Or how kids have their plans and do not care about your
“Stop!” I shouted from across the yard. I find myself shouting this a lot around my daughters. I don’t necessarily want to. I want them to grow up feeling the world is a yes space, but it does seem like the world is not a yes space outside of the yes space we have in our house.
This time, I caught my oldest, Jovie, just as she was about to cut a dahlia. If the dahlia was dead or close to it, I wouldn’t have cared, but it was still alive and kicking.
A few months back, I got her a gardening set so we could volunteer at the local library garden. The kit is really cute. It was two shovels, a spraying bottle, a rake, and shears. All the tools fit perfectly in her toddler’s hand, and the handles are all a matching yellow.
The shears require the kind of monitoring that makes me feel old.
“Stop.” “Don’t run.” “Slow down.”
I hear myself saying the things that my mom used to tell me. And that tells me that when my daughters are old enough, I must tell them about Tio Henry. When Tio Henry was a wee little Colombian boy, he grabbed scissors and ran. He tripped and landed on them with one eye.
Sure, Tio Henry was a nice guy, and lack of depth perception doesn’t prevent him from being a nice guy, but, as you can imagine, it is a wee bit of an inconvenience when scissors land in your eyes.
This story my mom repeated to my sister and me all the time.
I believed it because we were close to Tio Henry, unlike the other story she used to tell us all the time about one of her childhood friends whose long hair got caught on the wheel of a rollercoaster, and she almost lost her head. To this day, my sister and I believe she just told us that story so she would prevent us from going to “La Ciudad de Hierro” (The Iron City), which is the equivalent of a traveling county fair, but only with rides and no contest to determine who grew the biggest chicken.
“Stop!” I told Jovie. I came up to her. Whenever she gets the shears, she gets pruning happy. She sees her mom and I pruning, and it looks just like we are cutting everything in our way and not putting any thought into what we are doing.
So she thinks she is imitating us when she prunes healthy branches, flowers, and fruit that are not yet ripe.
I’m glad I caught her when I did. These dahlias are my wife Justine’s prized possessions.
I squatted next to the pot and walked Jovie through what she could cut. By the time we were done, the plant looked beautiful.
The pruning session had gone so well that I decided to have Jovie prune Justine’s only other dahlia.
We walked over to the other pot, and I saw the dahlias flying in space, and I was reminded of why I also love them.
I love dahlias because the bulbs can be so big compared to the stem that they look like they are floating in space.
But something didn’t seem right, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Only when I got close to them did I realize what had happened.
The bulbs were attached to guiding posts by gardening tape, and below the bulbs, there was nothing. That’s why their flying looked different; because my daughter had already chopped the whole fucking plant below the bulbs until the only thing left was whatever was on the tape, the stomp of the root, and the thousand little shavings, evidence of her crimes against nature.
I knew it was a fine time to call it a day and run inside before Justine saw us congregating in front of the crime scene and put two and two together.
I am not going to lie, and I feel a little dumb confessing this, but I didn’t know kids came with as much independence as they do.
I thought of independence as something you learn as you grow up but not as something innate in kids and how their independence leads them to follow whatever “crazy” ideas they have in their heads.
A couple of days later, we set Jovie in her room for quiet time while her sister, Amelie, was napping. For quite time, we had given her portable whiteboard and some markers.
I went back to work until I heard Justine say, bewildered more than upset, “Why would you do that?”
I come up to her and ask what happened.
“Go see what she did.”
I found my daughter hiding under the table. She used the markers to give herself a mani-pedi; the toes on her left foot were green, the ones on her right foot were red, the fingernails on her left hand were blue, and the ones on the right were yellow.
Then, to complete the whole thing, she closed her eyes, used a black marker to give herself eyeshadow, and painted her entire eyelid.
I helped her come out from under the table and used a wipe to clear all the markers off her face, fingers, and toes.
I mean, how would she know any different besides me saying 100,000 times, only use the markers for the board?
And at least it is better than what Amélie did one day before when she went around Jovie’s room with a blue marker from the same set and decorated the walls, the closet doors, the table, and the new mattress we had just gotten Jovie.
After I cleaned Jovie’s improvised mani-pedi, I got her ready to go to her ballet class, and there I spoke with another dad.
Parenting can feel isolating, especially when you are in a space where you wonder why your kids won’t listen to you.
That’s until you start talking to other parents and realize we are all going through the same.
I told this dad about my daughter setting up an unlicensed beauty parlor with her markers, and he told me in response that his daughter picked up a permanent red marker and drew giant red circles in both palms of her hands. When asked why she was doing that, she responded, confused by the question as if the parents were aliens, “Well, I want to have superpowers.”
I let go of my worries about my daughters not listening to us, and I can see what’s ahead. And what’s ahead for us is getting Pho for takeout, so we don’t have to worry about making food that night.
That conversation was enough to help me relax and be present to see my girls exploring ethnic food, even if such ethnic food is a concoction of undercooked chicken and bland noodles with sugary broth.
After dinner is done, Jovie goes out to play in the living room with Justine.
I stay behind and start cleaning while Amélie keeps eating.
She asks me for more, and I happily replenish her noodles, chicken, and broth.
And I continued to clean. I turned around to see what Amélie was up to, and I could see that she was lifting her suction bowl. I screamed, “Stop!” with all my might and ran to stop her.
But before I could get to her, she had turned the bowl and spilled the entire Pho on herself.
A timely reminder from her as if to say, “It doesn’t matter what you think! Relaxing is for amateurs! We are always going to do what we want.”