July 15, 2008

How Much Longer Will Dad Serve 4-Year-Old Queen?

By Tom Murse

I have this picture, this mental image, of my daughter. She is standing on a South Carolina shoreline during our June vacation wearing a pink bikini and a matching sunhat.

She is lanky and tan.

And she is bawling her head off.

At 4, she is bossy and intemperate one minute and overly sensitive and hurt the next. She's insecure.

At this particular moment her eyes are red and her face is streaked with tears.

Do something, my wife mouths, shrugging her shoulders.

What do you want me to do?

I don't know. But don't just stand there.

What has happened is that the girl has just gotten yelled at. By a ratty 4-year-old boy whose dad built him a fairly elaborate sand castle.

My daughter tells me she just wanted to help. She wanted to make a door in his castle.

A big door.

With her foot.

That's when the boy tells her to get lost.

What am I supposed to do?

Here's what you do, I say, putting my arm around her. You walk back over there, put your fists out and say, I'm going to sock you one.'

My wife gives me a look.

Never mind that, I continue. I have a better idea. Get your shovel and bucket. We're going to build our own sand castle, and it's going to be 10 times bigger and better than that turkey's.

We begin by stamping out the foundation, 6 feet wide and 6 feet long, and digging a trench about 1 foot deep around it. A moat.

We then dig a channel from the moat downhill toward the offending boy's castle.

That way, I tell the girl, the waves will come in, fill the moat, wash down the channel and destroy his sand castle. Don't tell mom.

We work on the fairly elaborate details, scrawling in a drawbridge, building up an exterior wall for defense and carefully placing towers around the perimeter for the guards.

When we're finished, an hour later, we're covered in sweat and sand.

And she's no longer interested.

She builds a door in our castle.

A big one. With her foot.

I think about this little kerfuffle when, back at home weeks later, the ice-cream truck wanders down our street. The girl rushes out of house, dollar bill in hand, yelling Stop! Stop!

You can guess what happens.

The ice-cream man doesn't stop.

And the girl is left at curb bawling.

Do something, my wife says.

I think about the sandcastle and the ice-cream man and I can't help but ask myself what kind of lesson I'm about to teach the girl.

That whenever she cries, her old man will come to her rescue? That when things don't go her way, she can pout and get what she wants?

I don't want that.

But I also know that she is only 4. That there's plenty of time to learn the lessons of humility, charity and not stomping on someone else's sandcastle.

This is the emotional tug of war, one I'm fairly new to dealing with, between teaching her how to be a good person, protecting her from harm and giving her the things she wants, the things that other kids have.

There will come a day when she will realize that she is not the queen, that the world does not revolve around her.

That day is coming, and fast. I get it.

And she will learn those lessons.

There is time.

Right now, though, the provider and protector in me wins the internal tug of war.

Right now, there's an ice-cream man begging to have his knee- caps adjusted.

We get in the car and drive.

Staff writer Tom Murse can be reached at [email protected] or 481-6021. The Voices column appears Mondays.

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