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Who's Your Daddy?

The offspring of school teachers fall into two distinct categories. There are the troublemakers and the angels. Much like the children of celebrities and preachers, there is no in between.

The troublemakers, of course, are known throughout the teacher’s break room and often spoken of in muted whispers. None of the other teachers want these kids in their classes due to the awkward parent/teacher conferences with a fellow instructor. Some of these kids may end up growing out of this phase and becoming productive members of society. But most will spend their lives precariously teetering between prison and parole.

The other group, the angels, are the star pupils. These are the kids who are engaged and participate in class. Not in the I’m-going-to-wave-my-hand-as-if-I’m-having-a-seizure-and-yell “Ooo, ooo, ooo” like-a-monkey-to-get-attention way; but in an unobtrusive and truly helpful manner. They speak only after raising their hands and called upon and they never turn in an assignment late. #TeachersKids

Mrs. Lasher was an atypical primary school teacher at my daughter's school. She seemed too refined for the position. She was always well dressed in a crisp pair of pressed slacks.

First off, the fact that I'm calling them slacks and not pants indicates that they were way nicer than anything I own. Secondly, anyone who buys anything that needs to be ironed is a step above the average social class as far as I’m concerned; but Mrs. Lasher pushed the envelope even further by adding a cream colored silk blouse or something similarly risky.

It was a far cry from the other teachers who (as a result of run-ins with all manner of paint, peanut butter and projectiles) had smartly resigned themselves to darker, more durable fabrics that would withstand the punishment.

Mrs. Lasher had given birth to four angels, which was a statistical anomaly and probably related to the fact that her husband was a high-ranking officer in a particularly secretive area of the military. I have no proof, but I would not at all be surprised to discover that the Lasher clan was somehow connected to a top secret governmental experiment to develop a race of angelic pod-people that were always magically devoid of stains, wrinkles, and wrong-doing. #ConspiracyTheory

My point is, the entire family was better suited for a yacht club or a round of badminton than a public elementary school.

Mrs. Lasher stood in the front of the room in her pristine outfit, waiting for the class to quiet down. Had I known what kind of Pandora's box her next assignment would open, I would have invented a mysterious illness and convinced my daughter that she had to stay home that day. But alas, having no psychic ability whatsoever, my daughter was comfortably seated in her normally assigned chair.

The refined teacher explained the assignment. Each child was to draw his family tree, create a picture of each family member, and provide a brief description of each. An example was displayed for the students, as the construction paper canvases were passed around the room.

Happy to not be doing math, the kids quickly dove into the project. Rylee's tree was as majestic as any that grew in nature and once it was complete, she immediately started on a picture of herself.

She was wearing a crown and the caption read "Me/Rylee the prinsess". Under that, as an afterthought, she added "also kind and smart".

Next was a picture of me, along with my name and the description, "Thinks she's a prinsess". She added a few more leaves to her tree and put down her pens.

Noticing she was not working, Mrs. Lasher came over to inspect Rylee’s masterpiece. “Oh, no honey” she said. “You need to draw your whole family.” Rylee was confused at first, wondering who she had missed, but then nodded knowingly and agreed to get back to work. She quickly drew a black and white blob, labeling it “Tallulah: atitood problem" to clearly identify our psychotic chihuahua.

The posh teacher meandered around the room inspecting the children's progress. Again, she paused behind Rylee's chair and prompted her to draw her whole family. She pointed out the picture being created by the student across the aisle.

"You see, Chase has a picture here of his mother and his father and his sister..." Chase quickly corrected the teacher, informing her that the girl with the ponytails eating the ice cream cone was not his sister, but his father's new girlfriend, Becca. He then went on to explain that his Mommy had other names for her. #HomeWrecker

Mrs. Lasher cut him off and turned back to Rylee. "So, aren't you missing someone?" Rylee knew what she was getting at and looked the teacher straight in the eye and matter- of-factly explained that she couldn't draw a father because she didn’t have one.

The teacher turned red and immediately began asking about

grandparents, aunts and uncles in, or around the household just to change the subject. Realizing that her teacher really just wanted more individuals added to the tree, Rylee started drawing her other relatives and defining them.

The descriptions were amazingly accurate for each family member. My sister, who has a tube of Chapstick in every pocket and purse that she owns, was “Ant/Carin alwas has chaped lips.” My mother was, “Grandma/Likes to decorat”. After hearing him frequently talk about the excess and extravagance of holiday gifts and materialism, my brother-in-law was “Uncle Brad/Does not like stuff, just likes food!" She had labeled everyone perfectly, right down to Grandpa Bill being "normal-ish".

