The following was originally published (The Boise Weekly) December 30, 1999.
10 Going On Forever
I want to spend the last column of the year with my daughter. Sure, I was invited to other topics, and it was tempting—the thought of getting wild with one last big political opinion of the century, maybe even an environmental catastrophe warning to end the millennium.
But no, I’ve decided to pass a quiet 900 words with my family, to stay off the subject of holiday drinking habits, to let others go out and do the music reviews and dance critiques, and to see out ‘99 with just my Mac and my thoughts on childhood.
That’s if I can get the kid to shut up long enough for me to write it.
* * *
She’s ten now—the big One-O—and she is going through a phase I can only describe as “overly exuberant.”
Oh, I could describe it as “pre-teen geek,” but I’d like to think that one of these days she’ll sit down and read her ol’ Dad’s ol’ columns, and I’d rather she never knew there was a time when I thought that spending a day with her must be what it’s like having Jim Carrey in the house for a month.
Her current reading habits run to animal stories and teenage-prep manuals. No kidding, she brings home book after book with pictures on the front of pre-pubes gabbing on the phone or giggling in a mall somewhere. Judging by the covers alone, they are nothing more than step-by-step instructions on how to get the most out of your parents’ child-rearing philosophies.
But then, there are the animal books: the cutest kitten you ever saw in some sort of mild trouble, the cutest puppy you ever saw in some sort of mild trouble, the cutest colt you ever saw in some sort of mild trouble, and of course, the cutest baby panda bear you ever saw in some sort of mild trouble. I imagine it’s a reflection on that uneasy stage she’s in, midway between the cutest little girl you ever saw and the most excitable teenager you ever dreaded. One minute, she’s fixing Barbie’s hair, and the next, she’s wishing she had her driver’s license. Anymore, I don’t know whether to give her noogies or a corsage.
I admit, I miss the old days—back when everything made her happy. Almost everything, that is. She never did warm up to gravel scrapes on her knees or canned peas. But generally speaking, she was easy to please. Like, “Hey Honey, wanna go with me to get gas for the lawn mower?”
“WOW! You bet, Daddy! Let’s go! I’ll put my shoes on in the car.”
Anymore, it’s, “Wanna go to the store?”
“Oh sure, Da-yud. I want to change clothes, comb my hair, miss the end of Rug Rats … all so’s I can watch you take an hour to decide if you feel more like a Pepsi or a Coke. Duh-uh.”
That’s right, she has reached the age of irony. In a measly ten years, she’s accumulated more sarcasm than I had until Nixon’s second term. The respected medical journal, TEENAGERS: Nature’s Way? … or Mutant Aberration?, reports that at the turn of the last century, the average child reached sarcasm at age 17. But over the years, the norm has dropped steadily to the point that parents are now seeing first sarcasm as early as ages nine, eight … even seven. (There are unconfirmed reports of a Marseilles child of five being sarcastic, but French authorities will neither confirm nor deny the truth of the matter.)
No doubt, I am partially responsible for my kid’s early development. Sarcasm does run in my family. But my genes alone cannot explain the maturity of her cynicism. And, trust me, my genes don’t have a damn thing to do with your kid’s cynicism.
No, I believe it has to do with diet. It’s something in those fruit bars we send with them for snack time. Think about it. There were no Pop-Tarts around in 1900, were there?
* * *
Still, she can’t hide that little girl entirely. The sophisticate slips up now and then and lets the sweetheart show through. Like the other day, I was teasing her. Can’t remember what I was teasing her about, but that doesn’t matter. Teasing runs in my family, too.
Anyway, she says, “Gosh, Dad. You’re really some kind of looniac.”
See, from the time she was old enough to tease back, she’s had a peculiar way with certain words. For instance, her favorite meal was “pezzgetti,” and when we pretend-boxed, she would crunch down like Joe Frazier and say, “All right, Buster … put up your pooks. Time for a wristfight.”
It was delightful, but I eventually had to tell her the right words. Didn’t want her ordering pezzgetti in a fancy restaurant on Prom Night, after all.
“‘Looniac,’ huh?” I said, and she clutched up.
“That’s a word, isn’t it? Looniac?”
“Well … I’ve heard of lunatics. And I’ve heard of maniacs. But Honey, I’ve never actually heard of a looniac.”
For a moment, she was embarrassed. Pinked up like a new-born. Then she laughed. A big little girl laugh, all at herself. She’ll be fine if she keeps that up.
I mean, there’s no good reason she won’t be around to see the turn of the next century—what with them Twenty-First Century fruit bars and all—and as long as she doesn’t ever lose track of that sweet kid I love so much, it’ll be the best 100 years of her life.
December 30. 1999