It’s time. For parents of a certain generation, mine certainly and perhaps the one before me, and of a certain mindset, it’s a benchmark we hope might come. Ours was last week. I worked it with the appropriate drama when I saw she was ready.
Dad: “Ok, let’s see, we finished the last Never Girls book. What do you want to read next?”
CB: “I want one of your books, from the office.”
Dad: ”Those are pretty big books, boo. Most of them are for work, I don’t think you’d like them. How about Magic Treehouse?”
CB: “No, those books are for babies, I want big girl book, I want one of your books.”
Dad: “Are you sure? I don’t think there’s anything in there but really grown up books.”
CB: “PLEASE DADDY! I want one of YOUR books.”
Dad: *rubbing scruffy beard, leans back in chair, regards CB* “Well… There is… one book…”
CB: “WHAT? What is it?”
Dad: “I dunno CB, it’s a REALLY big girl book. And there are scary parts in it. It has witches and monsters.”
CB: “Really? How scary? I think I’ll be ok. Please?”
Dad: “It has four kids in it that get in a lot of trouble. But it has a big lion that helps them out. There’s no pictures though, like I’m saying it’s not for little girls. Are you sure you are ready?”
CB: “I’m a big girl, I’m ready.”
Dad: *rubs beard a few more seconds, pondering* “Ok. We’ll give it a try. But if it gets too scary, you just tell me and we’ll stop reading it, ok?”
CB: “Ok!”*starts to squirm around*
I go and get the book and sit down in the reading chair. CB climbs into my lap.
Dad: “Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air raids…”
Lauri is at an ATM. There’s an elderly gentlemen at the machine next to her. She nods and asks how he’s doing. He smiles and says “Excellent. I married well.” Lauri cracks up at this and says “Me too. Do you have any children?” The man nods. “Four daughters.” Lauri raises her eyebrows. “Wow. We have two daughters. Do you have any advice?” The man nods again. Without missing a beat, he says “There is no God.”
It’s time to brush CB’s teeth. Normally, she fights me tooth and nail, but tonight, she is relaxed, pondering. I get ready to brush her teeth, her sitting in my lap in the armchair near her bed. She puts her hand up to stop me. “No, hold on.” She reaches in her mouth and pulls out a sliver of something white. CB asks “Do you know what that was?” “Fingernail,” I reply. “How did you know?” “I’m a dad, I know these things.” A smile creeps across her face as she rolls it around in her finger and then puts it back in her mouth. “Well, you were WRONG. It’s a TOENAIL.”
I’m at the farmer’s market with LA and CB. CB has climbed a fir tree in the park, she’s probably 20 ft. up. She’s 6. I shouldn’t let her do this, but I do, and I can’t really tell you why other than I’m a father and for some reason this instinctively feels like an important thing I should let her do. LA is running around the base of the tree. I catch her and scoop her up, her giggling and squirming. I feel a THUMP on my hat. CB shouts down from the top of the tree. “Dad, did you feel something land on your hat?” I frown. “Yeah, what was it?” I can hear CB start to cackle. “SPIT!” The cackle spreads to the nearby farmer’s behind their booths.
CB and I are wrapping it up for the evening. She’s on top of her little bed house, peering over the railing. It’s the night before Halloween, and she’s nervous. This whole last month she’s been back in bed with us, waking up frightened in the early hours. Getting her to sleep takes longer than it did, and she chats as she tries to calm herself down.
“How do you kill a zombie Daddy?”
“There’s no such thing, sweetie.”
“Yeah, but how do you kill one?”
I look up from my Sudoku puzzle. “Well, in the movies, they chop its head off.”
“Because the body needs the brain to function. Even in zombies”
“Because the brain sends messages to the body that tells it what to do. If the brain is gone, the body doesn’t know what to do.”
“Is it easy to chop their heads off?”
“Honey, you never have to worry about it. I’ve been to many places, and seen many things, and I have never seen a zombie, nor do I know anyone that has.”
“But what if you have to chop their head off?”
“Sweetie, that’s just in the movies. Don’t worry about it.”
“But how do they know in the movies? How do they know it would really work? How do they know?”
We’re all at the beach. I’ve just come back from a run, and it’s slowly getting to be time for us to head home. The girls and I play tag with the waves, LA holding my hand, CB, running next to us. I lift Lily up when a bigger wave comes in and drag her toes through the water. She’s laughing. I look next to me and see that CB has been knocked down and is riding the surf to shore. She’s a good swimmer, but this is the first time that a wave has pushed her over like this, the first time she has gotten a taste, herself, of the power of the ocean, even in a foot or so of water. There’s a look of panic on her face. I head over behind her, in case she doesn’t get her footing, and am in position to catch her if she gets dragged back out, LA in my other arm. The wave recedes, she has clung tenaciously to the sand, long wet streaks where she was pulled back towards the ocean, a mix of fear and victory on her face. For now, she’s had enough.
