Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hard Questions

I'm watching a show called The Secret Life of the American Teenager on Netflix with Jen. I can't decide if I like it or not. On one hand, it's got Molly Ringwald. On the other hand, it's got all the nuance of a very special Blossom. So I don't know. It is occasionally pretty funny though. The gist of the first season is that after after this one time in Band Camp, fifteen year old Amy becomes pregnant. The rest of the series deals with the fallout. The other main character, Ben, falls head over heels in love with her.

I like Ben because he's so painfully earnest. Do you remember the first episode of How I met your Mother, when Ted tells Robin that he loves her on their first date? Ben's like that, but with fifteen years less maturity.

And I do feel a certain kinship with him because of that. I had a crush on Jen from almost the first moment I met her. She kissed me before I kissed her, but I'm the first one who said "I love you," about a week after we started dating. And she wasn't ready to say it back to me then.

But Jen's always been more mature than I am. We started dating in her final year of college, and this was before email was truly ubiquitous. So we sent a lot of letters back and forth. I remember telling her that I wanted to hold her and comfort her and protect her from the world. And Jen said that she didn't want to be protected, that she wanted to experience everything the world had to offer.

And she was right. She usually is about these things. I like to think my heart was in the right place, but she is my peer and it's not my place to protect her from anything. And this brings us to the current day. My stepmother's father passed away last night and I had to tell Lily.

We've had deaths in the family since she was born, but she was too young to understand them. We had visited my great-aunt in the hospital shortly before she died. Lily gave her a stuffed animal "So you can be happy after I leave." And Aunt Mickey died and Lily didn't ask about her again. (She didn't ask about Tigger either, which was fortunate, because it was destroyed along with the rest of Mickey's stuff.)

This ties back with what I had said earlier about wanting to protect Jen and her rejection of that. I'm not the kind of dad I thought I would be. I want to protect Lily, of course, but that's secondary to the role of teaching her to protect herself.

I always try to be honest with her. I think it's the worst betrayal you can make against your kids not to be honest with them. That's not to say that there aren't questions that I'm not ready to answer. ("I like this episode of Avatar." "Me too, Lily." "Daddy, what do you look like naked?" (Pause) "Same as I do now, just with no clothes.")

I've often compared myself to ELIZA, the proto-chatterbot therapist, and I'll not infrequently respond to her with "What do you think?" and "Why?"

So I went into her room and asked, "Do you remember Nana's dad?"

Lily: Yes. Why? Did he die?
Me: Yes, he did Lily.
Lily: (Pause) Is her mom still alive?
Me: Yes, she is.
Lily: That's good. She won't be so lonely.

She looked like she was going to cry, but didn't. She didn't know him very well, but she knows Nana and she loves her, so she was sad for her. She said that she wants to go to the cemetery and put eight flowers next to his stone. I told her that sometimes people leave pebbles on top of the stones to let other people know they've been there. She suggested maybe that we should build a crown of pebbles on top of his stone, so Nana will laugh and not feel so sad.

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