Neil Humphreys: When my little girl left home forever (all right, one night)

MY wife and I planned our night alone together. A meal, a movie, smiling eyes over supper and an evening of intellectually stimulating conversation, it was going to be glorious. Our daughter was embarking on her first sleepover away from home. We would sit back and savour the silence.

Within an hour, I was considering calling the police, the coastguard and Interpol.

We hadn’t received a photo or a voice message for a full 30 minutes.

I had the address of my daughter’s sleepover in my hand, ready to make the call, picturing burly, axe-wielding firefighters smashing down the door.

Our daughter had abandoned us, deserted us, left home and flown the nest, for an entire night. We were handicapped and awkward. We felt like a pair of sunglasses on a man with one ear.

Something was missing.

Believe it or not, our daughter had never spent the night away from both parents in Singapore. In the UK and Australia, she has stayed with relatives overnight and we were marginally more relaxed about the situation then.

We insisted on photos of every 15 minutes of her holding up a clock so we knew the photos were fresh and not doctored.

Without our daughter, the meal was strange. I almost tore the naan bread in half and passed it to the empty seat beside me.

Conversations didn’t start with, “I’m talking to Mummy, wait your turn,” or “swallow your food” or “you’re still learning how to use chopsticks. It wasn’t your fault. Put your head down and hope he doesn’t notice the rice on his tie.”

My wife and I enjoyed each other’s company of course. We’ve been together for 20 years. We’re almost family.

We had a few laughs. We usually do. And we engaged in some of the adult chatter that we supposedly miss out on. We discussed the food (excellent), my upcoming work schedule (boring, but necessary), COE prices (boring and depressing) and a few banking issues (boring and boring.)

Then my daughter’s sleepover host texted some photos of our daughter and we fell about laughing. She was pretending to be a fashion model on a make-believe catwalk and doing a high-kicking goosestep that was a strange cross between Zoolander, Riverdance and The Karate Kid.

A video of her cartwheeling came through moments later. My daughter doesn’t really cartwheel. She goes down like a collapsing building.

In the video, she just missed landing on her neck.

“I’m going to call them,” I blurted out.

“What for?” My wife replied.

“They don’t know she’s not good at cartwheels, like we do. She could fall on her head. I’ll tell them not to let her do cartwheels. No, maybe I’ll ask them to use a cushion. No, I’ll ask them to put a mattress underneath. No, I’ll ask the mother to catch her legs as she goes over. No, I’ll pop over there and supervise the gymnastics and then get back for the end of the movie. What do you think?”

“I think you’ve got curry on your chin.”

Obviously, I didn’t do any of the above in the end. But I did send a message asking the parents to watch my daughter’s uncoordinated limbs flailing around like streamers in the breeze.

So we watched the movie, the Avengers: Age of Ultron, where things hit each other. Then the same things hit each other some more. Then the movie ended. It was like a pillow fight with my daughter, minus the $20 tickets and a stranger sharing his popcorn munching with my ear canal.

There were funny lines in the movie, but nothing came close to my daughter wobbling and strutting along a pretend catwalk like she was sheltering a ferret.

Of course I missed her. She’s my perfect, little angel.

Of course she didn’t miss me. She’s my self-involved, little diva.

She’s not really. She’s a six-year-old girl who wants to spend the night with other six-year-old girls rather than sit in an Indian restaurant and listen to Daddy’s work schedule. (I was on TV last week and asked if she wanted to watch. She replied: “What for? I see you every day.”)

When she returned home after the sleepover, we hugged each other. I told her how much I’d missed her. She reciprocated. Then she asked for another sleepover at her friend’s house.

She’s not rebelling. She’s growing up. She should be around friends her age, exploring, engaging and working towards independence. I’ll learn to step back, trust her judgment and respect her space.

But she’s not going anywhere until she’s worked on those cartwheels.


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 (2006). Be My Baby (2008) chronicled his journey to parenthood and was his first international best-seller. His most recent Singapore book, Return to a Sexy Island (2012), was a No.1 best-seller and turned into a TV series. His illustrated book series – Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase – is proving popular with children all over the world and is currently being adapted into an animated TV series. Humphreys has written extensively for The Straits Times, TODAY, The New Paper, Esquire, Men’s Health, FourFourTwo and Young Parents. He currently lives in Bedok with his family and hopes his daughter will learn conversational Mandarin so she can teach her Dad.


Categories: Neil Humphreys

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