Let's Do The Twist

My four-year-old is not exactly a huge sports fan.


Toss her a football, and she’ll stuff it under her shirt and announce that she’s having a baby. Ask about her spirit animal, and she’ll tell you that she is a delicate butterfly. Sometimes, when she’s supposed to be brushing her teeth, I’ll catch her singing in front of the bathroom mirror, I’m a pretty flower, such a pretty flower.


So what a surprise it was a couple of weeks ago when she asked me to buy her a Patriots jersey.


I hopped immediately into the car and headed on over to the Arsenal Mall, where even the store names – Target, Old Navy, Sports Authority – made it feel like I was on some sort of heroic quest.


But the real reason for a quest never involves the stated reason, Thomas Foster tells us. The real reason for a quest is attaining self-knowledge.


And as I battled my way past empty sales racks and outrageous price tags, I started thinking about how often parenting, like writing, offers us the pleasures of the unexpected – the delight of discovering, as Robert Frost said, something I didn’t know I knew.


And perhaps it was this realization – that our capacity to surprise ourselves is what drives our creative energy – that opened my ears to the high-pitched noise coming from the clearance rack at Marshalls. For though I had publicly sworn to never buy anything sparkly or frilly or covered in glitter, there it was – a bright blue Elsa dress – calling to me like the sirens.


So I returned home from my journey not with a Patriots outfit but a princess costume.


But even real life sometimes throws us a deus-ex-machina, and my brother just happened to stop by later with an extra Brady uniform that no longer fit his son. And so my four-year-old spent the rest of the afternoon alternating outfits – cheering after touchdowns and pirouetting during commercials.


Later that evening, my daughter asked if she could sleep in her jersey and wondered if I wanted to play a little football before bed.


Of course, I said.


But now I was starting to worry.  


It’s one thing to discover something new about yourself another to suddenly change who you are. What if my four-year-old was exploring a false persona just to get my attention? The last thing I ever wanted was to steer her away from finding her authentic voice.


And yet.


So I grabbed the football out of the toy bin and called both my daughters into a huddle.


My four-year-old put on her fiercest game face, then grabbed the ball from me and stuffed it down her shirt.


Okay, she said to her little sister. You be the flower girl. Me and papa are getting married.


I looked at her – this girl who keeps me forever on my toes – and realized that I was in for a lifetime of plot twists and red herrings.


Alright, I said. Break on three.

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About the Author

Ben Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands, won the 2014 Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. His second collection, Figuring in the Figure, was recently selected as a Must-Read by the Mass Center for the Book. And his new book, Then Again, came out last November. He has received awards from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He teaches at Brookline High School and lives in the Boston area with his wife and two daughters.

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by Ben Berman

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