MY daughter tripped and cut her leg today. The accident was entirely avoidable, but my little girl has turned into my wife. I offer advice and she ignores it.
We were stepping onto a bus. She skipped ahead. I told her to wait. She didn’t. I knew what was coming. The gap between bus step and pavement was too wide, a veritable chasm well beyond the reach of my diminutive daughter. I explained as much, but she disagreed. At this age, she usually does.
“I can do it by myself, Daddy,” she cried, as she missed the step, tumbled forward and scraped the skin of her shin along the steel step with the efficiency of a grater slicing cheese. I winced, but knew there was no time to lose.
Daddy had the briefest of windows. Every parent will be familiar with the window that comes after a child’s accident. Lasting anything from three to five seconds, it is the slow motion bit after an accident, the respite that comes before stunned shock gives way to eyebrow-singeing screaming.
I scooped her up just after her dazed facial expression said “something confusing has just happened and I’m waiting for my brain to process the information” but before it said “the pain has just reached my brain. I’m no longer confused. I’m ready to scream like I’m auditioning to play opposite King Kong.”
With a paternal hug and a soothing voice, I managed to deflate the screaming into a steady, but more agreeable, sobbing. Juggling a crying four-year-old, two school bags and an EZ-Link card, I shuffled past the bus driver when the weeping willow piped up again.
“Daddy, I want to ‘beep’ my own EZ-Link card,” she mumbled through a mountain of snot.
“Look, we really don’t have time. A queue is gathering and we need to look at your bleeding leg.”
“But I can do it myself, Daddy!”
And we were back where we started. Her much admired independent streak has metamorphosed into a soft authoritarianism. She does things her way or she does things her way. Every parental request, instruction or order is answered with a Frank Sinatra lyric. My Way is providing the soundtrack to her existence.
Her desire to be self-sufficient is understandable and age appropriate. She wants to stretch the ties that bind, find her own voice and stand on her own two feet. But I want to pull my greying hair out.
The parental frustration derives from a four-year-old’s inconsistency in such weighty matters. She champions her right to self-determination when choosing her own snacks in the fridge, but is happy to be dependent on others whenever it’s poo-poo time.
“Daddy, I can do it myself,” she always shouts, her head stuck in the fridge as she rummages around the shelves for anything with too much sugar. But an hour later, I’ll be sending her back to the bathroom because she has neglected or forgotten to pull up her knickers properly again.
She stubbornly insists that she is mature enough to climb up bus steps, prepare brunch, select appropriate books to read and choose her clothes, but still cannot pull on a pair of knickers without folding them over so many times, they end up looking like a rope ready for a game of tug of war.
Of course, making mistakes is fine. She falls over at the bus stop today. Tomorrow she stays on her feet. She turns her knickers into a rope, she learns to unravel them. The errors are expected, and mostly entertaining. It’s the unwillingness to admit she may require the help of others that is exhausting.
Take her pink ballet tights. She still lacks the nimble dexterity to pull them over her toes, around her heels and ease them up gradually towards her waist. There’s no shame in this. But a four-year-old doesn’t entertain failure.
“Daddy, I can put the tights on myself,” she cries, turning her back on me and desperately trying to unravel the tights that have curled up and hibernated around her ankles.
Rather than admit defeat, my little girl rises, rather unsteadily, to her feet and waddles around the living room with all the grace of a constipated penguin, suggesting that she had intended to wear her ballet tights around her ankles all along.
“Do you need some help there, Penguin,” I enquire.
“No, thank you, Daddy,” she replies. “I can put the tights on myself.”
So I wait for the inevitable crashing sound of a little girl tumbling over her own tights. And my daughter comes running towards me, arms raised, expecting a comforting hug.
She might be a Little Miss Know It All at this age, in the most positive sense, but she still needs Daddy. I’d like to think she always will.
But at some point, she’s got to put those ballet tights on herself.
About the Author: Neil Humphreys is one of Singapore’s best-selling authors. His works include Notes from an Even Smaller Island (2001), Scribbles from the Same Island (2003), and Final Notes from a Great Island: A Farewell Tour of Singapore (2006). Be My Baby (2008) chronicled his journey to parenthood and was his first international best-seller. His latest Singapore book, Return to a Sexy Island, is a No.1 national best-seller. Humphreys has written extensively for The Straits Times, TODAY, The New Paper, Men’s Health and Young Parents in Singapore. He currently lives in Bedok with his family and hopes his daughter will learn conversational Mandarin so she can teach her Dad.
First published in 25-01-2013.