Saturday night, Jared noticed Kori’s marked absence. He only saw her at mealtimes, and even then she was checked out. Come to think of it, she behaved strangely all week. Oh, what a week it had been. Between Kaiden’s attitude, Kolby’s girlfriend, and now Kori’s absence, he and Asia had earned their parenting stripes for sure.
He knocked on her door, and she granted permission. “Hey, baby girl.” She was sitting on the bed rubbing her temples. “You ok?”
“Now, we both know that isn’t true. Talk to me.”
She looked up hesitantly as if she were surprised to see him. But then, her face and shoulders fell. “Nobody cares about me.”
“Nobody pays attention to me! Everyone only cares about what Kaiden does. And when Kolby is here, it’s all about him.”
That was unexpected. Despite what this was really about, he was probably guilty. “I make you feel that way?”
Of course. The week he earned his stripes would be the week they got taken away. He and Asia juggled four children. It was only a matter of time before they dropped one.
“I’m very sorry, Kori. How do I do that?”
“You always focus on Kaiden at dinner. And then, you take Kaleb to the basement to workout with him. You don’t ask me about my day was or how I’m doing in school. I’m invisible!”
Gosh! Of all the children to drop, why did it have to be the girl? She was the stable one–the one he never worried about. He spent so much time with the other two because he couldn’t trust them to do what they needed to do. Kori was mature and focused.
“Oh, baby girl.” He felt like the worst father in the world. “I’ll do better…starting tonight. Can you forgive me?”
“Of course, daddy.”
“Ok. Let’s go.”
“I think the spice festival is going on today.”
She gasped. “The spice fest??”
That smile was enough to wipe those self-depreciating thoughts away. “Would you rather go somewhere else?”
Jared chuckled. “Great. Let’s go.”
“Just me and you?”
“Just you and me, kid.”
“Thank you, daddy!”
All the way there, she yammered on about the spice cart she wanted to visit. She had only just started cooking last week, but she was so into it. As much as Jared encouraged his children to build their skills, he hoped she knew what she was doing with the spices. After all, he had to eat what she prepared.
As they walked down the street, Kori’s attention was stolen by a sidewalk mural. “People are so mean! How could anyone deface someone’s work like that?”
The guy next to her seemed to agree.
Jared, the egghead, had not an artsy bone in his body and did not see what the problem was and attempted to play along as best he could. “Is there some protocol for this? Do we call the police?”
She laughed. “Of course not! We could fix it for them in case they walk by.”
“Fix it?” Jared had never even held a paintbrush before and certainly would not do well with spray paint. Though he was not comfortable with the suggestion, he didn’t want to kill his daughter’s spirit; he had done that enough, apparently.
“Yeah. We could paint over the blue part that messes it up.”
“Heh, I’m flattered you think I have the skills for this, but–”
“Oh, come on, daddy! It’ll be fun! Just spray over the blue just like you’re tracing lines.”
He wasn’t good at tracing when he was a kid either, but he grabbed a can and followed her lead.
Perhaps Jared had inhaled too many fumes, but tagging a street corner was fun. Liberating even! He was no Picasso, but an unused side of his brain jumpstarted a burst of creative energy. He was glad she convinced him to give it a try.
When they had finished, Kori looked like she felt the same way, only prouder.
After sampling food, watching buskers, buying swag, and raiding the spice cart, Jared and Kori sat to enjoy dinner courtesy of the food stalls.
“So, how’s everything in school?”
“Everything is great!” She yammered on about her favorite classes which were still the sciences, much to his delight. He always thought it was interesting that she, the only girl, was the most like him. She looked the most like him too with his eyes and mouth.
As she spoke excitedly about school, he couldn’t help but notice that was the only topic she broached. Perhaps this feeling of invisibility ran deeper than she let on. But first, he tried poking around a bit before he dove into the deep end of the pool. “So, are you planning to go into the science career after school?”
“If I have to go into any career, that would be the one.”
“Oh? Sounds like there’s a but coming. What would you rather do?”
She smiled nervously. “I want to get married and have a big family. Just like you and mom.”
Jared never knew he could be validated in such a way. He always thought he’d be proudest if all his children grew up to have successful careers and meaningful relationships. If any of them were to follow in his footsteps, he always assumed they would study rocket science and be an astronaut. He never once considered that his children would desire the family environment he and Asia worked so hard to create even with all the obstacles they had to overcome. That, by far, was the highest form of validation he could think of, and he was beyond proud.
“That’s wonderful, baby girl. I think you will make an incredible wife and mother one day.”
Her face melted, eyes staring at the table. “Yeah, well…someone would have to think I’m cool enough to even be friends with first.”
And there it was.
“You’re a pretty outgoing person. Maybe you just know a bunch of shy guys. Isn’t there anyone you like who may need a little nudging?”
“Oh. Well, you’re still very young. There will be plenty of time for boys in the future.”
“But daddy, if no one likes me now, why will they like me later?”
At that moment, Jared realized the real reason it was so easy to leave her alone. Yes, she was responsible and didn’t cause any trouble, but the real issue was that she had three brothers. Raising boys was what Jared knew. Boys didn’t need the kind of attention Kori needed–at least not constantly. She had fundamental needs that the boys just did not have, and he failed to see it. Why didn’t Asia warn him?
“Kori…you are beautiful and smart and a really really good person. And, you’re very mature. Boys your age are still children. Just give them a few weeks, and they will see exactly what I see.”
“You think so?”
“I know so.”
She beamed so brightly. “Thanks, daddy. I like hanging out with you.”
His food was getting cold, and it grew late, so he picked up the chopsticks and attempted to eat. “Yeah…I’m enjoying…well, I’m not enjoying this. How do you use these things?”
She giggled at his struggle to keep the chopsticks in his hand.
“UGH! Why are there no forks around? Do they really expect us to know how to use these things before we get here??” He got frustrated and stabbed the pork.
Kori gasped. “You’re not supposed to stab your food! It’s insulting to the culture!”
“What’s insulting is paying money for food I can’t eat!” He stuffed the impaled pork into his mouth.
“Oh my Watcher, you are SO embarrassing!”