“I don’t need you.”
I would have taken a step backward out of pure shock — possibly grabbing my heart or clutching my pearls or making some other gesture to show my complete surprise at my 5-year-old daughter’s bold declaration at 6:25 on a Wednesday morning — if Arlie hadn’t already stretched out her tiny arm and pushed me away from her bed.
I began to say something … call her out on what was surely a miscalculation on her part. A tongue-slip or brain-fart caused by a combination of naturally emerging independence and just-woke-up lunacy. After all, until this particular Wednesday morning, there hadn’t been a school day that didn’t require rousing my daughter from the depths of slumber through a combination of chanting her name and not-so-gentle shoulder shaking before eventually just scooping her up into my arms and hauling her to the living room couch and then spending another 10 to 15 minutes alternating between asking if she’d like something to eat and reminding her of the persistent nature of both time and school bells.
But, for reasons I didn’t understand in the moment, I couldn’t find the words to respond to the tiny human I created. Instead, I just mumbled something along the lines of, “Oh, OK,” and stumbled my way to the kitchen for the day’s inaugural cup of joe.
Mere moments after I’d settled into my usual seat for my morning ritual of drinking coffee and mustering the will to go about my daily routine, she shuffled into the living room, Pokemon toys shoved beneath either arm, and plopped herself on the couch.
“We’ve got about 25 minutes before we have to start getting ready for school,” I reminded her — same as I did every morning.
“I know, Daddy,” she told me, maintaining her newfound total independence.
“Oh, OK,” I said again, then turned back to my coffee.
As I stared into the swirls of liquid in my mug, I envisioned my kid across the span of her short life. I saw, clearly as the day it happened, that tiny creature emerge from her mother goop-covered and complaining. Re-witnessed the nurses scooping her up — same as I did every morning until this one — and hurrying her over to a nearby cleaning station for the first bath of her life.
Arlie, like all of us, came into this world needing help, and I’ve largely been accommodating. I’ve held her little hands as she stumbled like a drunk through her wobbly early attempts at walking through our death-trap-filled home. I’ve lifted her from the ground after she tumbled to the concrete while running for no particular reason. I’ve hoisted her to the unreachable top of towering playground equipment.
“I don’t need you”? News to me. How many times have her mother or I had to stop whatever we were doing to assist with some task — sometimes important (“I can’t find my shoes, Daddy.”) but usually not (“Daddy, help me put a diaper on my T-Rex.”)? How much time have we spent helping clean her room after she destroyed it in a whirlwind of play? How often did we have to set up watercolor painting sessions, locate wayward toys, answer questions about the social lives of the planets, heat a meal when it was too cold and then inevitably spend five minutes blowing on it when it was too hot?
And yet, on a random flipping Wednesday morning just five short years after she arrived in our lives begging for food, shelter and love, she doesn’t need me? She. Doesn’t. Need. Me?
“Daddy?” she said from across the room. I turned to find my Judas child sitting up on the couch, wiping her eyes with balled fists. “Will you fix me a bowl of cereal, please?”
I breathed deeply, stood and lifted the mug to my lips.
“That’s what I thought,” I whispered into the cup. Then I drained the last few drops of coffee and headed to the kitchen.
Read more from Adam's misadventures in fatherhood