“Daddy?” she said.
“I just noticed that I have a booger in my mouth and I don’t know why.”
Awesome, I know. I’ve told Sarah that if I’d known just how funny these people were going to be I’d have made them way sooner, and it’s true. And this exchange, delivered with such a guileless, How about that? expression of discovery, was just perfect, so much so that I wanted to – had to – wipe it on my sleeve, and save it for later.
She’s still a little kid, of course. I need to remind myself of that sometimes. Not that there’s any real confusion, not with her still-missing front teeth (fourteen months and counting), or the way she seems utterly incapable of grasping the notion that I can’t follow a phone conversation when she’s standing in front of me asking for permission to wear feet pajamas. Some things just jump out.
But we’ve had her for so long now, and she’s changed so much, that it’s hard to imagine that we’re still at the beginning of the arc. She’s four years from middle school, ten years from college. She’s halfway to high school. Soon she’ll develop a life entirely independent of us. She’ll push away, as she should. Boys will happen.
I squint and grimace and turn away at the thought. It will all happen eventually, and it should all happen. But I’m not always great at letting go. I’m not always great at marching forward. There’s a lot I’d like to put off. So the unexpected discovery of wayward boogers is a relief. She’s growing, but she’s far from grown. We’re not there yet.
There are other comforts. We were at the park back in August. We were early for camp drop-off, and she asked if we could go to the playground to wait. We had 10 minutes to play, maybe 15. She explored the play structure while I hid in the half-shade of the latticework above the picnic tables.
She called out to me. “Come play with me.”
I demurred. The heat, Mia. The heat. It had been mid-’90s and sticky all week, and the last thing I wanted to do was chase Mia around a Habitrail.
“But why are you wearing long sleeves?” she asked, and she had a point. I have to go to work, Sweetie. I’m going after I drop you off.
“Oh,” she said. “Is it dress-up day at work?” In a manner of speaking, I suppose it was.
She clung to me that day at drop-off. That week, actually – all week, she held on when it was time to let go. Nothing heartbreaking – she just squeezed my hand and pulled me close and asked me not to leave her just yet. Not yet. And I didn’t.
She still leaves the house in mismatched outfits with her hair a bird’s nest, completely oblivious to convention. She still asks me to close the guest room door because the green light blinking on the wi-fi router scares her. She still sleeps with Pig and Other Pig clutched close, and she still needs a night song and a butterfly massage before she’ll do it. She still asks me to stay a minute, just a minute, to snuggle.
There will come a time when I’ll deliver her to school, or send her off to bed, and she’ll dart away. I know it’ll happen, I know it has to happen. I just hope I’ll know enough not to hold on when it’s time to let go.
Because there are already days when I miss her childhood, and it’s still here.