When Maggie was very little, she and I spent a lot of time in the car together. We lived in Cleveland but I taught at Oberlin College and Maggie and I would make the drive out there three times a week.
All the way there we would talk and sing and count and play games. There were the standard games like “I spy” and there were games that I made up like “Imaginary Hide and Seek”. I loved playing imaginary hide and seek with her. We would choose a place like our house or one of her grandparents houses and one of us would go hide and the other would ask questions to seek. I might be upstairs in our house hiding in the bathtub. She’d ask, “are you on the first floor? Are you on the second floor? Are you in my and Elena’s room? Are you in the bathroom?” Eventually she’d find me.
After a while I threw in a new wrinkle. You could announce what size you were. Maggie could decide if she were normal size, a giant, or microscopic. In your imagination, why do you have to be constrained by reality.
On the way back we would often also play “One days”. That was a game that started as a simple device to get Maggie to retell her day. It had to start with the word “One day” and had to finish with “The end.” Everything else was up to the story teller. At first, Maggie’s stories were simply a recounting of her day. “One day, I got up and got dressed. I came downstairs and had breakfast.” Simple stuff.
As always, we pushed this from real to imaginary. Maggie’s favorite stuffed animal is a raggedy looking cat that she calls “Meow One”. She got it from Paul and Sue at her first Christmas with us when she was 15 months old. She still carries it around the house for comfort. Maggie would tell tales of Meow One and her day.
Shortly after Elena was born I stopped working at Oberlin. I began to travel a bit and some of the daily routines slipped to special occasions. Maggie was a very early reader and so she preferred both reading and being read to. As the girls got older we would sometimes head upstairs and tell our one days together.
There was a whole ritual. They would first argue about which room we told them in. Then we would all lay down on the bed together. There was an argument about who lay where. Then there was the most important argument of all. Who went first.
The girls stories were most often fantasies. They were binary: either very long or very short. Elena’s would go on forever. She loved having the attention of her sister and father. Kim wasn’t excluded from this ritual but she was respectful that this was something I did with my girls. She had other things that she and the girls did together.
I would alternate between a true story about me and my girls and about something totally made up. I am not a very good story teller but I would like to offer you a one day that I haven’t yet told.
One day, daddy was invited to the same dance by two beautiful girls. In the old days before he had met Kim this might have been a problem. But he knew Kim would take care of the details so that he could go to the dance with the Hawaiian theme with both of the beautiful girls.
One of daddy’s dates came to him in a brown vest covered in badges and said “daddy, the dance is tomorrow. My troop made a poster and we all signed it. I can’t wait to go.”
Daddy said, “Elena, I can’t wait either.”
The other of daddy’s dates came to him in a green vest covered in badges and said “we already picked out our dresses for tomorrow.”
Daddy said, “Maggie Rose, I can’t wait to see them.”
The next night was the night of the annual Girl Scout Father-Daughter dance. Daddy had been emailing and IMing all of his friends to tell them how much he was looking forward to it. A dance with two dates. Being a dad is just the best.
The girls put on their pink dresses and mom took pictures of them one at a time, together, each with their dad, and finally of all three. The girls ran out to the car and ten minutes later we were walking into the middle school for the dance.
Daddy hung up the coats from his pretty young dates and they ran to the counter and checked in. They each got a new merit badge and a coupon for a picture and pulled daddy to the snack room. Elena jumped up to talk to her friends. Maggie sat with daddy and ate chips and talked to the other people at the table. Maggie was scoping out the room.
Maggie decided which line to stand in for pictures. She wanted two pictures of the three of us. Elena returned in time to disagree and say she wanted one of just her and daddy and Maggie’s should be just her and daddy. We stood in line for pictures and took two beautiful shots. The older girl scouts wrote the girl’s name on the picture frame and daddy tucked them in his pocket.
Time to head for the dance floor. Elena needed to go to the bathroom. So did Maggie but she wasn’t going to say anything unless Elena had.
Now it was time for the dance floor. Maggie and daddy stopped in the middle but Elena pushed up front. There was a bubble machine. Elena and Maggie jumped up to catch bubbles and danced away. A slow dance started. Maggie’s favorite song: “What a wonderful world”. Maggie didn’t feel like dancing and Elena ran over to the Modlins and started dancing with her friends. Next a train song. The three joined a train that wound around the gym. They danced out into the hall and back into the gym. When the song ended it was time for more snacks.
The evening ended with the classic girl scout dance songs. Maggie danced to Y.M.C.A.. It was the first song she had ever danced with her parents. Her mom had soothed her in a high speed train in China by singing YMCA and moving her hands to make the letters. Now with daddy, that’s the only part of the song that Maggie would dance to. The three danced to the Macarena and loved swinging each other around in the chicken dance. One last slow dance to “Daddy’s little girl” and then the dance was over and they returned home.
The girls showed mom their pictures and ran upstairs to brush their teeth. Daddy tucked his two dates into bed.