August 05, 2004

Cuddling in bed

I got home late last night after a client dinner sprinkled with liberal amounts of bourbon, but not too much because I have to be in Court this morning and judges don't like it if they can smell the booze you're sweating.

The girl child called to me from her room. It was about 9:30 and, after I had gotten out of my suit, I went in and crawled into bed with her. We chatted for a minute and then had the following conversation, which amused me so I share it here:

Me: Did you have fun at camp today?

Her: No

Me: Well, was anyone mean to you?

Her: No

Me: Did anyone hit you? (part of the fantasy world of a 3.5 year old)

Her: No

Me: Did you hit anyone?

Her: No

Me: Did you get put in time out again? (Never happened, again fantasy from her)

Her: No

Me: Did you put anyone in time out?

Her: No

Me: Well, did you eat anything fun today?

Her: You mean, at camp?

Me: Sure. Do they feed you at camp?

Her: Yes. They gave us chocolate chip cookies AGAIN! [Said in tone of exasperation along with hand waved rigidly for emphasis]

Me: You didn't want chocolate chip cookies?

Her: No!

Me: What did you want?

Her: Bananas with whipped cream. (Which I believe she has never eaten in combination before).

Me: Did you tell them you wanted that?

Her: No.

Me: They were just supposed to know?

Her: Yes [emphatically].

Me: Sweetheart, I love you.

Her: Why?

Me: Well, there are too many reasons for me to give tonight since you really should be asleep.

Her: Ok, tell me one now and you can tell me the rest tomorrow.

Me: Ok, one reason is because you are my daughter.

Her: Hmpf. Tell me THREE and the rest tomorrow.

Me: Because you're wonderful and special, too. Now, who's the smartest, nicest, prettiest little girl in the whole world*?

Her: There are two. Mamma and me. Now I have a question for you.

Me: Ok.

Her: Who is the smartest and goodest boy in the whole world?

Me: Your brother?

Her: And who else? Pappa!

At which point kisses were exchanged and she went off to sleep.

I feel constrained to point out that she omitted any reference to my looks.

*Maybe we overthink this, but whenever I ask her this question, I put the pretty at the end because the last thing I want to do is make her image conscious, which all girls are at some point, and to let her know that I rank other things above her physical appearance. My wife and I discuss these things. You do have to pay careful attention to what and how you talk to a child, I think. You send messages all the time. I want her to be secure that she is attractive, because it is foolish to say it is not important, but I don't want her to obsess over it. Again, maybe we're overthinking this too much!

Posted by Random Penseur at August 5, 2004 08:54 AM

You're overthinking too much.

Sorry, but I come from the other end of the spectrum in my childhood, and as such, lemme say this: You can never tell a child they are too cute or too special too much.

Posted by: Helen at August 5, 2004 10:35 AM

I feel sorry for a girl that is completely unaware of her beauty or one who uses her beauty to her advantage. Finding the middle ground at an early age is an important part of the child’s development.

Posted by: Annie at August 5, 2004 10:43 AM

Helen, we tell her all the time how cute and special she is and we praise her for her accomplishments because that's how you build self-esteem and a strong person. It's just that we try to rank physical beauty after intelligence and being nice. We don't want her to get to caught up in beauty or to confuse her self-image with her appearance. I tend to agree with you and I don't think we are in disagreement at all.

Annie, that's what we're shooting for!

Posted by: RP at August 5, 2004 11:54 AM

Another wonderful exchange. (The first part had me wondering if an attorney conference with a client in the jug ever proceeds that way.)

My sense is you may be overthinking the mentioning of looks, but it's hard to say. My daughter has vibrant red hair and the personality to go with it, and has drawn smiles and comments from ladies in stores who remark on her beautiful hair...At one point she noted to me that people were always being nice to her, just because of the color of her hair. I told her that people found her nice, beyond her hair color (or something to that effect).

Posted by: Mark C N Sullivan at August 5, 2004 12:03 PM

You might be over-thinking it a bit, but I think that the fact that you're thinking about over-thinking it means that you're doing it right.

My friend, "Freedom's Slave" (yeah, that's just his bloggin' name), is Jewish and his wife is black and they have two daughters. We were talking over lunch one day and he talked about how he was worried that, when they get a little older, their "mixed-features" might be a problem for them making friends, and how he can talk to them about being "differently 'different'". He was particularly worried about the eldest (whom he thinks looks very "white" -- not quite Mariah Carey, more at Lisa Bonet).
I kept trying to tell him that he was over-thinking it and that she'll get along just fine. (You're relationship with the Girl Child reminds me a lot of F-Slave's and his girls.)
Anyway, he wasn't buying it until a stranger at the bar turned around and said, "Can I just say something? I've over-heard your conversation and I just want to say that, with a Dad like you, she's gonna be just fine!" He wasn't so worried after that. Maybe we just need an "outsider" to tell us the obvious before we trust that it's true?

