by Matt Geiger
She had the drill again.
“Is this too loud for yoga, Mom?!” our two-year-old daughter Hadley belted over its roar. Her thick little feet skidded to a stop when they left the slick faux hardwood and became entangled in the matted yellow shag carpeting. “IS THIS TOO LOUD FOR YOGA?!”
She had ornery, unpredictable curls of hair in her face and the orange plastic toy power drill in her hand. It has no volume settings and makes roughly the same amount and type of noise as a garbage disposal struggling to choke down a rack of beef ribs.
My wife was contorted in front of the television, imitating a woman who was doing the same thing but also giving instructions in a forcefully calm voice. “Warrior Pose.” “Downward Dog.” “Inside Out Hyena.”
Taking her finger off the trigger just long enough to squeeze in another sentence of her own, she suddenly adopted the rolling, countrified voice of a portly southern sheriff: “Awww, mah mom don’t like it…”
Then she turned, fired up the power tool again, and sprinted away in the more happy, much faster cousin of a galumph. I could tell by the way the sound flittered that she was running from room to room.
It was the second time in a week that she, a little girl who has never been south of Illinois, suddenly began speaking in a syrupy southern drawl. The first time, she was seated naked in the bathtub. Our little gray cat, lost in pleasant speculation about where to throw up next, wandered into the bathroom. He suddenly saw the child and the water, was filled with visible horror, and bolted.
“Awwww!” Hadley lamented. “Mah cat don’t take a bayath.”
Perhaps our house had once been owned by an old southern general whose ghost was now floating around haunting the place, occasionally possessing my toddler. Demonic possession, I realized, would also explain several of her other, more erratic behaviors. Every sentence my daughter utters is an adventure. When she sees a flock of ducks, she’ll point at them and smile. “What are the ducks doing?”
“They are swimming in the pond, honey.”
Then she’ll point to a cluster of men near the shore. “And what are the mans doing?”
“The men are fishing.”
“Okay. And what are the fesh doing?”
“The fish,” I say with a sigh, “are swimming. Or maybe fishes. I don’t really know. Let’s get away from the water.”
The lesson is always the same – that English is confusing and inconsistent, just like everything else in life. Get used to it and enjoy it, I tell her. No one really knows nearly as much as they pretend to know.
She’s never disappointed with an answer. And she appears perfectly content in the understanding that ignorance and wildly speculative guesses are just natural, healthy steps on the journey toward a better comprehension of the world – like the fact that you might have to turn left a few times on your cross country trip, even through your final destination is on the right. She can always articulate to me what she’s thinking, even if she takes her own linguistic route.
“Feel me better, dad!” she’ll howl after skinning her knee on the sidewalk. “Please, feel me better.”
In the spring, we made Easter eggs with her, primarily as a way to kill an hour before the sun set – a time of day when I can turn on the television without feeling like a bad parent. It was Easter, after all, and that is traditionally when you boil and decorate bird embryos to celebrate resurrection and the impending visitation of a massive, generous rodent. Hadley loved it, squealing and laughing as she mixed the dyes together to create a shade of brown she is particularly fond of.
A few days later, as I pitched some kitchen scraps into the backyard for our chickens, she turned off her drill and looked up at me. Her hair was straight that day, according to its whims, but her eyes were as big, dark, and sincere as ever: “Dad, I want to make Easter eggs.”
“We can’t!” I said with the well-worn confidence of an imbecile. “We can only decorate eggs on…” It was at this point I realized I had no idea on what day Easter actually falls. “Well, it moves around, I think.” After a brief consultation with my phone I discovered Easter always takes place on the first Sunday following the paschal full moon.
“What’s paschal full moon, daddy?” she asked.
Rather than descending further down this particular rabbit hole, I decided to adapt my worldview.
“You know what? We CAN make Easter eggs. Also, sweetheart, I honestly have no idea what the paschal full moon is.”
“We,” I said as my heart began thumping fervently in my chest, as if I were a general marching up and down before a line of warriors on some vast field of battle, “can decorate eggs anytime we want to!”
I dropped the tupperware bowl I was holding. She discarded her drill. Then, we went inside and decorated all our eggs. It was one of the best mornings of my life – one of those rare days when you aren’t just secretly biding your time until it’s socially acceptable to drink beer, play video games, or go to sleep. One of those events during which, if someone asked you what you’d rather be doing, you’d reply honestly: “Nothing in the world.”
Now we make Easter eggs all the time. With the summer sun beating down, or a winter blizzard baying at our door.
It’s what parenting is all about – the chance to teach someone how to use verbs and toilets, while they teach you that most of the rules governing our lives are arbitrary and pointless. Many are simply relics from days when people had very different problems and priorities. Which side of the plate a knife goes on, when you can wear hats, and how tall your grass can be – these are ridiculous guidelines with no practical implications. People take them seriously simply because they are told to, and as they grew up they stopped asking questions.
I often discover they were created to combat problems long ago swept away by the modern world. This one is so you won’t catch polio, and that one is so you won’t stub your toe on all the Tasmanian tigers lying around. Like the Great Wall of China, which has outlived the marauding Mongol hordes it was built to keep out, the solutions outlasted their corresponding problems.
So I’m rapidly letting go of all the inane, arbitrary rules that govern most adults’ lives. Maybe it’s because my daughter has shown me that being distant and glum, and taking work and politics too seriously, are guidelines you don’t really need to follow. Or maybe it’s just the sound of a little, orange, plastic power drill, gradually driving me toward some kind of blissful insanity. All I know is that every sentence is an adventure, and every day comes with a chance of Easter eggs.
Well put. Thanks for the reminder!
I didn’t have a child to teach me this, it took getting to my “golden years” but I think it’s one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned. Thank you for this insightful and entertaining piece.