It was one of those cheesy Norman Rockwell scenes—if, that is, Norman Rockwell ever got together with Thomas Kinkade and penned one of the Family Circus comic strips and then made a Hallmark family movie about the whole thing.
That kind of cheesy. Really cheesy.
My wife and I were in our daughter's room, tucking her in for the night. Moonlight filtered through the curtains. Wind played like soft music on the leaves outside. Emmeline nestled deep into her covers, peeking out to smile. We were about to leave the room, when Emme, then 5, bolted upright.
“I just love you both sooo much,” she gushed.
Emme gave us each a hug, a kiss and then asked for another squeeze. And then another. And another. It was pretty clear where this was going and that we had the word “suckers” tattooed on our foreheads, but the hugs were so tight and the squeezes so good that we let it go on and on. We were together, as a family, and everything felt just right.
But then again, our favorite show was coming on soon, so we had to escape the clutches of this adorable little time suck. Fast.
When we finally managed to leave the room, Emme called us back.
“There's a light outside,” she said.
We fixed the curtains. She called us back again.
“I heard a bump.”
We told her it was us, shutting the door. She called us back in.
“I think there's a monster in the closet.”
We are suckers for only so long.
“There is,” I told her, “It eats kids who don't sleep. Anyway, sweet dreams!”
Five minutes later, after the final, final goodnight, Dana and I settled on the couch.
“Can you believe that kid?” I began, “She's really developing some weird ticks.”
Dana gave me a blank stare.
“And where,” Dana began, “Do you think she gets these weird ticks?”
It probably wasn't the best time to pick my nose and crack my neck and give her that vacant stare that could mean only one thing: That I was thinking about whether I had turned off the gas stove after dinner.
“I'll be right back.”
When I returned, Dana picked up right where we left off. It was deflating. She pointed out all of Emme's fledgling neuroses—the need to have the sleeping situation just so, her cracking knees, her weird nose fixation and some new thing with her lips—could be traced back to one person and one person only.
Dana sighed and slowly shook her head, as if appraising the route that brought her here today and wondering what all went so wrong.
For a moment, I could feel for my wife. It had, I realized, become annoying to deal with Emme's personal… weirdness.
We were out for a play date the other day, for instance, when Emme spent half the time at the park doing some new and profoundly odd thing with her lips, pulling the top over the bottom and sucking as if she was an alien, attacking herself.
“You OK?” I asked.
“Just two more times,” she responded.
Uh oh, I thought. I've been there. I'm still there, in fact.
Before an airplane takes off, I have to whisper a certain phrase exactly six times or else the whole event is doomed for everyone. If someone knocks on wood three times, I have to round it up to a certain even number for them, otherwise it won't work. Every one knows that. Hitting the light switch 37 times, checking the door lock three times, then reopening the door to go check the gas stove four more times, and relocking the door again twice—the whole numbers thing can get a little tiring.
So I was sitting there at the play date, watching Emme fiddle with her lips and count off the genesis of her own personal brand of crazy, and I wished for a moment that she had inherited instead her mother's even-keeled demeanor. Dana doesn't need to tap the back of her head while watching TV or reposition the cartilage of her nose. She doesn't need to whisper incantations for American Airlines. She certainly doesn't need to keep count. It must be nice, I thought, to go through life without so much worry.
Emme finally finished counting and ran off to the swings, while I harbored a momentary sting of guilt. How, I wondered, do these things pass on? I've never talked to her about them, but clearly she's on the same path. When I was younger, I had to stop two or three times every block to crack my knees, placing my hands on them and doing this miniature little version of squats 10 times until they cracked. It started so early for me. Will it be the same for her? From playing with her lips to checking and rechecking the light switches to whispering some flight plan protection spell that has narcissistic magical thinking written all over it … is this her future?
As parents, we want to pass on the best of ourselves to the kids, while keeping those odd little bits locked up—like a crazy uncle in the attic. But our kids become all of us, the good and the bad, and it seems there's little you can do.
Oh well, I told Dana, she'll probably be fine.
(Knock knock knock … knock knock knock knock knock.)