“What did you do to get in trouble when you were a kid?”
This is my 6-year-old daughter’s idea of small-talk, by the way. She doesn’t ask me how my day is going or how I keep my flowing hair so lustrous. No, she casually drops this question on me at least once a week — leaving me to question if she is truly interested in getting to know more about me, or if she’s just doing a little research for a potential career in petty crime.
“I didn’t really get in trouble, honey.”
“Yes, you did. I know you broke that window with a baseball and got in trouble.”
“That’s true. But that was an accident. What I got into trouble for was lying to my parents about it. Remember that part of the story?”
“Yeah. So, what else did you do to get in trouble? Why did Nonna spank you?”
“Nonna,” if you were wondering, is my sainted mother. The two of them go together like Bonnie and Clyde, or Butch and Sundance, or any other tandem of mayhem that you might want to consider. When Riley was old enough to realize that this kind woman who shares powdered doughnuts and cheese puffs with her used to smack me on the backside... well, let’s just say that Nonna sits very high on Riley’s list of esteemed characters.
“Don’t you have anything better to do?”
“Not really. Don’t you like talking with me?”
“Of course, sweetheart. Let’s talk about how it’s going for you at school?”
“Did you ever get in trouble at school, Daddy?”
Stall, Darin. Distract her. Do anything you can to avoid getting sucked into this conversation. Juggle bowling pins that are engulfed in flames, if you must, but for the love of all that is holy... get out of this conversation. Now, dummy!
“How do you like your teacher?”
“She’s nice. She’s always happy. And we had music class today, and I love my music teacher!”
Shew. Dodged that bullet. For the next 20 minutes, Riley shared with me a second-by-second recount of her music class, what she got to do in recess and how her teacher taught her a trick to help her with one of her letters. I then got to learn about a little girl in her class who Riley thinks is very smart, and a little boy who gets in trouble a lot but is “so funny.”
That part, by the way, caused minor heart palpitations. I knew a lot of girls who went for the troublemaker boy growing up, and their lives were not improved by those choices. Also, well, I might have been that troublemaker boy on a few occasions. I know of what I speak.
“Oh, yeah? What’s so funny about him?”
“Don’t worry, Daddy. I’m not leaving you. I’m going to love you forever.”
She went back to snuggling against me on the couch, obviously comfortable with the knowledge that she’d outsmarted me once again by playing to my inherent insecurities. She had done this move to me before — like, every single time I’ve feigned heartbreak when she mentions getting married one day or eventually moving to Hawaii.
But, that’s OK, right? I’ll take the snuggles and let her think she got one over on the old man. Ever since that day the nurse first put her in my arms, I’ve learned that time is short — that the days of snuggling with my little girl on the couch are moving faster than I like.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure. Ask me anything.”
“Did you get in trouble at school, Daddy?”
The word “diabolical” came to mind. As did the word “sucker.” Only, one was in reference to her, and the latter applied only to me.
“Sure, hon. Nobody’s perfect.”
“God’s perfect, right?”
She’s good. The girl is good. You have to give it to her.
“Yes, ma’am. You are right about that.”
“So, what did you do to get in trouble at school?”
Sigh. This is why she gets along with Nonna so well. They’re both stubborn as...
“Are you going to tell me? Didn’t you say we don’t keep secrets?”
“I said ‘you’ don’t keep secrets.”
“That’s not fair!”
“Did anybody ever tell you life was fair?”
Dear God, I channeled my father again. The next thing you know I’ll be telling her how I had seven jobs at the age of 9, was outside playing in fresh air every second I wasn’t working and still managed to clean the house, milk chickens or something and... I don’t remember. I always tuned him out by that point.
“I did get in trouble in school one time.”
“Really? What did you do? Was it bad?”
“It was terrible.”
“Did someone die?”
“No! And stop watching television. Like, forever.”
“Well? What did you do?”
“I tried so hard that the teacher said I did a great job and all the other kids got jealous.”
“I’m telling Nonna.”