We were standing side by side in the kitchen as I loaded the dishwasher and she greedily handled her latest batch of slime, passing it from hand to hand and squeezing it between fingers with relish. She was breathless from lecturing me on the merits of “fluffy” versus “crunchy” slime. I was only half interested. That I was paying attention at all I signaled by delivering puns and jokes on the terms in her lecture.
At one point she stopped talking and held the green slime in one hand. “I give up,” she said.
“Give up what?”
“Trying to talk to you.”
Relief at first. I have heard more about slime and its component “activators” over the past month than a person can and keep sane. She has spent hours of her leisure time combining dish soap and saline solution and glue and food coloring, and then storing the product in ziplock bags. It’s a complete mess. I have cleaned slime from floors, tables, counter tops, and even refrigerator handles.
A reprieve, yes.
But then it registers as I finish filling the silverware tray that shes figured something out about her dad and that she doesn’t like it. These dad jokes and puns are a way to not engage, to deflect. She has never, in all her nine years, enjoyed silliness as much as I expect a child should. She finds it irritating instead.
Her mom didn’t like it either, when we were first dating. So I dialed it back and made every effort to project a more serious persona. It never occurred to me that I might have to do the same thing as a parent.