"Little House on the Central Coast"

"What did you do in school today?' I ask my daughter, Molly.

"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 minutes ago.

"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 another tact.

"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 switch?

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 cards.

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 Hartnett

Other Father Issues, Books

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Your children need your presence more than your presents. - Jesse Jackson

Tim 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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