When we first met five-year-old J, I thought perhaps I was imagining the spark when she saw Bill. But her father (a college friend of mine) chuckled and whispered to me, " I think somebody has a crush." It was instantaneous and adorable. Bill loves kids, but often feels out of his element, doubting his ability to connect with them. It was obvious though that J was ready to take him in hand.
For starters she decided she would ride in our rental car. I thought this would involve complications with a car seat, but J is tall for her age, so her seat consists of a cushion she is able to install herself. Got that problem out of the way. I'm more of a talker than Bill, I've been around more kids, and though she wouldn't remember it, I had spent a month with her when she was a baby, so I felt comfortable taking the lead with the conversation. That was okay, but she made her interests clear right away. "Why does Bill always drive the car?" she asked after our second or third trip. Explanations of rental fees for second drivers fell on deaf ears, or maybe ears that understood them for the lame excuses they were. After a few moments of silent reflection she observed, "my mommy and daddy BOTH drive." Clearly she had figured out that while he was driving, Bill wasn't fully available, so couldn't I just shut up and take a shift once in a while?
At our third stop, as I scurried to her door to let her out, she said "Bill never lets me out." Well, yeah, I guess three times does establish a pattern. I eventually realized she no more needed help getting out of the car than she had needed installing her car seat. If Bill wasn't going to lift her out, she might as well do it herself.
That first evening we posed for pictures midway through our hike, me holding J, Bill holding her younger brother. After the snapshots she announced, "now I want a photo with Bill holding me!" For various reasons we couldn't do that right then, but we assured her we would make it happen. During the ride back to her house, J informed Bill "you need to talk more!" Later she decided he also needed to "talk louder." Both became themes she revisited regularly during our time together. Clearly she's not a fan of the strong silent type.
It wasn't long before J concluded she needed to get rid of me. She didn't have a problem with me, really, it's just that she wanted Bill's undivided attention and I was in the way. That evening when it was time for bedtime stories she announced that I would read to her younger brother and Bill would read to her, in different rooms, ideally in different parts of town. Her father gently vetoed this plan, saying we would take turns reading to both of them. J took this in stride, to be fair, (it did mean two stories after all) but it clearly wasn't her preference. At least we did make sure the next day that she got the desired photo with Bill holding her. She is radiant.
At some point, both her parents and Bill worried that my feelings were getting hurt, but I thought it was hilarious. I also admired the clarity of her mission and her problem-solving abilities. She's got leadership skills coming out of her ears. And who understands Bill's appeal better than me? Girlfriend's got good taste.
That said, I was careful never to let myself get between J and any cliff-edges during our mountain hikes. Why tempt fate?