My four-year-old daughter, Kantra, also known as Lil’ Miss Thang aka Busy B, just started school again. She finished her first year of preschool and had spring break. At home with me, I had to adjust to her newfound maturity. At school, she socialized with her classmates who at first, shunned her away, but to Kantra, rejection fueled her persistence, as if to say, “No, you don’t understand, we’re going to play.” And they did. And they do. She’s almost become assertive to a fault. The practice of sharing kicks rocks to showing off.
Having her at home full time was like living with a new person that shared her dreams (sometimes she talks in her sleep). “If you realize that you are dreaming, then your nightmares won’t be scary. You can do anything you want. You can fly. You can ride dinosaurs, pick up buildings…,” I said. She jumps up and down, “Can I pick up Daddy?” she asked. “Yeah but…,” I said, trying to downplay the subtle sound of disappointment in my voice, wanting her to dream bigger. One morning she woke up excited, telling my wife, Haruki and I about fighting toddler villains and meeting Black Panther.
She’s gotten taller and bolder, experimenting with treating me like a sibling. I had to withhold from falling for word jousting and comprising my authority (it crumbles under exhaustion’s threat). “Play with me,” Kantra demands, as if one of me can make dinner while the other plays indoor foosball. I had to remind her that I’m her father, not her friend. I’m not Mr. Entertainment.
My parents were too tired to “play.” My oldest brothers had their own worlds. Shooting them with my dart gun and ransacking their planetary rooms was my vengeance and it got my ass whipped. With my oldest brother Cliff’s foot and the carpet vicing my head, Moms’ version of refereeing the imbalanced match was to yell, “Don’t hurt him.” “Make your own fun. Play with your toys, your piano. Where are your pretend friends?” I say to Kantra. We do have some lively indoor foosball games, dinosaur catch, wrestling, dancing, and she likes to fly on my knees.
I used to let her watch TV for hours. If allowed, she’d Elmo-World her way to bedtime. I convinced her that the TV would steal her brain if she overdosed. Fela Kuti’s “Zombie” helped me introduce her to a mindless existence. She can watch TV while I practice braiding her hair. Hip to the game, she’s always asking me to braid her hair. Mommy lets her watch TV cause she’s too tired to “play.” Like warning Kantra of mankind’s suicidal doom, I caution her that the screen is screening her. It will, to (contradict myself) quote Mrs. Kitty Kirby, “…kill your imagination.” “Can we go to the playground?” she asks. “Daddy’s gotta finish this…,” I say. “Ok,” she says, feeling let down. I’m just going to sit behind Daddy and loudly crash my toys on the floor, sing and play piano. And with that, we hit the parks and playgrounds.
Where ever we go she liberates kids from their self-imposed isolation with, “Hi, I’m Kantra. Want to play with me?” Some of them speak English. Most don’t, doesn’t matter. They understand “play.” Outside, the sun blessed her with good color. Wrapped in summer’s tapestry, she’s dressed in fire. Her brown afro got bigger with red streaks and coils that grow towards the sky. The threat of perverts has crept into our view.
She won’t sit next to old Japanese men and she’s learning to avoid the invading hands of old Japanese women. At a doctor’s office, with my back turned to her, I’m at the counter. Kantra went to grab a bugman from the toy box. I heard an old man laughing. “Daddy, that man just touched my butt,” she said. She knew it was wrong, but wasn’t sure if she had done something. I got hot and couldn’t communicate to the man in Japanese. Kantra got scared. “What’s wrong, Daddy?” she asked. “I want to punch him in the face. Fucking kidding me?” I said looking at him. I look down at Kantra, “You did nothing wrong. I’m not mad at you. I’m angry at him,” I said. “I don’t know what to do,” I thought to myself. “Do I just stomp on this nigga?” “I should’ve been there,” Haruki said.
I forget the things that I say out loud, assuming that Kantra doesn’t understand. At dinner, the presumption has become a convincing illusion. Kantra can’t be listening to us if she’s making a monster mask with her lettuce and turning spoons of food into airplanes. I don’t regularly curse in front of my daughter. Like a resting musical note, I in my agitation. Haruki and I became better spellers to roadblock Kantra’s increasing comprehension, but its breaking through, leading us to a cross roads where she’s realized that letters make words. Shiiiiiiiit.
At the grocery store, coming from the doctor’s office, I’m still tight, thinking about waiting for this child porn watching asshole to come outside. “If some one touches you, hit’em,” I said. Just like my mother told me, “Your body is your body. Unless you say ‘ok,’ don’t nobody have a right to touch your body, but you. The minute they put they hands on you, you hit’em hard as you can. Bite, kick, anything. Pick up something and hit’em. You have every right. It’s your body,” Moms said. I tell her that its ok to hit to defend herself or if someone is inappropriately touching her, doesn’t matter who it is, a teacher, a stranger, even daddy, mommy or a family member.
In the herbs and spices aisle, an old lady walks up to Kantra and extends her hand to touch Kantra’s hair. She smacks the old hand away. The hit makes a “pat” noise that spawns a delayed “Oh” from the elderly women. My daughter screws her face up at the lady. Shocked, the lady’s mask drops, revealing the face that she wears in private. I cross Kantra with my arm, bending over her. “Good girl,” I said. “Be careful,” my wife said at dinner. “Haruki’s right,” I thought. “Kantra’s gotta know how to throw and dodge a punch. If she has to shoot she has to be prepared for return fire.” Though hitting and kicking Mommie and Daddy is sometimes (when she’s tired) the response to hearing the word, “No.” She’s been having eruptions that rely on us to diffuse them from further escalating. To help me cope, she’s been singing Daniel Tiger, “When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four.”
She’s even pushed me off my soapbox to question me to death, schooling me by mimicking my blind spots. The fringes of her intellect are like iron thread tentacles wrapping around columns of awareness. I try to explain to my daughter about ignorance and stereotypes. Japanese people aren’t bad they just don’t know better. You can’t lash out at everyone that stares at you. If you walk around angry at everyone, you’ll be miserable and possibly miss making friends. Everybody can’t be crazy (even though it may seem like it). “So if they’re ignorant, does that mean they’re stupid?” she asked. “No,” I said. “Are they dumb?” “No, honey. You can’t say that. When they see scary stories about people like us, they assume that we must be like that too,” I said. Fixed on me, her big beautiful brown eyes are swords, sharp as scalpels, piercing layers of misdirection. I fidget. Sigh. “Daddy shouldn’t be calling people dumb, stupid, or crazy. Daddy just gets frustrated. I will try not to use those words.” “Is it complicated?” she asked. “No, its wrong.”