People often tell me my Precocious Daughter looks like me.
I notice they don’t say she “favors” me, as the saying goes. Let’s face it: My face does no favors to anyone. Ba-dum-tiss.
It’s a joke. I’m beautiful, as far as you know.
In any event, I’m sure there’s some resemblance, or else everyone who comments on it is high, which statistically is unlikely. Yet when I hang out with my sweet child, I’m struck by her resemblance to her father.
Not physically. She’d have to be taller, lankier, and more Sicilian-looking to pull that off. Their similarities run much deeper than physical appearance. You really can’t spend much time with them, together or separately, before it becomes obvious: Precocious Daughter and my soon-to-be-ex-husband are the same person.
She’s his Mini-Me. His doppelganger. A petite little clone in all ways except for looking nothing like him. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t point this out to her with a mixture of affection and extreme chagrin. She finds it hilarious. I’m not sure if she’s pleased to take after her dad or simply delighted to have a reliable way to exasperate me on a regular basis. After all, she just turned 16, and I’m pretty sure she did it just to piss me off.
I realize that all kids take after their parents to some degree, and that it’s not unusual for them to more closely mimic one parent than the other. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about them being the same damn person in oddly specific ways.
For example, they both have what I call prehensile toes. They can splay them out and move them individually, as well as pick up items with them. Also, their feet smell exactly the same: Like peaches. I’m serious.
They have the same tendency to call things by random names. The other day Precocious Daughter referred to the dishwasher as the washing machine. Which is exactly what her father does. I spent 25 years looking around, trying to match what came out of his mouth with the real-world item he was actually referring to. And it seems I’ll be doing it for the next 25 years with our child.
They both tell me to “calm down” when I’m agitated. In the same tone of voice. When they know damn well that nothing agitates me more than being told to “calm down” in that tone of voice.
Both Precocious Daughter and her father will spend literally hours organizing their bookshelves. But they’ll go weeks without cleaning the toilet and not mind the disgusting ring in the bowl. They also believe that the only time it’s necessary to carry used glasses from the bedroom to the kitchen is when there are no longer any clean glasses. I wish it were possible to alphabetize dirt. She’d be all over it then.
They both habitually announce when they have to poop. Because of course they do.
Then there are more subtle things. Like the way they tend to make the same point, at the same moment, when they’re talking (neither of them has a problem with talking over each other, of course). Or the fact that they both favor ridiculously long showers. Or how they innately understand the strategy behind Texas Hold ‘Em (which is utterly lost on me).
Are you getting the picture?
I find all of these similarities endearing as well as irritating. I mean, it’s wonderful to see a child taking after a parent. Bridging the generations, embracing her upbringing, carrying on the family traits and traditions: All priceless. And believe me, Precocious Daughter takes after me in plenty of ways, as well. Beyond the purported physical resemblance, we share a sense of humor, a love of the Winter Olympics, an appreciation of Benedict Cumberbatch; the list goes on. I certainly don’t feel left out of the gene pool. She’s definitely my kid.
It’s just that there are so many traces of her dad in her.
And I’m divorcing him.
Because some of the very things she emulates are among the reasons I finally got fed up with being married to him.
Sure, there were some overriding issues in my decision to leave him. The abusiveness factor. The neglect factor. The he-never-held-a-full-time-job-ever factor.
But I think anyone who has left a troubled marriage would agree that an aggregation of minor annoyances can be as persuasive as the big issues when it comes to making that painful decision.
I got sick and tired of him being “neat” without actually being “clean.” It irritated me to no end that he reacted to my complaints by dismissively telling me to calm down rather than acknowledging the source of my anger. Those things added up to a lack of respect for me and my wants and needs.
Overall, I’m glad to be rid of those things. Except that my daughter, whom I love more than life itself, embodies some of them in a manner almost eerily reminiscent of the man I’m divorcing.
Where do I put that knowledge?
I don’t want to banish her dad’s influence on her. To be honest, some of his flaws are much more quirky and endearing in a child than they were in a spouse. If I feel Precocious Daughter is becoming disrespectful of my rules, I can play the mom card. And she will immediately compromise, if not capitulate or surrender her attitude. Compromise goes a long way, because it speaks to mutual respect. That was lacking in my marriage.
And yeah, it is charming and touching to see that the person we created together is taking bits from each of us to create her own identity, recognizable as related to ours, yet unique. What more can a parent ask for than to see a fully-formed person grow up before their eyes? If the challenge of growing up is not balancing your parents’ values with your own burgeoning sense of self, then I don’t know what it is.
In the end, there’s not much I can do about Precocious Daughter’s personality. She is who she is, and that includes positives and negatives from both parents. Even if I could strip her of her dad’s bad habits (neither of them will just make the freaking bed, already), I wouldn’t. They’re a package deal with the good, smart, funny parts she’s inherited from him.
And it’s nice to have a reminder of those parts around. Because I still love those parts. And I love that they’re living on in our kid.
Read more of Chuck.