During my first trip through expectant-fatherhood, I was really hoping for a girl. Seemed like the right sex to me. Being a total sports dolt, I was comforted by the probability that I'd never have to show her how to throw a football, explain the rules of ice hockey or fake my way through a discussion of Pete Rose.
But now I'm praying for another boy. You see, I've been spending a lot of time with my twelve-year-old niece.
Don't get me wrong. My niece is a great kid, more often than not. And at her absolute worst, she's no more difficult to deal with than the average messy, self-possessed, boy-crazy, know-it-all preteen princess.
It's that average level of difficulty that frightens me.
(I feel safe in writing frankly about her because she doesn't read anything that isn't about teen rock stars, teen movie stars, teen TV stars or teen hairdos. If the New Times production staff were to replace my photo with a picture of, oh, Patrick Swayze or Junior Miss Revlon, I'd be in big trouble.)
Yeah, I'm sure that when my son is twelve, I'm going to wonder why I wanted to raise anything but a lobotomized eunuch. But as a former adolescent boy myself, I'm at least familiar with the territory. Twelve-year-old girls, on the other hand, are as mysterious to me today as they were when Marla Sue Brickman sent me a mash note during morning recess. By lunchtime she was going steady with Brent Parker.
Anyway, there was a time not long ago when adults could converse with my niece on any number of topics. But today, her vocabulary consists almost exclusively of five words: "Boy(s)," "cuuuuuuute," "dorky," "guh-rossssssss!" (used to describe uncute boys of exceptional dorkiness) and "Jason" (which is, apparently, the name of every boy she knows).
No matter the subject you try to discuss with the child, all or most of those words will find their way into the conversation. Bring up the signing of the Declaration of Independence, for example, and she will opine that Benjamin Franklin was dorky and Thomas Jefferson was cuuuuuuute, but even he was guh-rossssssss compared to Jason.
Fortunately, a visit to her house doesn't mean you have to sit there and listen to those words repeated over and over. Her parents were bright enough to have a telephone installed in her bedroom. Since then, she's only come out for food, hair spray, loans, slumber parties, and somehow to foul the entire kitchen while making a single batch of cookies. The rest of the time she's locked in her room, ear to horn, comparing the cuteness/dorkiness/grossness ratios of her Jasons with her girlfriends' Jasons.
This is a true story. My niece recently saw a TV promo for an airing of The Story of Alexander Graham Bell and promptly entered the time and date on her appointment calendar. The inventor of the telephone, she figured, must have been cuuuuuuute. Even if he wasn't named Jason.
I don't know if she actually saw the movie, though. She was probably too preoccupied with laminating her bangs into what looks to me like a very reasonable facsimile of Grant's Tomb.
This is a popular hair style among today's hip and with-it adolescent girls. I like to think it springs from a sense of youthful patriotism, but it's more likely a symptom of an underdeveloped mind shellacked in Aqua Net.
For Christmas, my niece's most desired gift was a year's supply of hair spray. And boy, was she thrilled Santa came through with a full crate of the stuff. She remained thrilled, too, until mid-January, when the supply was exhausted.
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God knows what she's using now. But it's working. She still looks like she's got a national monument growing out of her skull. I keep waiting for the day she trips and impales somebody with it. Or snags a passing DC-10. I'm telling you, this kid's upper forehead is a disaster waiting to happen.
Oddly enough, her choice of hair style doesn't seem to be the result of peer fashion tastes alone. The girl is obsessed with the loveliness of her hair. Even as she's dropping her five favorite words, she'll find some reflective surface that will allow her to admire it. A window, a spoon, a plate, a freshly Lemon-Pledged coffee table.
The last time she looked me in the eye during a conversation, I thought, "Hey! We're communicating!" Then I realized she was just using my sunglasses to check the altitude and position of her dippity-do.
Moments later, she was on the phone, gabbing about her latest Jason. That's when I went out and bought a football.