Am I raising a child or an improv actress?

by Mr. Sheehy

If someone were to ask me what I do at night (and they don’t, by the way), I could respond, “Well, I put my daughter to bed for about an hour and a half.” There’s a break in the middle, following when I first lay Ellen down and before she invents some need to come out of her room, but tonight that break lasted approximately three minutes. I have my ears tuned to any cry, because if she talks or cries out too long, it could wake up Annie, and then instead of an hour an a half for one parent putting one child to bed, it could become three hours for two parents putting two children to bed. I like the current formula, so at the first peep, I tiptoe into the room, lean over the bed and ask, “What’s the problem, Ellen?”

She then responds with her grocery list, usually beginning with a never-fail-to-get-you-up bodily function: “I have to poop. And pee. And I need a drink of water.” I can’t say no for a number of reasons – if she throws a fit, the aforementioned younger sister might wake; if she is telling the truth even in part, I’m forcing my child to stay in bed when she needs to be in the bathroom. The length and color of the list can lead us astray, making us think she’s just inventing reasons, but we must be careful because every once in a while she surprises us and actually does something when we reach the bathroom. And she always takes the drink, of course.

Her flair for addition has me convinced that she’s the perfect candidate for the lesson in attentive observation, the one where an elementary teacher has a person walk in, talk for a minute, and then walk out; afterwards, the teacher quizzes the students about what they saw, though she never told them ahead of time to pay attention. Ellen, I am convinced, would describe the man in every detail, accurately – his pants’ color, hair color, facial hair status, and shoe-type; then she’d add on a few extras, like a cast or a hole in his pants or maybe some sunglasses and a red hat. And unless you’d seen the man yourself, you’d never quite be sure which detail was right and which was added.

May 28 2007 055

Last night’s excuse topped them all. I tip-toed in like usual, but I found her on top of her sheets with her feet sticking in the air. “What’s the matter?” I inquired, but before I finished, she began: “I need you to tuck my covers in. I have to pee. And I have to throw up lots of times! Yeah.” I picked her up without protest as a congratulatory gesture for the supreme excuse.

She laughed as I laughed, then repeated, “Lots of times.”