I knew the big question was coming.
I’ve known this since last year when we were talking about something completely unrelated at the dining table and my daughter suddenly asked me a question about our ‘unique’ living arrangement. I can’t remember exactly what it was that she asked, but her puzzlement was obvious. Her little head was clearly filled with questions that she couldn’t quite articulate – or simply wasn’t ready to yet.
Then, two weeks ago, my daughter really wanted to have a picnic and I had promised her two or three weekends in a row that we’d have our very own picnic. (As she lamented, ‘I’ve only had one picnic in my whole life!’) Unable to put it off any longer, I promised we’d have the picnic that Saturday. In her relentless fashion, she came to me literally every hour that day to ask when we were going to set things up. When I was finally done with whatever I had to get out of the way, it was around 4 pm, and it suddenly started raining cats and dogs. My daughter hung her head, convinced her hopes were dashed. But we were going to have that picnic, come hell or high-water so that I could cross this activity off of my ‘to do’ list.
We spread a blanket in the living room and had an evening picnic which all household members were mandated to attend. It turned out to be a lot of fun for every one of us, actually, and my daughter was literally bouncing off the walls with excitement, very proud of herself for coming up with this grand idea.
As we all chatted about this and that and munched on this and that, she suddenly asked, ‘How come we only have a Mommy in this house?’
‘There are different kinds of families,’ I replied. ‘Some have Mommies and Daddies, and some don’t.’
‘Oh,’ she replied, satisfied. At least for that moment.
Tonight, she came upstairs to watch TV in my room. First, though, she stopped by my bed and asked: ‘What’s the reason why you and Daddy live in two different countries?’
She has homework due next week that involves interviewing grandparents about life in the olden days. My guess is that they’re talking a lot about families lately during her Social Studies lessons.
I had prepared for this moment for the last six years and so I replied calmly and comfortably, not skipping a beat: ‘Your Daddy and I haven’t always lived in different countries. When we started doing so, it was because our work took us to different countries. When I came to Kenya, we moved here together. You weren’t even born then. And then, some years later, we had a beautiful baby girl and we were so happy …’ – at this point, she gave me a beautiful smile – ‘… About a year later, things weren’t really working out between Daddy and I. So we decided it would be better for us to live apart.’
I had prepared for this moment for the last six years. I hadn’t prepared exactly what I was going to say, but I had prepared for how I was going to say it. I wondered if this preparation was making a difference now that I finally needed it.
I paused, trying to read her expression for any hints of sadness. All I found was curiosity.
I had prepared for this moment forever and maintained a calm exterior. On the inside, I was anything but calm, though. I was talking to ‘Daddy’s Girl’ here, and being one myself, I was tiptoeing for dear life on eggshells.
Since I’d finally let it all out to her for the first time, I thought I might as well make sure she was clear on where things stood: ‘Your Daddy and I aren’t together anymore, but he’ll always be your Daddy and I’ll always be your Mommy.’
‘Oh,’ she said, almost cheerfully. I was confused by her tone, expecting a totally different reaction and yet not wanting to provoke the sort of reaction I dreaded. So I gently pushed for more information, trying to get into that little head of hers.
‘So, what d’you think about the fact that your parents don’t live together?’ I asked.
‘I think it’s interesting ‘cause most houses have a mom and a dad and kids.’
I thought that ‘interesting’ was an interesting choice of a word, and I was suspicious of it.
‘You think it’s interesting, huh? And what else do you think about it?’ I asked.
‘I think it’s amazing,’ she replied seriously.
‘Amazing?’ I threw my head back and laughed out loud. ‘What’s amazing about it?’
‘Um … maybe I used the wrong word,’ she said. ‘What I meant was, it’s good to hear and good to know about the reason why we only have a Mommy in this house.’
It was my turn to be amazed. I wondered what exactly was going on in that little head.
Before I could probe further, my daughter asked earnestly, ‘Do you know something interesting? With seahorses, it’s the other way round: instead of Mommies giving birth, the Daddies give birth.’
I laughed out loud again, charmed by the complete innocence that only a child can display.
‘Yeah, that’s true. That is interesting.’
‘May I change the channel?’ she asked.
‘Of course,’ I replied, and off she went with my eyes following her wistfully.
Oh, ‘My Sweetheart-Princess’ (my favorite pet name out of my zillion pet names for my daughter).
I’m sorry that this is your ‘normal.’
I wish I could give you the world. I’ll die trying.