"Mother says I can't marry Elias. I have to marry Jacob," Ittybit protests over a dinner of steak and broccoli.
My husband's mouth drops open as I fix my vacant stare in her general direction. We haven't slept in months; neither of us trusts our ears.
"What?" I ask, wanting to be sure I heard her correctly.
She stuffs another green tree-like vegetable into her mouth and chomps away under a chorus of mmmmmmmmmms, ignoring my question.
"I want to marry my best friend and MOTHER says I can't," she exclaims in the direction of her father, defiantly waving a fistful of steak. "SHE says I have to marry another best friend."
She has a flair for the dramatic, my daughter. And true to parental cliché, I have no idea where she gets her inspiration.
"What are you talking about? We don't have arranged marriages in this house," I laugh, knowing full well rhetorical questions and sarcasm are useless on most children.
"And we're not cat people either," she responds accusingly, taking a sip of milk.
She's not most children.
I suppose this accusation she’s leveled in my direction is what some folks would call a lie; a blatant disregard of actuality for the purpose of ... Oh, who am I kidding? I have no idea. Maybe this is some strange form of pretend play wherein she's the script writer and we’re the clueless actors. She’s balancing tightrope between pretending and deceiving.
"Look here," she bellows standing behind my husband, now clearing dishes and loading up the dishwasher. "This is completely unacceptable. We cannot have little children playing around this. Some one could get hurt. ... I’M TELLING YOU YOU ARE REALLY GOING TO BE IN TROUBLE MISTER!"
"DO YOU HEAR ME, MISTER MAN?"
"Why are you yelling at me," he asks her.
"Oh, I'm not talking to you," she says sweetly and darts away singing a little scat number she made up; a soundtrack for her off-scene pursuits when she's supposed to be getting ready for bed.
By the time she's corralled and coaxed into brushing her teeth, I swear I can hear the theme from "Jaws" emanating from my husband’s ears. I know it's time to whisk her away before the tinny sounds of "Psycho" overtake them.
She makes a grand exit, bowing deeply and kissing the air: "Thank you, thank you, thank you," she tells him. Then, with me in tow, she leads the way to her bedroom; knees reaching the height of her hips as she marches. "This way, please. This way."
She wiggles into her pajamas, gathers her bedtime stories and scoots into bed. But before I can begin reading from them a new play has opened.
"Mother. I want to be a veterinarian," she says brightly. Her mood darkens. "... but dad won't let me." She starts to cry. "He says I have to be another kind of doctor and I just don't want to. He said I have to go to college and leave home and get a cat. Well, I do want a cat but I don’t want to leave home."
The crying, although exaggerated, seems strangely genuine.
"Aw, Ittybit. Daddy doesn't care what you become so long as you are happy."
"I'd be happiest if I had a cat."