Once upon a time, maybe six months ago, Jean and I were a bit worried. At a year old, Sasha was smart, healthy and endlessly … cute. I want to say she was adorable, too, but that wouldn’t be quite accurate. To be sure, she fit the textbook definition of cute baby—big eyes, awkward movements, a penchant for accidental comedy—but she was simply not affectionate. If we picked her up, she was fine being held, but she’d never relax. Instead, she’d remain alert and attentive, and only if she was really, really, really sleepy would she rest her head on your shoulder. She wouldn’t hug, she didn’t kiss. She was a stone-cold heartless beauty.
Of course, these things don’t last, and today she’s the exact opposite: she hugs friends, spontaneously kisses her teachers goodbye, rests her head on my shoulder when I carry her in the subway. Actually, though, she’s gone too far in this direction—she’s downright clingy, but with a twist. That is, if her mother is around, it’s like no one else in the world exists. She’s desperate for Jean’s attention, crying if Jean so much as makes a move towards another room. She stalks Jean outside the bathroom door, and often won’t let me take care of basic things like changing her diaper if Mom’s available to do it.
There are ways to get around this, of course. Sasha’s only 18 months old, so she’s easily distracted. Presenting her with a toy or a book just as Jean is, say, going into the bedroom to get dressed is my way of capturing Sasha’s attention. Which only lasts until Jean reappears, but at least it’s something.
All of this, I know, is just a phase. Before long, Sasha will be back to her old, cold self, or she’ll have transferred her limitless affections to yours truly. But there’s one thing about this current phase that makes me crazy:
She calls Jean “Daddy.”
This shouldn’t be a big deal. I know she’ll get it right eventually, but still, when I hear her running around the house saying “Daddy Daddy Daddy!,” I keep thinking it’s me and I’ll go to pick her up and be confronted with “No no no no no.” Oh, right, you meant that Daddy.
My solution to this problem, which I’ve just now come up with, is to think on Sasha’s level. To that end, I’ve invented an imaginary son, Arnold, who only shows up while Sasha is clinging to Jean. Arnold is a great kid, I’ve gotta say, full of energy and affection, with surprising ability to play catch. Plus, when I go to the bathroom, he doesn’t wait outside—we can pee together. Sorry, Sasha, this is what daddies do.