Posted by: Tuning Spork at August 5, 2004 12:30 PM

Thanks, TS, for the story and for your kind words.

Mark, you may be right about the overthinking, beats me.

The fact is, while we are concentrating on the issues we've picked to pay attention to, we are clearly screwing up other issues so magnificently that she will have plenty to talk to her therapist about in years to come! But that's part of raising kids, I guess.

At the end of the day, we are trying to pay attention to everything we can because we are building a person here but we are as careful as we can be not to let any of this get in the way of enjoying our kids as much as possible. After all, you better have fun or else what's the point, right?

Posted by: RP at August 5, 2004 12:36 PM

Random, I don't think you can ever be overly careful about what you say to your children. The smallest things can make a huge impression sometimes. On the other hand, I think we parents can definitely beat ourselves up too much over perceived mistakes that didn't mean anything after all.

Better to be safe than sorry. :-) You're being a good parent. I love the things you say to your daughter. :-)

Posted by: Amber at August 5, 2004 12:53 PM


I don't know what to think. I have to admit I'm the kind of parent who incessantly tells his daughter she's the most beautiful creature on the face of the earth. I've always thought I was killing two birds with the same stone. One, it feeds the desire that all human females seem to have to hear someone tell them they're beautiful. And two, I hope, it gives her strong self-assurance about her looks.

I can't argue with the fact that placing the words strategically might well emphasize smarts over looks in the right way. But like we see in so many scenarios, when somebody tells you about a woman and they speak of how smart she is or of what a great personality she has, don't you automatically assume she must not be very pretty?

I guess I would be afraid that at some point she might feel that she's having certain features reinforced for the wrong reasons. In other words, because she's really not that pretty. Wouldn't that be awful?

Posted by: Mick at August 5, 2004 02:53 PM

By not mentioning her other strengths you may be reinforcing an idea that looks are all that matters. I think you're wrong to assume that a girl only wants to hear how pretty she is.
[One, it feeds the desire that all human females seem to have to hear someone tell them they're beautiful. And two, I hope, it gives her strong self-assurance about her looks.]
Sure, being physically attractive is important to everyone ('specially teenagers). But if you're consentrating, in her younger years, on making it such an important issue, then it may only end up making her so self-conscious about her looks that she'll never be satisfied!

I actually saw an interview, ye-e-e-ars ago, with some model, in a bikini, by a pool. She was drop-dead gorgeous (though maybe a little thin fer my taste) and was asked about what she would change about her body if she could.

"I'd like to lose a little in my tummy."

Honest t' god, she said that!

Don't assume that girls want to know only about how pretty they are, because they secretly resent that.

Take her fishing! Tell her why you're waterring the garden! 'Splain to her how a spectograph works! Whatever y'do for a living, show her how you do it!

Don't ever think that kids can get too much stimulation. They're built for it!

Posted by: Tuning Spork at August 5, 2004 08:18 PM

Mr. Spork,

Perhaps I gave the mistaken impression that I only speak to my daughter about her looks, though frankly, I fail to see how you may have arrived at that conclusion.

My point, and my only point, was that I believe it is important to give our daughters confidence in their looks (confidence in their other abilities goes without saying and is not the matter at hand right this moment). That's all.

Forgive me if I appeared to be one of those who think all a girl needs to get ahead is "be pretty." Nothing could be further than the truth.

Posted by: Mick at August 5, 2004 10:44 PM

I hope you will be unceasingy proud of your daughter-her strength(physically), her beauty, her wisdom and her intellect. You will be one of the most significant, if not the most man in her life. Remember that you will be the benchmark against which she will measure the men in her life. Maybe not what you want or will, but that is the way it is.
So go for it!! Show her what a MAN can be!! I wish my Dad had done so.
I learned upon his death bed what he thought of me. Better then, than later.

Posted by: Azalea at August 5, 2004 11:56 PM

Wow, this has taken on quite a life while I was away.

Lots of interesting points. Thanks for taking the time, y'all.

Posted by: RP at August 6, 2004 08:15 AM

Great Girl Child story, Penseur. I'm glad that everyone here finds it important to raise the confidence and self-worth of their children by praising their many qualities. Keep up the great writing, Penseur.

Posted by: Jester at August 6, 2004 06:06 PM
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