The assignment was (in my opinion) a complete success and I was impressed with Rylee’s ability to accurately define each of us, while avoiding normal, boring adjectives like tall, funny, bald, etc.

However, the aftermath of the assignment brought more than Mrs. Lasher had bargained for. “Why doesn’t Rylee have a dad? Everybody has a dad. You have to have a dad or you wouldn’t have been borned.” The students shot comments and questions in rapid-fire succession.

They hung in mid-air like three-day-old helium balloons. Mrs. Lasher popped each as quickly as she could, trying to mitigate the damage.

The kids would eventually move on to another topic of concern, such as why Albert never wore a sock on his left foot or when was Shay going to finally learn how to do a cherry drop from the monkey bars. But the topic of missing out on a father was seeded in the back of Rylee’s mind and it would reemerge a handful of times over the next several days resulting in some brilliantly awkward situations.

The next evening, too tired to make dinner after a grueling day at work, I announced that Rylee could decide where we ate dinner. Ten minutes later I was sitting at a table in a chair that was permanently affixed to the floor. I gnawed on my Big Mac as Rylee played in the giant Petri dish of communicable diseases called Ronald’s playground. #Sanitizer

(Good parents would ask why I would subject my daughter to such danger and to them I say, my kid has the immunity system of a crocodile living in a toxic waste dump. I attribute it all to subjecting her to every accessible germ, bacteria and fungus by the age of 4. She hasn’t gotten sick since kindergarten. So now who’s the good parent?)

Rylee returned to the table out of breath and took a sip of her orange drink. As I chewed, I watched her eyes dart around the red and yellow restaurant, checking out each patron until she suddenly stopped. With the straw still in her mouth she pointed at a nice looking man in the corner, reading a newspaper and loudly blurted out, “Can he be my Daddy?”

The employee wiping down the booth next to us snorted as she stifled an audible guffaw. I could feel all the eyes on me as I sat there in my paint splattered sweatpants and scrunchy willing the Earth to be demolished by a meteor. I grabbed her outstretched arm and quickly pulled her hand toward me. I gave a forced giggle to the knowing spectators and leaned in and whispered to her gruffly.

“Honey, you can’t say things like that! You can’t just ask for random people to be your daddy. It has to be someone I like.”

I went on to explain that I could understand how she might want a Daddy and I empathized, assuring her that Uncle Brad would be excited to go to Dads and Donuts day at her school. And Grandpa was looking forward to the Father/Daughter dance!

While I knew it would be something that came up in her mind frequently. I figured the “Can he be my Daddy?” situation was over and we could move on. We left McDonald’s and I vowed not to return until Rylee was in high school or I had gone through extensive plastic surgery and was unrecognizable.

About a week later we were picking up some shoes at the Vans Outlet. Behind the counter was an adorable, tall skater. His face was sunburned and it made his blue eyes stand out like sapphires beneath his spikey, blonde hair. He was impossible not to notice, the typical California stereotype with a chiseled jaw and a dusting of freckles. I actually got a bit giddy and flustered when I went up to the counter and I’m sure I probably blushed or stammered a bit. #Hottie

I was oblivious to the fact that Rylee was watching me until she pulled my arm and loudly asked, “Could he be my Daddy?” The embarrassment of the current moment dwarfed the McDonald’s incident.

The cashier was 25 at most and I could have been his mother. As humiliating as it was for me, I’m sure it was even more so for him. I mumbled a thank you and took my bag and walked away from the counter, leaving my credit card behind, which necessitated an even more embarrassing return to skater boy to tell him I was an idiot and grab my Visa.

When we got in the car, I looked at Rylee. “Why did you say that?" I snapped. "You embarrassed me! That was so awful.” I put my head in my hands. It was bad enough being a middle aged woman in a store that catered to teens. But to the other patrons, I was primarily invisible. Nobody really saw me or cared that I was there. This, however, was like announcing my awkward presence and putting a spotlight directly on everything that made me not fit in with my surroundings.

I looked at Rylee’s sweet little face. Of course she didn’t intend to mortify me. She looked at me and softly said, “But you said it had to be somebody you liked.” Clearly she had seen me blush and was trying to meet my previously outlined requirements. It was so sweet…and so humiliating.

