Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

The Mommy Thing
by S. J. Marshall

The sun has just come up. It's golden rays are slowly making their way across your four-year-old daughter's bedroom. There is a smell of fresh coffee in the air and the sound of birds chirping their morning song. Stepping gingerly over the stuffed animals that attended last night's tea party, you feel the pride of fatherhood gazing down upon your sleeping angel. Now, taking care to brush aside a few silken locks from that oh-so-perfect forehead, you bend over the "Dora the Explorer" bedspread, gently kiss her cheek and whisper, "Time to get up sweetheart." She blinks her eyes ever so sweetly, looks into your beaming face and bellows:

"Go away! I want my Mommy!"

You recoil in shock and think: something wrong in my approach? Perhaps it's that new aftershave. Or maybe it's that leftist Montessori school her mother insisted she attend. They are probably filling her head with feminist theory. Now you know why all the teachers are women. 

The conspiracy calculations are interrupted by her mother, who artfully scoops up your now smiling daughter as you skulk out of the bedroom. They coo in harmony and leave you to make the oatmeal.

You stir the oatmeal and realize that the last few months have been an endless succession of Mommy-this, Mommy-that. At one time your daughter had nothing but praise for your ability to put on socks and tie shoes. Now nothing you do is right. You leave "bumps" when you pull up her socks and the loops in your knots are too big. "I want Mommy to do it," she screams. You have fallen off your pedestal and you can't get up.

Sound familiar? Don't despair. You are not alone. Four-year-old girls are telling their fathers to drop dead in many languages all over the world.

I did despair to the extent that, after trying a new aftershave, I called a friend with a degree in child psychology who offered her usual reassurance. "Don't be an idiot! It's a normal part of development." She went on to explain that my daughter's insistence on having her mother be her all, her everything is merely a natural expression of a four-year-old beginning to form an appropriate gender identification with the same sex parent. She said that it is important for me to stay involved in my daughter's life and that I should put aside a consistent time and activity that is just for us. She also said that I shouldn't worry, that my daughter's allegiances will probably shift around the time she turns five. Easy for you to say, I thought, you're not the one making the oatmeal.

Although being called an idiot offered a certain cathartic comfort, I still had a sense of unease about the whole thing. I contacted my friend Jack who is also the father of a four-year-old girl. Jack is a no-nonsense, alpha male who had chest hair at age eleven. Our conversations are usually limited to guy stuff like sports and killing things, but I felt I had to talk to someone that knew exactly where I was coming from.

I nervously stammered the details of my morning to Jack as he took a swallow of beer and spat thoughtfully on the ground.

"Oh, yeah. The Mommy Thing," he said. "It's happening in our house, too. Not a big deal. It bothered me at first, but now I kind of like it."

I was surprised and asked him how he could appreciate being devalued by an entity that was still trying to master bladder control.

"Well. It can be kind of useful," he said. "Like the other day we thought she was working on her art stuff, but she was really eating her glue stick. It was more than half gone before she threw up all over the congoleum. Looked just like cottage cheese. I made sure she was OK and then asked "Gee honey, do you want me or Mommy to clean this up?" Anyway, long story short, I haven't cleaned up anything remotely disgusting for over a month."

Wow. I was impressed. I was about to ask his views on the Electra complex when Jack started talking about what it would be like to eat broken glass.

Two weeks later I am still making the oatmeal, but I now realize that my daughter's rejection has little to do with me. And, even if it did, there isn't much I can do about it. She has a mind and a will of her own that are as much a part of her as empathic and emotional rigidity are a part of me. In any case, this too shall pass. There is an anticipated stop in Papaville right around the corner where the Daddy Thing will be the rule of law. Or, as the esteemed child philosopher Robert Zimmerman once said, "(S)he who is first will later be last."
S. J. Marshall has worked as a disability rights attorney, a child and family therapist, a corn detasseler, a book-shelver and a string-cutter assemblyman at a factory that manufactured coin boxes for pay toilets. He is currently convalescing from a recent bout of employment as a state bureaucrat. His recovery is greatly assisted by his spouse, Kerry, and their four-year-old daughter, Juliana Rae. Ms. Rae is best known by her street name, "The Mosquito that Walks."