I WAS having a bad day when the 3-year-old demanded peevishly that I dress her in my best cocktail dress and sing the score to Walt Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" while she practiced her ballet steps.
"I am not your slave," I snapped.
"Are you insane?" said my husband.
"What if I want to run for president?"
"If you want to run for president this child dressed in my cocktail dress will not be an asset. You'll just have to answer questions about her on Larry King."
"Not her, you. I run for president, they'll say you likened motherhood and marriage to slavery. They'll say you described family life as a dependency relationship that deprives people of their freedom."
"That's not what I said. Besides, any relationship in which only one person in the household can find the clean clothes of the remaining four is a dependency relationship," I said.
"The Republicans will attack you. Rich Bond will say that you have no family values. He'll do to you what he's doing to Hillary Clinton."
The 3-year-old went upstairs to get my pearls. "I'm here, Prince Eric," she called from the landing.
"Rich Bond is a dork," I said. "He may be capable of running the Republican Party, but he can't even read an essay. He distorted everything Hillary Clinton wrote. She didn't compare marriage and motherhood to slavery, although practically every other woman I know has. She wrote an essay about classes of people whose legal status was dependent on others."
"I feel a column coming on," said my husband.
"Here, I'll read you the line: 'Along with the family, past and present examples of such arrangements include marriage, slavery and the Indian reservation system.' " It's not comparing marriage and slavery at all. The stuff about allowing kids to sue their parents is ridiculous, too. She just wrote about situations in which the child's interests may be different from the parents, like that poor little kid in Florida who went to court to stay with his foster parents instead of being handed back to his mom, who'd neglected him."
There was a thud from upstairs.
"Mama!" cried a voice.
"In a minute, honey," I answered.
"He's turning her into Willie Horton," said my husband.
"Oh, hell, everyone can see through that," I said. "He's doing what all you guys do. Things aren't going well. The president is going down the tubes. Don't deal with the real issues. Attack the woman. You come in from a bad day at the office, you don't say, 'I lost the motion.' You say, 'Why do we have green carpet in the hall?'"
"Why do we have green carpet in the hall?" my husband said.
"To aggravate you," I said. "Also, they're doing this good cop-bad cop thing, which is so transparent. Rich Bond goes after Hillary; Mrs. Bush says she doesn't like it. Mary Matalin writes this stupid memo about the Clinton campaign; Bush says he doesn't like it. It's a little like what you and I do with the kids."
"Maybe that's what they mean by family values," my husband said
"This is a campaign," I said.
"There is no room for family values. There's only dirty pool. They don't like Hillary because she's a working mom with a hard edge. As opposed to Barbara Bush, who is a working mom with a hard edge who pretends not to work and pretends to be a big softie, even though she runs around the country giving speeches and can put Rich Bond and everyone else in the campaign in their place if she wants to. Now she says abortion shouldn't be part of the party platform, that it's a personal thing. Four years we waited for her to finally speak up and she does it three months before the election."
"I can see that if I run for president you're going to be a real problem," said my husband. "At least you have a good chocolate-chip cookie recipe."
"I got that recipe off the back of the bag," I said.
"A problem," my husband said, looking at me and shaking his head. "Definitely a problem."
The 3-year-old entered the room wearing a half-slip on her head, a pair of pantyhose on each arm, and a mess of lipstick. Other than that, she was nude. "I'm getting married," she said.
"I'm the least of your problems," I said. "Good luck on your campaign." And I took the 3-year-old upstairs singing "Once Upon a Dream."
Anna Quindlen is a columnist for the New York Times.