“Am I old enough this year? Please, Daddy, please!” Her sweet voice was all I could hear, even through the overwhelming noise of the fairway. I felt her hand in mine, which wasn’t quite as small as it was last year when we had had this same conversation. I easily convinced her that we couldn’t go on the Ferris wheel because she was too small. And because I’d learned early on that parenting is ninety-percent distraction, I then suggested we find the vendor who sold deep-fried Oreos and the ride was quickly forgotten.
Ah, but the difference a year makes. No way was I going to distract my little adventurer with something as mundane as a greasy Oreo this year. She was still gunning for an adrenaline rush and sugar wasn’t a worthy substitute. Not to mention, we’d already downed corn dogs with mustard, freshly-squeezed lemonades and a platter-sized funnel cake in the last two hours and even with her sudden growth spurt, her body couldn’t possibly digest any more junk food.
“Wouldn’t you rather go in the haunted house?” Good heavens. What kind of a parent had I suddenly become? I’d prefer she was scared to death by some creepy carnival monster than risk her life on a mechanical death-trap? Does Dr. Laura take calls after six?
I sighed. Looks like Daddy was going to have to come clean. Tell the truth, like I’ve always tried to teach Lily to do. Why was taking one’s own advice such a horsepill to swallow? But swallow I did and breathed deeply through my nose. Exhaling, I looked down into those gorgeous espresso eyes Lily had inherited from my wife, or ex-wife if you wanted to be technical about it, and said, “Sweetheart, I know how much you want to ride the Ferris wheel, but Daddy’s just not—“ I twisted my lips, looking for the right word “—comfortable on rides like that.”
Had I just gotten a little smaller in those lovely eyes? I wanted to be her knight, her only hero, until some day, way, way, way in the future when an honorable young man would come and unseat me. But especially since the divorce I’m afraid that my place on that saddle has already slipped because I’m not there every night to tuck her in. Or to slay the dragons of her nightmares, or to tickle her or play horsey or protect her like I’d imagined I would back on the day I became her father. Could I still be that hero?
She’s an insightful child. I’ll take credit for that one, thank you very much. So I wasn’t surprised that she saw through me when she responded with “Daddy? Are you scared?”
Of course I was. Just look at the potential for disaster when one is suspended in a little basket that many stories off the ground in a metal contraption run by a greasy-haired young man with a stain on his shirt the color of—was that hydraulic fluid? I didn’t like the idea of risking myself up there, let alone the most precious piece of my heart.
“Yes, honey. You’ve inherited your mother’s spirit of adventure. Not mine.”
“I’m scared of things, too.” Lily said in a quiet, conspiratorial voice. “Like the dark sometimes. But if I get up in the middle of the night and I jump off my bed right to that pink square on my carpet, nothing can hurt me.” The certainty in her voice convinced me she really did believe it.
Did people without children ever get to enjoy these kinds of insights? We parents spend our lives on a constant Ferris wheel of ups and downs: joy at seeing a little one move forward mixed with the fear that she’ll go a step too far; one minute we’re the best dad in the world, and the next we’re sure we’ve scarred her for life. Knowing what I know now, could I ever have decided not to get on that ride?
Before I could change my mind, I breathed a quick prayer, Please, Jesus, make sure I don’t look back on this as the night Lily sees her father have a panic attack at the fairgrounds, grabbed her sticky fingers and said, “Let’s go do this thing.”
Lily is going to be one amazing woman, I’m sure of it. And only the One who knit her together in her mother’s womb can take the credit for that.
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