"Go and sit with your daughter," my wife said as we listened to my daughter bounce off the walls in her room after bath time, "she's been waiting to see you all day."
"All right," I said, and after some delay, I went.
I did want to see her, but I think my head and my heart were at cross purposes tonight. I felt like a hungry dog that's been called for dinner but sees a really good muddy pond to play in also; either direction will bring some unnecessary regret.
"Know what Dad" she began at bedtime, "I've got a great idea."
This little verbal introduction she must have learned at school. She loves it. She begins every request or story like this now - it's almost like once upon a time and news at eleven rolled into one.
"I'll pick my favorite planet and you can read it," she concluded.
For her birthday this year, my gift to my daughter was a book about the night sky. She'd been learning about space in her pre-school and I'd attended her end of year school trip to the Newark Museum's small planetarium. I'd bought the book in the hopes we could share a similar interest in the stars. Most nights we do. Tonight only one of us was game.
"All right," I agreed, and she went to get the book from her collection.
After some delay - she stopped to repair her little circular train track which had separated - she was back and thumbing through the pages. She eventually picked out Neptune, which is depicted as a great blue orb with dark spot and an illustration of the greek god next to it.
I read through the two light pages of information for her; mostly facts delivered in a non-serious toned narrative, but she didn't show much interest.
"Neptune is the most inhospitable planet ... sometimes it trades places with Pluto and becomes the most remote planet ... it's made mostly of gas and has rings of ice ...," and more like that.
I thought maybe the book was a little beyond her age. I felt a little bored too.
"What's your favorite Dad?" she asked suddenly, "I'll read it to you."
My daughter is not really reading. They're teaching her letters at school, but she's a way off yet from books. She was earnest though, so I consented, but try as I might I couldn't drum up the interest to choose a favorite.
"They're all the same, right?" I said to myself. I tried to let her choose a favorite for me, but she wouldn't bite.
"I want to read your favorite Dad," she insisted.
I gave a half hearted attempt to treat Mars as my favorite. I pointed out some of the letters on the page to try to help her read, but she lost interest almost immediately. She pulled the book away and went to telling a story out of it that had nothing to do with the planets.
I can't be sure what goes on in her head at this age, but I'm pretty sure she was pissed with me.
"Bedtime," I said after a while of listening to her amble. I was feeling tired and my head was throbbing.
She frowned but let me turn down the light. I sat with her for a time, but she stayed restless and wouldn't sleep. I started to get a little impatient and let my wife come in and take over.
I listened to my wife's kindly voice and my daughter's irrepressible questions and talking slowly dwindle until the girl fell asleep. I felt badly. I knew as I heard how warm my wife was with her that I'd been a bit of a grouch - not the entertaining green kind in the garbage pail either.
I wish I could always be that warm, receptive parent for her. I know that's who she was looking for tonight. Instead tonight, I feel a lot like that lousy description of Neptune, "inhospitable," "remote," "a ring of ice," ... you get the idea.
I let her down.
There'll be other nights I know. I also know that's why it's good there are two of us - to help when the other needs it. But I wish I could have done a better job just the same. I feel like a player that's performed badly even though the team won the game. I didn't hold up my end. I'll need to play better tomorrow.
See you then - hopefully without the dark spot and the ring of ice around me.