Sunday, September 14, 2008

She's The Boss: A Dad Gets Punked By His 4-Year-Old


As black men, we spend a significant part of our early days making testosterone-infused snap judgments about how we think we’d fare in physical encounters with other brothers. I think I could take him…Look at that little guy over there—I know I could take him…Whoa, that’s a big dude. But I could still take him—long as I had a baseball bat.

If you had walked up to me about 20 years ago and told me that two decades hence, the person in the world I’d be most frightened of would stand about three feet tall and tip the scales at 34 lbs., I would have checked your forehead for signs of fever. But there I was, more than four decades on this planet, and I could state without hesitation that the person who frightened me most went by the name of Lila Chiles and she fit exactly those height and weight measurements. Yes, as you might have guessed by now, my terrifying antagonist was my four-year-old daughter.

Before you prepare your laundry list of harsh judgments, let me establish a few things up front:

1. I love the girl more than I ever thought imaginable. My wife does too.
2. The girl is six now, and not nearly as bad. But she’s still a little scary.
3. If, as you read this, you find your tongue curling around the word “punk,” you won’t get any argument from me.
4. Yes, I am, indeed, quite a bit bigger than she.
5. No, she has never threatened me with any firearms. I don’t believe she’s threatened my wife either. If she had, I assume my wife would have told me.

When we’re out in public, standing in the checkout line at the grocery store or the Wal-Mart, watching some crazy white child tear the store apart while his mother helplessly wrings her hands, black parents like to talk a lot of smack about how thoroughly we have our kids in check. You should notice that the ones usually doing the talking had the wisdom to leave their kids at home while they shopped. Those of us whose kids are somewhere nearby are almost always silent at these moments, pretending we're busy loading our groceries onto the conveyor belt—secretly praying that our offspring, our “seeds,” as my rap friends like to call them, will not choose this particular moment to act a fool, perhaps inspired by the impressive havoc created by her white colleague over yonder. I know how much many of us brag about the damage we inflict on our kids if they deign to breathe at the wrong time, the serious beatings we dish out. But it has never escaped my notice that (1) the ones who brag the loudest usually have the worst-behaving kids, and (2) the oft-beaten kids are still messing up on the regular.

This is all to say that my wife and I had tried just about every disciplinary tool we could think of to tame the wild and free spirit that is my precious little Lila, but she remained thoroughly unbroken. Shoot, she wasn’t even bent. I had to admit to a certain amount of grudging admiration for her strength of will and an abiding curiosity about what this child will grow up to be. But first we all had to get through her childhood. Lila is six now, and not nearly as out there, but two years ago, when she entered the room, the family—me, my wife, our then-seven-year-old daughter and my then-14-year-old son—all would take a collective breath, each of us praying that her gaze settled on someone else. Her focus moved slowly around the space and, too often, it stopped at me.

“Daddy, can you throw me on the bed?” she’d ask, her eyes dancing at the hours of rough-house fun she believed she was about to have with good ol’ Dad.

Gently, I’d try to turn her in another direction. “Well, no, Lila, it’s already well past 9 and you and your sister should already be in bed. Perhaps you’d like for me to read from your favorite book?”

One of Lila’s most noteworthy characteristics was her ability to go from zero to 60 in about two or three seconds flat, like an exquisitely engineered Ferrari. In other words, with no build-up, no warning, no slow burn, the girl could—and still can—go from smiling to a full-bore scream in about the time it takes for the words “well” and “no” to pass my lips. The bedtime routine some nights could last as long as two hours as the little one attempted every trick she could think of to avoid closing her eyes. My tummy hurts. I’m scared. I have to pee. I’m thirsty. I heard something. I have to pee again (of course).

All night long.

And if the wife and I had any designs on intimacy? Like a plait-wearing, brown-skinned bloodhound, she seems able to sniff any amorous intentions in the air. Add another hour.

For many decades now, the scientific community has been engaged in a ferocious debate about the process by which we become the people that we are. They call it nature vs. nurture. Are boys born with a predilection to rough-and-tumble physical behavior or do they come to us as virtual blank slates and we make them more violent and physical by the way we parent boys? Are our personalities pre-formed in the womb, or do the parents coddle one child and ignore the next, creating a clinger and a rebel?

