Madison is six and so far she hasn’t manifested any obvious signs of bad parenting on my part (except for the glee derived from emotional terrorism, a small detail), but this is obviously still very much a first-time deal for me. For every year Madison gets older, there are challenges which will be completely new to me. A few days ago when we were out at dinner, I had to ask Lynnette something that pertained to Madison, but I didn’t want Mad to hear it. In the past I would simply spell out my question: D-O–Y-O-U–W-A-N-T–T-O–G-O–T-O–T-H-E–W-A-T-E-R-P-A-R-K–T-O-M-O-R-R-O-W? I might have said. Well, now that Madison can spell, I have to ask those questions like this: doyouwanttogotothewaterparktomorrow? Our server was impressed. “That was quick,” he said. “She can read and spell now,” I said. “Mine is six months old; I’m going to have to remember that,” he said as he walked away.
The point is that while I no longer worry about the day-to-day stuff much, my focus has shifted to the hypothetical future. When I found out I was going to be a father, I tried to look at the big picture. Sure, I would never be able to do anything I wanted ever again, but hey, on the bright side, I would never be able to do anything I wanted ever again! Thanks to the access to teenagers afforded to me by my job, I realized that the hard work, the conditioning, and track-laying all have to be done from the start. Granted, a person isn’t fully-formed in high school – I know I wasn’t – but so much of the attitude and world view is set by then. I vowed to let her figure out her own interests, then support her once she found them. Had Madison been a boy, the story would be so much simpler: there’s a ball and a glove in the crib from birth. That’s it. But the whole girl thing threw me for a loop. I gotta be honest, I have no idea what I’m doing sometimes, even as I’m doing it.
She’s obviously a princess. Lynnette’s Filipino Princess/High Maintenance genes are strong with this one. I remember back when Madison was still attending Kamaaina Kids, she was playing with a ball and followed it until it rolled into the dirt. She stopped dead in her tracks, then looked at me and pointed at it. She wasn’t about to get her hands dirty. She found the Disney Princesses and has worked toward an advanced degree in the subject ever since. She knows more about the princesses at 5 than I knew about anything at the same age. Do you know how humbling and infuriating it is to be corrected matter-of-factly by your 6-year old daughter? Especially when her tone and mannerisms mirror that of your wife? CRAZY HUMBLING/INFURIATING. Lynnette does this thing where she replaces nouns with the phrase “da kine,” and while she’s always done it sporadically, in the past month, the frequency has exploded. She says things like “What did you do with the da kine?” offering little context for me to guess at what she might be talking about. When Madison rattles of a “Dad! Where’s my da kine?” I want to hurl myself down our stairs. But I digress. Mad’s a girly-girl.
Except for when she’s not. Mad has a bow and arrow and a sword and often refers to herself as “the chief” and informs me quite seriously that she’s “going to war.” Granted, she picked up these weapons from Brave and Mulan respectively, but still. She does not play those story lines out when she goes to war. It’s closer to Star Wars (with her light saber, sometimes) and WWE than Disney movies. There are bad guys and they attack people for reasons that Madison seems unable to articulate at times, but I suppose the same can be said for adults and modern warfare, too. She engages in these intricate sword routines that threaten the dog, myself, my wife, and the TV. I mean just look at this picture. She knows what she’s supposed to do with a sword.
And these are just two of the many facets my daughter possess. We do things like play rhyming games and review the value of coins and addition and subtraction. We try to balance out her television viewing with education programming. She knows what an apex predator is, well kind of. What she really knows is she hates killer whales and sharks because they’re bullies. She once gave Lynnette and I a lecture on oviparous animals. This – the intellectual potential – is what excites me most. She actively wants to learn, but I’m terrified I’m going to screw that up somehow. In fact, that’s my greatest fear going: that I’ll inevitably limit her – not by choice, by just by chance.
Life, they say, isn’t like a video game. I would bet they say that because of the handful of ways consequences can be avoided in a video game: reset, save state, pause, etc. I enjoy playing games like Pokemon and Knights of the Old Republic, but – and this is kind of a big deal – only if I have a walkthrough handy. Lynnette calls it cheating and she’s not wrong. But it isn’t so much that I want the answers. I do use them sometimes, but the thing I care about most is the order of tasks/locations. I care about efficiency. Because in some ways, life is like a video game. Life is like a video game in that sometimes, you get to the locked door in Level 8, but the key was in a wicker basket waaaaay back in Level 3. Or, you can advance to college and try to take a Calculus for Business class and be totally and utterly screwed because you goofed around during pre-calculus and calculus during your last two years of high school because you A) had no idea how to do it, and B) had no idea you’d ever need the knowledge later. No one knows the future, and certainly not everything is going to be vital.
I’m tempted to say that there’s no walkthrough for life, but that’s not entirely true, is it? We have our own experiences, the counsel of our friends and family, and history books should we ever choose to open them. I want Mad to enjoy the same things I did, I don’t want my daughter to make the same mistakes I did, but I don’t want her to be a Boba Fett clone of me, either. Trying to hit that middle ground keeps me up some nights. The difference is certainty.
Madison isn’t allowed to watch her iPad tonight because she made a bad choice earlier. I hear her reading to Lynnette in the bedroom. I really wish someone would tell me exactly what I had to do to ensure a happy, fulfilling, and successful life for Madison, but I know no one can give me that. I just don’t want to screw up, you know? Because there’s no resetting, no loading to a saved state. Because when she reaches Level Adulthood, I want to make sure she’s got all the keys from all the levels.