“Honey,” I said, “That’s right. Whoever I marry needs to be someone I like. But there are more things too. He has to be someone I like; but he also has to be my age. I could be that poor kid’s mother!” #Cougar

“Ok,” she nodded knowingly. “Like him”, she said holding up one finger, “and your age.” She held up a second finger giving an unintentional peace sign. “Got it!”

I should have stopped her there and explained that simply searching for a Daddy was not going to result in getting one. I should have told her that there were a thousand other factors that played into the situation, that it was more complicated than she could ever imagine. But I didn't.

All she wanted was to be able to draw a Daddy on her family tree…to not have to explain why her Grandpa was her escort to the father-daughter dance. She wanted to never again have to say, “I don’t have a Daddy” and then spend ten minutes trying to explain why.

I told her I understood her desire and I pointed out her many blessings and all of the wonderful people in her life that loved and cared for her. That night when she said her prayers, she thanked God for her Grandpa, her Papa and her Uncle Brad. But she put in a request for a Daddy as well.

Three or four days later, I picked Rylee up from her after-school program on my way home from work. I needed to pick up a few items for dinner, so we drove to the Ralph's grocery store near our house.

We were walking toward the entrance when we passed a dapper-looking old gentleman pushing a cart to his car. The man and I exchanged smiles and hellos as we continued on our opposite paths.

He was no more than 3 feet away when Rylee turned around and blurted out, “Is he old enough for you to marry, mom?” My only saving grace was that the man looked in his early 80’s and probably had poor hearing. I ushered her quickly into the store without looking back and I squatted down to her eye level.

“I said someone my own age, Rylee! How old do you think I am?” Exasperated I grabbed the few items I needed and headed toward the register with my reusable bags and child in tow and piled my items onto the moving belt.

“You can’t say those kinds of things out loud, Honey. If you want to talk about something private, you need to whisper it to me ok?" I explained. It’s like that time you pulled my shirt up at the Farmer's Market because you wanted to ‘feel my soft, squishy tummy’. There’s just some things that you shouldn’t do or say in front of people. Do you understand what I mean?”

As we sat down to dinner that night, I decided I had better facilitate a discussion about the whole Daddy situation. It was clearly something that was not going to just go away.

“Honey,” I began, “you need to understand that you having a Daddy means me marrying someone. And I’m not willing to marry just anyone. I’m not willing to bring just anyone into your life.

You are so precious to me and it’s going to take someone very special to be your Daddy. So, while I appreciate you trying to help. I think you’d better leave this one to me. Ok, Hon?”

She flicked her fork around her plate clearly disappointed and conceded that she would stop trying to play matchmaker. I breathed a sigh of relief.

A few weeks went by and one night after putting Rylee to bed, I was confiding in a friend over the phone that I was feeling particularly lonely and that I knew Rylee was missing out by not having a father in her life.

The tears began to flow and I repeated how I longed for a partner and someone to help fill the missing piece in my daughter’s heart.

Frustrated, I defiantly vowed that I was just going to marry the next decent person I met because I didn’t want her to feel like her childhood was incomplete because I was a picky, fickle, unreasonable monster!

I was unaware that Rylee had overheard at least some of this conversation. But it was obvious the next morning when she patted my hand and said softly “Don’t worry, mom. I’m excited to go to the dance with Grandpa! He’s going to take me to Denny’s too!”

I smiled and kissed her head. Here she was, having her own pain about missing out on having a ‘whole’ family, and she was comforting me! “But,” she added. “If you decide to marry the next man you meet, I’m ok with that too.”

On the way home that evening, we were stopped at a red light on Pacific Coast Highway. As usual, nearly each corner held a person asking for money. Signs listed a variety of reasons from ‘out of work’ to ‘need weed’.

On the corner nearest us was a man who looked to be in his late 40’s.

I could see Rylee looking him up and down. He didn’t appear to be drunk or schizophrenic. I could see the wheels turning inside her little brain and I was wondering how I was going to deal with this one. I pictured myself at a parent teacher conference with Mrs. Lasher, introducing her to Rylee's new father and explaining how I had picked him out of a wide array of beggers and buskers along PCH. #StreetWalker

“Ry, are you thinking of him for a Daddy?” I asked, ready to explain once again why someone she had suggested was not a particularly good candidate. She paused, looked at me and shook her head.

“No", she said. "We want a guy that shows potential!” She paused, “He didn’t even bother to make a sign.”

Well, I thought, at least I know she has standards.

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