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CHRIS ERSKINE / The Guy Chronicles

Little Girls Can Be Kings if They Work at It

April 01, 1998|CHRIS ERSKINE

We are a dangerous pair. She picks out my ties. I fix her hair. Because she has so much hair, it sometimes takes me awhile.

"Hold still," I say, trying to fix the little girl's ponytail.

"Try this one," says the little girl, holding up another tie.

We get ready like this every morning, the last two to leave the house, the last two to take on the world. I wipe the milk from her lip. She wipes the shaving cream from my cheek. Then we are ready for the world.

"Come here, Daddy," she says. "Your collar's crooked."

And, every morning, I send her off with some tidbit of worldly advice, a piece of trivia so trivial that only a father would bother.

"Know your strike zone," I tell her, "and you'll be a better hitter."

Or, "Never bet on a gray racehorse," I warn her. "I've lost a lot of money on gray ponies."

And today I'm telling her about something almost as important--the new American work ethic, which has ignited the economy and made for a better life for all of us.

"Can't we talk about baseball?" the little red-haired girl asks.

"Maybe later," I say.

I explain that this new work ethic requires a level of dedication that no 6-year-old before her has ever seen. And that she needs to be ready. She needs to be aggressive, courageous and imaginative all at once. Not one at a time, like her father's generation. She needs to be aggressive, courageous and imaginative simultaneously.

"And you have to constantly reinvent yourself," I tell her. "In the '90s, you have to constantly be ready to change."

"I'm ready to change," says the little red-haired girl.

"That's the spirit," I say.

It is all around her, this new work ethic. She sees it on the cover of Newsweek, where they talk about how kids today all get tutors to help them excel.

She sees it at home, where her older sister stays up late every night working on extra credit that isn't really extra anymore because everyone does the extra credit.

She even sees it in her brother, who bounces a baseball off his forehead while he watches game shows on TV. Well, maybe the new work ethic hasn't reached everywhere. But it's coming. Like the locusts, it's coming.

"Did you know that last week, some guy proclaimed himself king?" I ask her. "He just stood up in front of everybody and announced he was king of the world. That's the way things are now. Everybody wants to be king."

I explain to her that there are now several kings. There are computer industry kings and media industry kings. And now there's this newest king. The movie industry king.

"That's how wars start," I say.

"How, Dad?"

"Too many kings," I say.

As we get her backpack ready for school, she explains that she doesn't really have any desire to be a king herself. She's pretty busy with Brownies and softball and just trying to finish first grade. That doesn't leave much time to be king. If a girl could even be a king, that is.

"I thought girls were queens," she says, the idea of being a king beginning to grow on her.

"Girls can be anything they want," I say. "You could be a king. But you'd have to work at it. You'd have to start today."

"OK, Dad. Maybe I want to be a king, too."

Finally, she is seeing the plus side to this new American work ethic, where kings aren't born, they are self-made. Where all you really need to do is proclaim it.

If she times it right, the little girl could be the first king of her generation. She might even be the first combination king, a computer / media / movie director mogul. A true king of the world. A king her mom and dad could be proud of.

"We'll have to work on your ego," I tell her. "To be king, you need an ego the size of Disneyland."

"Sure, Dad."

"And it wouldn't hurt to be a little crazy," I say. "Some of the best kings we've ever had have been a little crazy."

As we get ready to leave, the little girl gazes at herself in the mirror. No longer does she see just another kid with grape juice on her jeans. Now she sees a future king.

"Got your lunch?"

"In my backpack," she says.

"Good," I say. "Even a king's got to eat."

Then we pile in the car and head off for school, dreams of castles and royal ponies dancing in her head. Not gray ponies, because her dad has lost a lot of money on gray ponies. She wants a red pony. A little red pony that runs like the wind.

"Should we tell Mom I'm going to be a king?" the little girl asks.

"Let's surprise her," I say.

* Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is

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