My daughter is six and she is jealous.
Recently I had some new friends come to visit from out of town and they stayed with me for several days. It was all impromptu, and I put together a small KAD gathering in their honor (both are KADs married to each other).
This also coincided with some Daddy/Daughter bonding days that I get during the holiday season. Those days are normally spent chasing a giggling girl around the house while she insists that I not chase her, and then screams at me to chase her until I finally catch her and zerbert her belly until she toots. It's a game, okay?
Our days are often spent relaxing and watching cartoons, eating delicious snacks, going to fun stores, and coloring or making crafts. Of course, there is always LEGOs and beads.
When our schedule gets changed, the jealousy arises.
I think I first really noticed it when I bought a new house this past year.
I knew that Noodle would be sensitive to major changes (ie. my divorce). So in keeping with those "parenting" guides on raising children, I involved Noodle in the process of buying a house. I took her on the house hunting with my realtor, let her decide which room she wanted in the new house, and gave her free reign on the color she wanted to paint.
I let her help choose the color carpet, her Tinkerbell border for her room, and even how to set up her room. She helped by splashing color on the wall, dripping paint on the floor (we were tearing it out anyway), and running around high on fumes until we bought NO VOC paints from Home Depot.
Even still, there was work to be done. New bathroom tile to select. New faucets. New fixtures of all types. New furniture.
I remember as I was staring at toilets in Home Depot for the fiftieth time in a month, Noodle came up and asked if I loved the new house more than I loved her because of all the work I was doing on the house.
"That's impossible," I said, putting down the Kohler brochure. I kissed and hugged her and started playing our favorite game "I love you more than." She tends to win by saying that she loves me bigger than the galaxy, and I say the universe, and then she says infinity.
Despite my best attempts at assuring her all this, she brought it up several times during the first month or two of fixing up the new house. Once, she asked it sitting in the empty expanse of her freshly carpeted room. Another time, as I was cooking her dumplings and noodles while she sat coloring me pictures of fairies.
And then, one day, she stopped asking. She loved the new house, her room, the hiding places, and of course, having me chase her through it looking for her behind doors or under blankets.
This past week though, jealousy reared its head again. I had taken the KADs out for a small micro-mini gathering for Thai, and brought Noodle along. There, she was adored by everyone and did real well with new people. Even the next day, she seemed to enjoy them so much because they paid attention to her, played with her, and entertained her. So I wasn't expecting it, and didn't realize it until she mentioned the same thing on consecutive nights.
On the first night she wrote me a message on my white erase board that said, "Dear Daddy, I love you. I hope you like your new friends. Love, Noodle."
On the second night, she was spending time with the mommy and when she left she said, "Bye Daddy. I love you. I hope you like your new friends."
I replied, "I like them, but I love you more!"
Later that night, I received three messages from her on my phone. Her sweet girly voice was just saying "hi" or "goodnight." But, I could tell she missed me and wanted to hear me tell her I loved her.
Her mommy said that Noodle thought I told her I liked my friends better than I liked her.
Ah, what children will hear.
So that meant spending Saturday with Noodle. I picked her up and took her to the "fishy" park, a place she loves but that we hadn't been to since last summer. The "fishy" park is a giant fish like sculpture playground ladder that the kids climb over and across and hang from. The park is generally busy on weekends, and this Saturday was no exception.
She was overcome with giddiness and ran from play area to play area (the park is over one acre in size with five distinct play areas plus a picnic area and passive field). I chased her around the park, through the 50 some children running in haphazard fashion, and past perfumy mothers with Gucci sunglasses and Bugaboo stollers. It was traffic at 5 pm on the DC Beltway, and Paris Hilton had caused a fender-bender.
She went across rocks, down twisty slides, up walls, sideways and upsidedown. And in the midst of all the bustle she remarked, "I'm so much better than I was last time I was here! I must really be growing up!"
She was taller than many children, and she was growing up. She could do things I had wished she'd do when she was younger. She took risks, took off on her own, and didn't ask for my help.
Voices came upon me from the past 6 years.
"This is payback for all the cute girls' hearts you broke."
"You better lock your windows at night when she gets older."
"Want to borrow my shotgun?"
"She's going to be the death of you."
I stood there, watching her zip across the hanging steps, realizing she was older, knew more, felt more, and could express herself in action and words.
I found myself imagining that some day, it would be me feeling jealous. Jealous of watching her leave on her first date, having her first kiss, and falling in love. I imagined myself an older, wiser, more patient father, who let go of his jealousy, to free his daughter to the sky she had dreamt.
She jumped off the end of the playground, and raced toward me, and gave me a hug. Then, she tore away from my grasp and bolted for another slide, her hair streaming behind her, her feet swiftly kicking beneath, and her arms like wings lifting her in infinite love.