My thoughts whisk forward to a day in the future. A time when she is older. Looking more woman than girl to me. The days when she looks more like her mother as life passes before me. I can imagine the conversation as I carry her to school.
"What are you doing?" I would say to her while driving.
"Putting on makeup."
"In the car?"
"Yes," she says, "get used to it." Her sly smile revealing a double meaning.
The teenage years they say are the most trying. I don't believe I'll escape unscathed.
"Why didn't you put it on at home?"
"Because I can do it in the car on the way to school-saves me time."
Like her mother used to do she'll switch from a strange little triangle sponge to something that locks like a pencil with a fuzzy little worm attached to the end.
Glancing over at her I'll notice how steady her hands are even as I make turns and adjust speed with the traffic.
Those moments to come will be quite challenging for me as a dad. My little girl will reside in my heart and in picture frames scattered throughout our home. No longer will holding hands in public be possible nor will putting my arm around her. I know she will still love me, but this will be expressed in some new teenager code.
"I love you" will be replaced by a low-key, subtle blowing of a kiss across the room as she leaves with friends. Hugs will then only take place exclusively at home and followed by a couple quick pats on the back (the signal for "hug's over"). Sadly for me, the days when the hugs were for as long as she could sit in my lap will be behind me. I'll find myself thinking if only I held on a little longer. That day my arms will literally ache for the hugs where she'd try to squeeze the breath out of me or attempt to lift my feet off the ground.
Thoughts of her looking in the mirror at how tall she was on my shoulders. Her delicate arms wrapped around my neck, holding on for dear life. Progressing from sitting on my foot and wrapping around my leg as I walked with her- to dancing on my feet while her favorite song played.
Children growing up are a natural passage of time-but there's something special about a father's daughter that really drives it home. She is the apple of his eye-the one who he feels needs protecting. Even back in my time I can almost here the grains of sand accelerating through the proverbial hourglass--and there is nothing I can do to stop it. She'll walk down that aisle one day and I'll give her away. On the drive back home my mind will drift back like it does now to a different time and place. The cherished moments will surround and comfort me. Upon walking into my house I'll see her bedroom up the hall. Walking in I'll sit down on her bed. While no one is looking I'll stare out her window into the yard and dream of paradise lost to me.
As we pull up to the school she'll quickly close up her makeup case, while pushing it deeply back into her purse.
"Bye," I'll say. "Have a nice day."
She'll say something but her words will find themselves muffled against the outside noise.
Grabbing her purse and book bag she'll quickly jump out of the car and race off toward the school. For a moment I'll find myself watching her walk away.
"How," I'll wonder, "can my little girl be a young woman already?"
Putting the car back in gear I'll slowly pull away in thought. Gone will be the little girl who once begged me to walk her through the front door and all the way to her classroom. Gone, too, will be the little girl who timidly would hesitate at the doorway, turn and give me a hug before joining her classmates.
Coming back to reality I realize that it's not too late. Not too late to embrace, to embrace before it's nothing but memories.
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