Is this what my parents felt like?

I was rolling around with Baby Agnes this afternoon during Norah’s nap. My laptop was open nearby and the old Woody Allen movie, Manhattan, was playing. Its’ supposed to be a classic. I’ve been bringing this movie back up at naptimes trying to finish it every few days for the last week, and I’m still only halfway through.

I lounged across the carpet with my head in Agnes’s face. We babbled at each other. At a low volume, I could hear Woody Allen in his signature bursts of comic prose, breaking up with his 17-year-old girlfriend. His character, at 40-something, couldn’t understand why it was devastating for his 17-year-old sexual partner to be used up and thrown off. She was attached to him, and in his pithy humorous style, was philosophizing about why that is, when he’d told her repeatedly to date guys her own age.

I rolled Agnes onto my shins and up into the air.

“You’ll never be mixed up with someone like that,” I said to her in a sing-song voice. “You’ve got a daddy who will make sure you never get mixed up with Woody Allen.”

I bounced her, rolled her onto my stomach, let her wiggle off and stand in a pushup using me as her balance beam.

“That man should be arrested,” I cooed. She laughed at me. “He shouldn’t be the protagonist. He should be in jaaail. Yes he should!”

And somehow this took me off on a mental trail, the same one I’ve been on many times since the girls entered our lives.

Is this what my parents felt like?

And I make another mental resolve to exchange some sympathies with my parents. Because I can see it now—just a glimpse—the kind of emotion that could churn when the first little punk boy comes around here, chatting up my daughters. I used to wish, as a teenager, that my parents could be more casual about it all. As an adult even, I’ve said things like, “I liked my parents’ system, but one thing I’d like to try to do is not make such a big DEAL out of the guys coming around. Just make it more like a casual social thing, try not to stress about it…”

Something’s finally dawned on me, so obvious that I overlooked it until now: you can’t be ‘casual’ about these things when it’s your daughter. It would be pretentious to try. The reason people fail polygraphs when they are lying is that their emotions give them away. The stakes are too high. That’s exactly the way it is when you have a little girl in your life and you were the person who first heard her laugh, saw her crawl, and told her what was right and wrong. You can’t “just be cool” about the dating when it comes because your emotions give you away. The stakes are too high.

As far as you’re concerned, she’s the same little person who had fat feet and was using you as a balance beam about two minutes ago.

Not about to put down some kind of Philosophy of Teen Dating here—give us about ten years and we’ll start thinking about it. But I just wanted to sit down and mention this fact, for the record, for my parents and other older friends—I don’t know what we’re going to do.

I think I see why it’s going to be hard.

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