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A few days ago I took my daughter Aylin, 5, to kick a soccer ball around for the first time. She was awful. Two left feet. All the grace of an ostrich. When she didn’t trip on the ball, she kicked dirt. You could see the frustration starting to build as she racked up a few of her very own soccer fails.
The conversation went something like this:
Aylin: Papi, I can’t do this. I just can’t kick the ball!
Me: Well, this is the first time you’re trying this, so it’s okay. Papi will show you, and little by little, you’ll get it.
Then puffing my chest a bit, as though I were Vince Lombardi, I continued.
Me: Aylin, I don’t ever wanna hear you say you can’t. With a little practice and some help, you can do whatever you want to do. Always say, ‘I’ll try.’ Okay?
Aylin: Okay, Papi.
Mario Ivan Ona
I showed her how to run up to the ball, plant her left foot next to it, and follow through with her right. Somehow, I managed not to embarrass myself, and, after a few tries, she was smacking the ball with a mean right boot. There were high 5s. She was glowing. I was proud. All was good in the universe.
Fast forward 2 days.
We were near the Washington Monument, getting ready to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom, when Aylin informs us she has to go to the bathroom. We divide and conquer. I take Aylin while my wife waits for us with our son Emilio, 3. We go into a stall in one of the nearby public bathrooms.
The conversation now went something like this:
Aylin: Papi, I want to pee standing up like you.
The girl makes a valid point. And when did she learn the fine art of turning the table on the parent?
Important contextual point here: She only got this idea because a few days earlier Emilio, who is nearly potty trained, declared that he would no longer pee sitting down. “I will pee standing up just like Papi!” said the boy. Emilio didn’t ask. He told us how it was going to be. We got a kick out of it, and happily obliged, especially since his little legs were just long enough to help him clear the height of the toilet bowl. Anyway, back to Aylin wanting to pee standing up…
Me: Well, Aylin,umm, you can’t do that.
Aylin: Papi, I thought you said not to say I can’t — that I should always say I’ll try!
Me (to myself): Crap, the girl makes a valid point. And when did she learn the fine art of turning the table on the parent? I thought that feature didn’t develop until those pesky teenage years.
Long story short, I tripped over my words stupendously and struggled to give her a G-rated explanation on why boys can pee standing up but girls probably shouldn’t. At the same time, I didn’t want to overplay my hand and inadvertently send a broader message to her about men being able to do things women can’t or shouldn’t — notwithstanding anatomical differences between sexes, of course. What was cemented for me in this exchange was just how feminist a little girl can turn her daddy. About the only thing I ever want to tell Aylin she can’t do is pee standing up.
Mario Ivan Ona is a writer. You can find more of his writing on Medium.