A daughter resists the back seat.

Notes on fatherhood.
May 7 2002 2:32 PM

Driving Miss Tallulah

A daughter resists the back seat.

A painting from a happier mind
A painting from a happier mind(Digital images sponsored by RadioShack)

The other day on the way to school Tallulah demanded, unusually, that I shut off the nursery rhymes. Then, even more unusually, she sat silently, staring straight ahead, ignoring my attempts to engage her in conversation. I tilted the rearview mirror to make sure she wasn't choking on something and was greeted with a gaze of what I can only describe as mad intensity. Finally she said, "My Daddy is dead."

Tallulah's vision of a spider's sorry end?
Tallulah's vision of a spider's sorry end? (Digital images sponsored by RadioShack)

Four weeks ago, before the birth of Dixie, this would have shocked me. Now it's almost pleasantly familiar. Tallulah's going through a dark phase. A week ago she came home from school with a stack of drawings. Gone were the blue and pink pastels she has favored since she first became a prolific artist. In their place were many disturbing furious black scrawls. One horrifying ink and crayon sketch resembled an ax-murdered spider. My child has entered her first new period.

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"Oh, so now I'm dead?" I said, cheerily.

"You stink, Daddy," she said.

"Am I dead or do I stink?"

She thought it over. "Both."

On some days she hollers insults at me the whole way to school—"You stink" and "You're dead" are two favorites—and if she can find something to hurl at my head, she'll do that, too. Driving her around these days is like playing right field for the visiting team in Yankee stadium.

The division of responsibility that's followed the birth of a second child has left me exposed in whole new ways. With Tabitha essentially glued to Dixie, I am the only outlet for Tallulah's understandable need to scream at her parents. I am also her main parental influence. I confess I hadn't realized the implications of this until the other night when, after a brutalizing day on which I foolishly agreed to take both children myself so that their mother might go to San Francisco, I was tip-toeing out of the room containing mother and nursing child and aiming myself in the general direction of the sofa bed. Mother seemed glum. "What's the matter?" I asked, not particularly caring for the answer. Out gushed a torrent of complaints about Tallulah's behavior since Dixie's birth. She'd become surly with baby-sitters; she'd stopped sleeping through the night; she no longer ate her vegetables; she was resisting the final, crucial stages of potty training; she showed no interest in any activity except watching Shrek for the 150th time; she'd been rude to her mother when she returned from San Francisco.

In the good old days when Tabitha complained to me about Tallulah she did so in a collaborative spirit. We were joined by common interests; we were Munger and Buffett hashing out investment strategy. This didn't sound like that. This sounded more like an Arab attempting to engage an American on the subject of the Israeli army.

"She's not eating her vegetables because she's pissed off about Dixie," I said.

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