It was a holiday, just after 10 a.m., and I was in the living room with my six-year-old daughter. She was in a blue Frozen nightgown and drawing on a whiteboard in our kitchen. We’d just had breakfast and I was putting the dishes away, when I noticed a folded up piece of notebook paper on the table.
I opened it and there was a portrait of sorts. I could make out hair and a face, although the lips were a little too full, and the nose looked a lot like a boot, but it was clearly the drawing of a little girl’s face by a little girl.
In the top right corner was written, “Norah.”
“Did you draw this?” I asked.
Norah turned around, saw what I was holding, and went a little pale.
“Listen, Daddy,” she said holding out her hand. “You need to give me that right now.”
I took a step back. “Why? It’s cute.”
“No it isn’t!” She said. “It isn’t cute. It makes me look,” she stomped her bare foot and flexed her little fists, “like a nerd.”
Then she walked to me, grabbed the picture, and said, “You know what I’m going to do?”
“This.” She started ripping up the picture, as if it were dirty evidence of some horrible crime. Then she stomped to the kitchen garbage and threw the shreds away. She gave me a misty-eyed look of conviction, then went to the sofa and buried her face into the arm furthest from me, her legs curled beneath her.
I just looked at her for some time, not sure what to do. This happens a lot to me as the father of a little girl.
When my son shuts down and just stops talking, I get it. I know that if I give him a minute to cool, he will chat with me and it will all be good. But Norah, she’s not like me at all. She’s a little more dramatic than I’m used to.
When she gets emotional, things get theatrical. There are long dictations on how she will never, ever, ever, hug me again unless I let her have a friend over, or how she is going to throw a book at me if I keep making her read words she doesn’t know. She stomps her feet a lot, and hides her face a lot, and often times I am clueless as to why.
This was one of those moments.
I knew I needed to do something, but I wasn’t sure just what. We’d had a long night with our toddler, so Mel went back to bed a few moments earlier, so I didn’t have her to ask questions. Tristan was in his room. It was just Norah and I.
I sat down next to her. I tried rubbing her back, and she reached around and swatted at my hand, her face still in the sofa. So I sat, silently, for what seemed like a really long time, but I’m confident it was just a few moments.
Eventually Norah said, “Samantha drew it.”
“Oh,” I said.
It took me a moment to remember that Samantha was a little girl from church. They sat next to each other the day before in Sunday school, and apparently, Samantha had decided to draw a photo of Norah.
“I just look like such a nerd,” she said.
She stopped talking, once again.
I wouldn’t take a friend’s crappy drawing of my face personally, but I suppose this is one of the challenges I often run into when trying to help my daughter manage her emotions. I think this was the first time Norah had seen herself through someone else. Sure she’d seen pictures of herself, but I think she must have had one of those moments we all have every now and again where we say, “I don’t look like that… do I?”
This happens every time someone shows me a picture of my “doppelganger.” Some dude who looks like me. There seems to be one in every town.
“You know, Norah. Your mom and I are total nerds. We wear thick glasses and like to talk about books. I work at a university and get excited about Star Wars. It’s okay to be a nerd.”
Norah let out a long breath that seemed to say, “You just don’t get it.”
And the fact was, I didn’t get it. And as a father, I had a cold realization that I might never get it.
I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything again. Then Norah said, “I just look ugly. That picture is how ugly I look.”
“You know, Norah,” I said. “I’m not going to tell you that was just a crappy picture drawn by a crappy artist because I don’t think you’d believe me. And I doubt I could draw a much better picture of you. But what I will say is that you have really curious blue eyes. That’s really cool. And your nose is small and sweet, you get that from your mother. You have a smile that is very inviting and it makes people want to talk to you. You have very sweet ears that pick up things I don’t ever notice. You get your cheeks from me, and although they look big and nerdy on me, they complement your jawline, which is soft and wonderful. That’s how I see you, and if I could paint your picture, that’s how I’d paint you.”
She didn’t look up, but I could tell she was smiling because her ears were up. She sat up, turned, and then buried her face into my side, her arms wrapped around me.
We sat like that for awhile, and I wasn’t sure if she felt 100% better about the way she looked, but I got the idea she at least felt a little better, and for me, as a confused father, it felt like one hell of an accomplishment.