I try to pay attention. I try to stay involved, connected; to say all the right things and hide my swelling impatience. I want her to know that I’m proud of her accomplishments.
But a man – even the most well-intentioned father – can only feign wonder and excitement so many times while watching his child kick her leg in the air.
It’s what we’re referring to as the “Look at me!” phase. Jellybean’s always commanded an audience. The child’s as much of a wall flower as Lady Gaga. She wants to show off every single move she makes. She makes Kim Kardashian look shy.
“Watch me, Daddy,” she hollers, kicking up one leg while holding onto the coffee table.
“Watch me, Daddy,” she shouts, jumping off the curb at the mall.
“Watch me, Daddy,” she demands, pushing the empty rocking chair back and forth.
“Watch me, Daddy,” she calls while hopping on one foot, juggling a flaming Christmas tree in one hand, a bowling ball in the other and reciting the Gettysburg address backwards.
“Wow,” I respond atonally. “Good job, honey.”
OK, so that last one was an exaggeration. Even amid my parental apathy I’d recognize a David Letterman moment when it fluttered across my peripheral vision. But the others? Totally true.
About 700 times a day, Jellybean screams for me to watch her do something that, quite frankly, isn’t all that impressive. Of course, the things she tries to do to elevate her game – like dancing on the lawn chair or showing off how many yard rocks she can stuff in her mouth at once – only get her in trouble.
But she won’t be ignored.
Try to look away, try to politely placate, try to cook Sloppy Joes instead of standing on the patio steps while she does jumping jacks and she’ll call your name over and over and over again until you either become fully engaged or your head explodes … and quite frankly, as long as there’s some kind of reaction, she doesn’t much care which comes first.
Again, there’s no way to come away from this ran without sounding mean and callous. But if you’ve got kids over 3, you’re secretly nodding along in guilty agreement. They’re precious. We love them infinitely. They are our greatest joys and our starry-eyed hope for the future. But man, they can suck the life right out of you at the end of long, hard day.
‘Course My Lovely Wife – who’s also subjected to a continuous barrage of “Momma!” “Momma!” “Momma!” – do our best to take it all in stride and with a knowing laugh.
My Lovely Wife loves to tell the story of how when she was home all weekend with The Diva when she was 5 or so, after a mind-numbing series of shouts and hollers, she turned to her firstborn daughter, who was then, as she is now, as precocious as that particular day was long, and said as sweetly as her simmering temper would allow, “OK. I love you very much, but for the rest of the day, my name is not ‘Mamma.’ Call me whatever you want, but for today, I’m not going to be ‘Mamma’.”
In the years since, during various verbal sparring matches, The Diva’s called us both names outside of proper parental parameters, when she’s not giving us the wounded silent treatment. So I’d better pay attention to Jellybean for as long as she’s still speaking to me.
Till then … David Letterman, here we come.
Brett Buckner is an award-winning freelance newspaper/magazine writer who was raised in Albany.