Dreaded daughter-to-dad phrase forces single dad to deal with his daughter’s pain
“See the scrape on my leg, Daddy?” Ally says, “Emma did that today. She pushed me down the hill at recess and then she laughed.” Ally drops her clothes on the mat and hops into a bathtub of bubbles. Then she points: “And it hurts down there too.”
That’s what perks my attention. Down there is one medical term that Dr. Spock never defined. He may have mentioned it in passing, like whooping cough, but I don’t remember any specifics. He especially didn’t define it for single parents. And not for a newly single dad, whose seven-year-old daughter is pointing into bubbles.
When Ally’s brothers were young, and they said it hurts down there, I knew exactly what they were talking about. A ball or a kick to the groin was all it took. I could share their pain, because our equipment was the same equipment. Hurt was hurt. Sure there were degrees, but all the houses in their neighborhood looked the same, had the same beige siding, and no grass on the front lawn. Maybe one house was a little bigger than the other houses, and another leaned a little to one side like a tree that needed tying to a post before it got strong enough to hold its own, but those were just cosmetics. Until now. Ally says it hurts down there and I can’t even pretend to know how that feels or what it means. It’s as though she’s entered our all-boys neighborhood with a dented pink trailer, and parked it in the middle of the street.
So I ask her: “What do you mean, ‘it hurts’?”
“I don’t know,” she says, “It just hurts.” Naked Barbies are swimming in the bath with her. She’s covering their bodies with bubbles, molding them into soapy dresses. She’s never owned a Barbie that wasn’t stripped naked and posing within seconds of being yanked from its box. I asked my friends about this. Mothers, not fathers. It’s mothers who know the details of their children’s lives.
“It’s just healthy curiosity,” said Joan. “All girls do that. My daughter, Caroline, used to strip them nude, rip their heads off, and switch them around with her other dolls. Perfectly natural,” she said, “perfectly curious.”
I think: two naked Barbies is curiosity. Maybe three. But six? As a boy I had no desire to see my G.I. Joe battalion posing naked with rifles, or fighting wars in the buff. Girls are different. Give them an electric razor and a poodle, and they’ll have him shaved to the bone in under ten minutes.
Ally sings: “Six naked Barbies swimming in the sea, one went poop and the others went pee.”
I ignore that. Besides, the rhyme was a good one.
I begin soaping her back, and then have an idea: “Point to the Barbie and show me where it hurts, okay, honey?” I say, proud of my quick thinking.
“I told you where already,” she sighs, my request obviously distracting her from her lyrics. “Down there,” she says, and points back into the bubbles.
I decide to call my brother Kevin. He has three girls, all young. He must have been told about “down there” sometime, and know something about how to fix things.
“I call Ellen,” he says, in reply to my question about down there. Ellen is his wife, and a nurse. “But she’s working. Try Ronnie,” he says and laughs.
Ronnie is our dad. He’s seventy. Four sons, no daughters. Down there to him is Australia. Way down there, Antarctica. As a boy, I once asked him what you call a girl’s private parts and he said you call them off-limits. When I was older, he said call them Fluffy. Fluffy was the name of our dog. Before my first real girlfriend, I pictured a Pomeranian down there. I’m not going to call Ronnie.
Ally hops out of the bath, and I help dry her body. As she pulls a nightgown over her head, I sneak little glances, but I can’t see anything.
“Ally,” I say, “hop up on the bed and show me exactly where it hurts—” I barely finish the words when she’s flat on her back on the bed, nightgown hiked up to her chin, and her finger pointing like a neon sign: “Here. See, right here, daddy. It hurts right here!”
I both look and don’t look at the same time. Glance and turn away, glance and turn away. I start to hum. I mumble words like “Yep. Uh-huh. I see.” Ally points again and says, “Here, right here,” as though I’m not looking in the right place. “Uh-huh,” I repeat, then “Oh…”, because finally, I see a rash.
“Ally,” I say, “have you been wiping yourself after you go pee, sweetie?”
“I try,” she says. “But sometimes I forget.”
I want to ask her exactly how she forgets, but I don’t. It’s just a diaper rash, I think, a pee rash. “All right,” I tell her, relieved like I just rediscovered the Rosetta Stone. “I have some stuff that will help take the hurt away. Don’t move.”
I get a few tissues and ointment from the bathroom cabinet, and help her wipe the ointment on. Next, she stands up, straightens her nightgown, gives me a hug, then sits at the computer and clicks the link to Club Penguin. Sequenced tasks to a seven year old. No thoughts, no questions. Her life goes on.
You can’t be squeamish as a single parent. There’s no division of duties. No one to turn to. Cleaning up vomit at 2 a.m., or discovering dirty underwear hidden in a clothes drawer, it’s all part of the parent agreement. Sights, sounds, smells—you get them all. I once thought that love was the greatest thing I could give my daughter. I was wrong. For most parents, love is just there. It’s trust. Trust first. Children put everything they are into believing in you as a parent, in me as dad. In the smallest of ways, I think I’m right. I store that knowledge in a safe place with two other pieces of parental knowledge I’ve learned: One, don’t panic. And two, when in doubt, refer to one.
And I make a mental note to talk with Ally, in a few years time, about her song lyrics.
For more on Urinary Tract Infections in kids, check out these links: