the ice, and since I wasn’t moving my legs much, the sled naturally fell into a nice, easy whip. I found that if I kept the rope taut, the sled would go faster and faster. Then I saw a way out. I pulled that rope tighter and tighter. The sled whipped around me at an alarming speed. Oh, I’ll give you more, I thought. With blessed relief, the sled eventually flipped, and Aegis rolled across that parking lot like a tumbleweed in a hurricane. Or a man on fire. She spun out of control, and even though she was well cushioned in her snow suit, she cried. But we got to go home, and that was all I cared about at that point.
She got her revenge eventually. When she was in sixth grade, she wrote a report on Beethoven. She described how Beethoven’s father would often drag young Beethoven out of bed and force him to play for his drunken friends. In Aegis’s report, she mentioned that Beethoven’s father beat the young boy often, whacking him across the head. Some speculate that these incessant beatings resulted in Beethoven losing his hearing. At the end of her report, Aegis wrote: “My dad is a lot like Beethoven’s dad.” For weeks after she turned in her paper, I jumped every time the doorbell rang.