LA plods through the sand to throw her little cold, wet body on her mother. CB stays along the edge of the waves now, drawing in the sand with a stick. She begins to write “I love…” but the wave sweeps up and takes it away. She scowls. “Why does it do that?”
“That’s how waves and sand are, boo. Nothing you put in them lasts very long. You write what you want to and then it goes away.”
CB chews on her lip. She goes further upslope to edge of damp sand and makes a long rectangle. “Guess what this is for?” she says with a bright smile. I make an exaggerated questioning shrug of the shoulders and watch her. “I…love…you…Dada” she prints it out nice and clear, her handwriting rapidly becoming better than mine. She shakes her stick, flinging wet sand, then trots off to see her sister and mother. I’m patting my pockets to see if I have my phone for a photo. I don’t. A wave sweeps up, over the writing, clearing most of it.
If I was a different writer, a different father perhaps, I would tell you that the wave washed it all away except for the word “love”, that it left me with a jovial feeling that all was right in the world and that everything would be ok. What was left, though, was “Dada”, the water sweeping the “I love you” to wherever the ocean keeps such messages, the sea playing a different game with me than with CB, a grown-up game. I frowned and stared out at the waves. I bent down and re-wrote the word “love”, and walked over to join my family.
Lily has just finished her ice cream popsicle and has found her herself in fine form. Her sister is lounging on the trampoline looking up into the old oak, everyone has full bellies from dinner, and the sun is setting. Lily has decided to share a story and regale me with a tale of ribaldry. To be honest, I really don’t have any idea what the story is about, other than it involves a rabbit, a dragon, possibly a puppy, and poopie, boobie, bobo, and ‘stinky’. Rather than try to reconstruct the story, I simply give you photos of her telling the story, and I think you will be probably get the gist of it. Some tales transcend language.
In the morning, I’m the starfish of the family. Everyone else swims around me, girls scrambling over me to get at cereal or to sneak handfuls from the sugar bowl if I’m not paying attention. Lauri is ready to go when she wakes up, chatting with the girls, flipping pancakes on the stove with a spoon in one hand and a brush in the other, trying to tidy up the girls hair as they sprint past her. I have both hands wrapped around my coffee cup, looking out the window at our garden, noting that the mist seems heavier this year, almost like rain, and wondering if El Niño will bring us water. The girls slide in and out of my lap, little Lily trying to burgle some of my coffee, and I consider that they may consider me a piece of furniture, as reliable and stable as a rocking chair. This is not a bad thing.
It is early fall, the girls and I are on the trampoline in the backyard, lying down, looking up through the leaves of the valley oak and ornamental plum, the wisteria trying nonchalantly to weave it’s tendrils through the mesh of the trampoline. They jump up and start running in circles, CB one direction, Lily the other, the two laughing. CB decides they are horses, and she begins to neigh, then they are Pegasi, and she flaps her wings. Lily does not know yet what a Pegasus is but she flaps her arms regardless and neighs in unison. Finally, CB, decides that they are also part unicorn and she starts to bob her head as she runs and flaps. I’m sitting in the middle of the trampoline, providing commentary as directed, and they each take turns landing in my lap, then taking off. As the CB Pegasus Unicorn swoops low to regard me, her mane catching the afternoon sunlight, wings outstretched, she shouts “Daddy! Isn’t it nice to be this happy?!” And then she’s gone.
For that one moment, I have it. I’ve parented successfully, I’ve done everything I’m supposed to have done. I stamp HAPPY 8/23/14 into a gold plaque and hang it in my memory.
On Tuesdays, the girls are with me. Lauri works late, and I typically feed the girls, give them their bath, and get them somewhere close to bed. I am not always completely successful with any of these agenda items, but half-done is better than none done.
CB, Lily, and I are curled up in bed, a girl under each arm, reading. Then, something happens. This is gross. Like, totally gross. You shouldn’t read it. Really. You’ve been warned.
Dad: “Bon jour, Happy Lion, said the red squirrel, hardly loo–” Wait… CB, what are you eating?
CB: Nothing. It’s just some snot.
Dad: You’re kidding.
Lily: What are you eating?
Dad: Lily, don’t worry about it.
CB: It’s just some snot, Lily.
Lily: I want some snot.
Dad: Lily, you don’t want this. CB, that’s totally gross, stop that.
CB: It’s just, like, mushy boogers.
Lily : I WANT SOME SNOT.
Dad: NO. *facepalm*