"Little House on the Central Coast"
"What did you do in school today?' I ask my
"Nothin'," she replies.
"Well, what did you do over at your friend's
house after school?" I ask, thinking she might be
able to remember that, since she just got home five
"Nothin'," she replies.
I am trying to connect with my daughter, but she
has no interest in talking about herself. My
attempts to converse being dead in the water I try
"Wanna go read about Laura?'
This always gets an enthusiastic response. Molly
is six. She loves hearing me read her the stories
about Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the "Little
House on the Prairie" books. I sit down and open
the book. Molly sits in my lap, her head directly
between me and the page I am supposed to read. I
lean to the side and begin.
Today Laura has been naughty. She did what she
knew she must not do. She went alone to the shore
of the dangerously deep water. Now Pa must decide
how to punish her. Should he whip her with a
I stop reading and ask Molly what she thinks.
She tells me that she thinks Pa should just tell
Laura never to do that again. I ask Molly why she
thinks Laura went to the deep water even though she
knows her Pa told her not to. Molly says Laura was
probably hot and wanted to swim and that Laura
probably thought that if she only goes in a little
bit then it won't be dangerous.
"So Laura felt like she could trust herself to
be safe, even though her parents didn't think she
was old enough for that yet?" I ask, aware that now
we are having a very meaningful conversation. And
we are talking about Molly and me as much as we are
talking about Laura and her Pa.
Is it a surprise that Molly clams up when I ask
her about herself but talks freely about Laura? I
think I do that too. Ask me how I am, I might say,
"Fine, thank you. How are you? Ask me about a movie
I saw recently and I'll tell you all about how I
loved or hated it. Talking about someone else's
story lets me talk about myself without the
stifling effect of self-consciousness.
Later that night I lay in bed wondering what
Molly might write in her memoirs of her childhood.
Her version of "Little House on the Prairie" might
be titled, "Medium sized House on the Central
Coast". The vast wilderness surrounding Laura
Ingalls is now the incessant onslaught of suburban
development. The dangers of wolves, panthers and
bears are replaced now by the fears of drug abuse,
human violence, and automobile collisions. The
pressures of securing a warm cabin and food for the
winter are now lived as stress over the checkbook
and how to find a way to pay off the credit
On Christmas morning Laura Ingalls found great
joy in Santa's gifts of a doll, a comb, and a candy
cane. In the "Medium-sized House on the Central
Coast" Molly will be expecting considerably more in
Xmas bounty. But though times have changed, some
things remain the same: The thrill of leaving
cookies for Santa. The soft purring of your cat in
your lap. The adventure of walking alone in the
woods as if you were an Indian. The love of friends
you wish could spend the night with you. The joy of
someone opening your present to them. Molly knows
these innocent pleasures in life, just as Laura
Ingalls knew them, just as I know them.
Yes, I know a lot more about the world now than
just it's innocent pleasures. But nothing that
really pleases me is anything more than innocent. I
need to be loved. I need to be free to find my own
way in life. And I need to see the shining in my
daughter's eyes that tells me I have done something
today that has helped her to be happy.
© 2007, Tim
Other Father Issues,
* * *
Your children need your presence more than your
presents. - Jesse Jackson
Hartnett, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family
Therapist in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA. He
specializes in Individual Counseling, Couples
Therapy, and Divorce Mediation. He can be reached
at 831.464.2922 or through his website:
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