Have I screwed up my daughters forever?
One afternoon I find my wife standing in the kitchen preparing, once again, to cry. The pills they gave her instantly silenced the brain screams. She's gone from being terrified that she's losing her mind and that everyone she loves is going to soon die to being, occasionally, sad. I'll come across her getting dressed or sterilizing baby bottles, standing as still as a lady in a Vermeer painting, with tears in her eyes. There's no point in asking what's the matter—you might as well ask a flat tire why it doesn't have air. She's enduring this strange hormonal postpartum deflation that has nothing, really, to do with her. She's gone from needing to be rescued to wanting to be comforted. Which is, in theory, where I come in.
On the afternoon in question, the girls snack on tubes of yogurt, which they will now eat only if they come frozen just so—even though they aren't meant to be frozen. I walk in, note them squabbling madly about who gets the grape yogurt and who the strawberry, see the pools growing in Tabitha's eyes, take her in my arms and ask, "Do you two have any idea how lucky you are to have a mom who takes such good care of you?"
Dixie, preoccupied with the Battle for the Grape One, does not hear me, but Quinn looks up for a moment, stares at us, and says, "There's lots of good moms."
It's her new trick, to render cold and dispassionate judgments about her parents at their moments of greatest vulnerability. Two days earlier she and Dixie were both home sick, and I went off to my office, consumed with anxiety, to figure out a) how expensive it was going to be to build another bedroom for the baby (very), and b) how I was ever going to work again when I didn't sleep. At the first opportunity Quinn snuck into the TV room, clicked around the Tivo, found a biography of Bill Gates, and called Dixie in to watch it with her. An hour later I returned to find them both waiting for me: Quinn with hands on hips, Dixie forlorn and grasping a handful of berries.
"Daddy," said Dixie, seriously. "I got some berries from the Gulf Stream waters."
"Why did you do that?"
"So we can eat them. Because we are poor."
Which seemed like a sweet reaction to the Bill Gates documentary, until Quinn fixed me with her I'm-here-to-speak-the-truth-to-power stare and said, "We're poor, Daddy. And you didn't tell us. You lied to us."
As always, it's hard to say whether it's developmental or just mental. Must the 7-year-old mind discover for itself every possible way to offend other people before it can settle on a more sociable approach? Is this just the bug that comes with the software upgrade? I don't know. At any rate, as I stand there with her mother crying in my arms searching for the words that will encourage her to be sweet, I come up empty. "Your mother takes really good care of you and me and Dixie and Walker, and I'm really proud of her," I finally say.
"You're just saying that to make her feel better," says Quinn.
Michael Lewis' most recent book is The Blind Side.
Photographs of Quinn, Dixie, and the Post-it note by Tabitha Soren.