The Kiddo and I

She is four. When she arrives with her mother, she wants to thrown her sweater on the floor and make me guess what nightgown she brought, insisting she can say “lellow” instead of “yellow” if she wants to. There’s a little devil in a tease, testing the reach of will and desire. Although I don’t tell her she doesn’t own the language, I correct her when she says “I putted it away.” She is equally tenacious in her desire to please as in her desire to be contrary, as if to prove she can get her way. After she refuses to allow her mother to hold hands with me during grace, she eagerly cries for us to pick her up in our embrace. Fresh from being with her father, she says she hates me, although she doesn’t hate me. I tell her frankly I don’t believe her. A minute later out comes her love. Tickle me, tickle me; again, again. Once I asked her why she thinks her father doesn’t like me. You live in a different house; you go to work, she said. But so does your mommy, I told her. Oh, but Daddy loves Mommy. Daddy loves Mommy, she said. Here, I keep quiet. It’s not my right to interfere. Love is many things, including need, and dread, and light and joy. Do I, she asks, want her to thread the eyelets of the blue horse or the yellow butterfly? Which one, I ask her, do you want to do? No, which one, she insists, do I want her to do? Eat some more of your broccoli. Hold still while I wash behind your ears. You have to go to bed; it’s late. No, I don’t want to play hide and seek; I want you to choose your bedtime stories. The central problem with authority is that both the advisor and the advised must rest in faith.

18 December 1986