Well, Heaven has to be missing an angel because my nine-year-old is the sweetest thing God has ever produced—always willing to help out Mommy and Daddy, writing poems in her spare time to tell us how much she loves us, bringing home drawings from school that depict her having fun with her family, always with a bright sun shining above our heads. Did we do something special to make her that way? I really don’t think so. Or, more appropriately, did we do anything differently with her little sister? I am certain we did not.

So I don’t want to hear another word about nurture, not while I still have vivid memories of cowering in the corner, hoping my beautiful, demonic little 4-year-old daughter would think of something else to do besides come looking for me.
For the record, let me say this once more: I love her more than I ever thought imaginable.

Wait! I think I hear her coming. God help me.


  1. Oh my gosh! I am cracking up over here because I fear that my dear Mekhi may be heading down the same road as Lila. I hope not but if his current tantrums are any indication - we are in for trouble!

    Good to see you writing for MBB Nick. I hope to see you back here soon.

  2. I can completely relate. I have a spirited six-year-old boy. It's a given that he's running me. But his father is the one who talks plenty of smack about how I need to be firmer with him, discipline him more, yadda, yadda, yadda. Well, I got stories upon stories to confirm that he is full of it! He's right there with you, shaking in his big daddy boots still trying to look hard.

    BTW, this is VCSMama. I have to figure out how to post here with that name without setting up a new account. Enjoyed your post!

  3. This is hilarious. My daughter tried but realized she couldnt mess with mommy when she was that age. But know that shes 15yrs old I don't recognize her. She's horrible, I pray she finds herself. They say this is the age. I don't know which would have been better a 2yr old monster or a 15yr old. But you love them all the same.

  4. Nick, she who will not be named roams our house like a menace, terrorizing Chanel and I. We also don't know what happened to make Chima and Duran the angelic little souls that they are, and she who will not be named the jihadist.

    I really thought you were talking about she who will not be named, with the whole refusal to sleep intimacy interruption deal. I'm amazed that she has any siblings at all considering the salt she regularly through on my booty game.

    Chanel and I are already devising elaborate ways to stave off the creature's inevitable growth into teenagerdom and all that wicked period entails.

    I write this comment cowering under my desk, because I think she's out there somewhere looking for me right now. If anyone out there finds and reads this message, send HELP!

  5. Gotta love those memories! They're all we REALLY have. :-)

  6. Great post! Our youngest is the scariest in our house, by far. It might be a birth order thing, but her brother (who listens to us) is only two minutes older. I guess one thing we all realize after the first child is that they really are their own people.

  7. Your post is really funny but then again it is something that I can relate to. My youngest is by far the scariest in the house. He does not go by our rules, No. He has a mind of his own and he would give you the "eye" if you don't give him your dire attention. Meera (Hi Meera!) is right it's probably a birth order thing...hahaha

  8. I only have the one but sometimes he pushes every button and comes back for seconds.

    In fairness to him, we do have really high expectations, but it seems society doesn't (Keep score for T-ball? But that could damage their self esteem!) and it's the only way we can think of for him to expect the best from himself.

    We figure it's better to crack the whip now and look like hardasses than try to reign him in later.

  9. Hahahaha!! If it makes you feel any better, just know that the world is littered with beautiful little devils just like yours.

    Its just proof that every child is different. Doesn't matter about the whole nature/nurture thing because they work together simultaneously and every single child is different. They all have different personalities.

    Glad to see that you don't have to run from her as much anymore, lol.

  10. no bro, you ain't a punk. She is just your princess... that's all

    my daughter has "punked" me on several occasions.

  11. I just caught up on your archives. I am really glad that you just got started and only have eight posts because I would be glued to my computer until I read every single one. My little ones would not like that much! A mom/dad blogging team where both are excellent writers? Eight insightful posts in a row?

    I'm planning to stalk you now. In a friendly, internet kind of way!

  12. There's nothing like a daughter having her daddy wrapped around all of her fingers. I was a drama queen, so I can relate to the little angel. I knew how to turn the drama on as soon as I heard him coming through the door.

    That didn't make me a very likable sister, niece or granddaughter, though.

    Single Mom...and so much more!"


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