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'90S FAMILY

Daddy's Little Girl

She once was the apple of her husband's eye. Now she has competition. And how can you win when you're up against an adoring 3 1/2-year-old?

June 15, 1997|KATHLEEN MALLERY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I used to be my husband's girl.

When we started our courtship in college, Dan was tanned with sun-bleached curls in his hair that were always stiff with sea salt. Those were the days when he still had hair. To me he looked like Michelangelo's David wearing baggy shorts, a life vest, sailing boots and sunglasses, the kind that look like purple fly eyes. Dan competed on the sailing team and after we started dating, he wished he had more time with me, but he spent every free minute he had sailing.

The sailing team was a coed team. They raced 14-foot boats called Flying Juniors that held one skipper and one crew member. Most often the skipper was male and the crew was female. The way the male skippers saw it, the optimal weight for the crew was 115 pounds or less. Petite and blond was better. When I first started dating Dan, he spent every afternoon five days a week and every weekend sailing with a woman who weighed less than 115 pounds.

I attended one sailing team party with Dan. One boy stood on his head, drank a beer upside down and challenged a woman to do the same. She got on her hands and knees, kicked her legs up in the air and started drinking. Her shirt flopped down into her face and I saw her belly button and the hint of her bra. I ran over and held the shirt up until she finished.

"Thanks," she said to me afterward. "I couldn't drink upside down very well with my shirt in my face."

I had obviously been reading too many 19th century novels.

After that party, I decided I needed to learn to sail. In the summer between our sophomore and junior years, Dan and I met after work at the sailing center. We rigged a boat that had the name "Ramblin' Rose" duct-taped to the transom and we practiced tacking and jibing.

If you run your finger down my shin bone, it rattles like a washboard and you can see bruises a decade old that are still blue from being smacked on the centerboard when tacking.

My hands developed hard, thick calluses and I had enough sun and salt exposure to guarantee that by 40 I would look like a shriveled island woman. But that next fall, when Dan pulled his '79 Pontiac wagon up to the curb of the gymnasium to pick up team members, I slid into the front seat next to him and while everyone else flung their arms and legs out the windows, I wrapped my arm around Dan. I was his girl and his crew.

I asked Dan to marry me several times but he said it wasn't official until he asked me. A few months after we graduated from college, we were sitting on sand dunes overlooking the ocean. Dan was talking a lot, which isn't usual, and then following a series of unrelated sentences, he asked me to marry him.

"Are you kidding?" I said.

"I ask you to marry me and you don't believe me?" Dan said.

I told him he needed a ring and that he should use my full name and his when he asked the question.

Dan made a ring out of sea grass, slid it on my finger and asked me again saying my full name and his and that made it sound official. Before he finished, I started crying and so did he. I would be his girl for eternity.

*

The other day our daughter, Kate, 3 1/2, had risen early. It was five in the morning and we didn't have to be anywhere until nine. I suggested we make Daddy breakfast. I'm always unhappy with Dan for leaving the house without eating. I can't think in the morning until I have a fried egg and a piece of toast in my stomach. Naturally, I believe everyone else is just like me.

Dan would rather sleep than eat. He sleeps until the last possible minute, shaves, showers and then dresses while going down the hall grabbing his keys and heading out the door. Kate and I are certain one morning he is going to forget his pants.

I poked Dan. "Kate and I are making you breakfast so you should factor that in how much time you have left to sleep." I went back into the kitchen, set the table and poured the orange juice.

"I want to crack the eggs," Kate said.

Sitting on the counter gave her more authority. She was taller than I am. After she cracked the eggs, I used a fork to fish out bits of shell.

When I finished, I realized I didn't hear the shower running.

"Kate and I are making you breakfast so you should get up now," I said to Dan who had progressed as far as my side of the bed.

When I returned to the kitchen, Kate had climbed down from the counter and stood with the refrigerator door open. "We need bacon," she said.

"We're already having eggs," I said thinking that with the addition of bacon we would reach the recommended weekly fat allotment before 8 a.m.

"We need bacon," Kate said taking out the bacon. "I get four pieces and every one else gets two." Together we lined bacon between two paper towels on a plate.

"I want to push the button," Kate said. I carried her to the microwave and she pushed "2" and then "start."

"Dan, breakfast is ready," I called down the hall.

Dan came stumbling down the hall without a belt. He almost hit the door frame turning into the kitchen because his eyes weren't open.

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