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The Dating Dad: Young Lady: July, 2006

I’d just picked up Simone from her mom’s when I realized she’d need a bathing suit for the next day’s pool session. A quick u-turn found us at Old Navy 15 minutes before close, running for the racks of kid swimsuits.

When Simone had dismissed all of the one-piece numbers (“too green,” “too flowery,” “too babyish,” “too plaid”), I reluctantly let her pick out a couple of bikinis dangling improbably from kid-sized plastic hangers. I grabbed two sizes of each and we sprinted to the dressing room. I felt odd walking past the teeny attendant, holding tiny bathing suits in one hand, my daughter’s tiny hand in the other, and it lead me to a whole rash of thoughts about my little girl’s march toward imminent young ladyhood.

I mean, we’re already in that weird nether area where she’s still unwilling to use a public women’s room by herself, but where too much time in the men’s room makes everyone uncomfortable. When it comes down to it, I drag her quickly past the urinals to the cleanest stall we can find, and hope for the best.

So Simone tried on her first two-piece bathing suit, and I worried aloud that, with one wrong move, she’d pull a plumber as she hustled from the swimming pool to her Finding Nemo beach towel. She tried to convince me otherwise, saying, “No, Daddy, it’s fine!” and sticking her butt out in unknowing parody of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. I groaned, and made her try on the next size up. No improvement. The next swimsuit proved to be a little better, so I told her to hold tight while I made a dash for another size. I shrugged my shoulders at the attendant, said I’d be right back, and worked my way to the kids’ suits for another try.

I don’t usually do much clothes shopping with Simone. Her mom and I agreed that she’d handle the fashion aspects of Simone’s life, and I’d pay my share. But sometimes it’s up to me to get Simone outfitted, and I could only imagine the mutual mortification we’ll get to experience in the next few years. I don’t think of myself as overprotective (much), but I really didn’t love the idea of her at day camp (where she goes for a few days here and there over the summer), running around with a bikini that tends to sag after it gets wet. And, as I quickly scanned the suits in the kids’ section, I had to wonder what this experience would be like when she was a self-conscious 12-going-on-20.

The father-daughter relationship can be so magical, but it’s also a challenge when you’re a single father trying to muddle through girl-specific life cycle events. The bathing suit deal felt goofy, but I could laugh at myself along the way. It’s not always going to be funny in that hapless dad sort of way. Simone and I have already been discussing modesty issues for a while now. She was disappointed when I told her she was too old to jump in the shower with me anymore, and it was hard for her to jibe that with the fact that it’s still okay for me to give her a bath. But we talk through these things as well as we can and move on.

But what happens when she hits puberty? I’m not just talking about the gritty logistics of female anatomy on weeks when she’s with me (I pray I’ll have a woman in my life by then who will help me there), but the whole “you’re-not-dating-boys-until-you’re-30” dynamic. That little preen she did in front of the mirror — hip cocked, arms akimbo — made me shudder. And I know it’s only going to get worse.

We finally found a suit we could both live with. It had a bikini bottom with a jaunty little belt, and a shirt-like, spaghetti stringed top that no one would have to tie. Cute enough for her, modest enough for me (though I did have to yank up the back a couple times the other day when we were playing at a local water park. Three hours of jumping in and out of the water, taking on slides, and splashing in an inner-tube eventually took their toll on the suit).

I left the fitting room attendant holding a pile of skimpy, child-sized swimsuits. Shame on you, Old Navy!

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