#268 In which our hero thinks about his oldest daughter, and how she continues to grow up.
Today my oldest, Lily was evaluated for Kindergarten.
Today is the 10th anniversary of the Columbine shootings.
Today, I’ve been thinking a lot about these two things. It’s just a coincidence, of course… one has no relation to the other. But I think about Lily, my silly, sensitive, giggly child and how she’ll be in school this fall. Real school, not day care. It’s a big thing, a sure sign that she’s getting older. My days of being her favorite playmate are numbered. And as frustrating as it can be to listen to her whine, “Daddy, play with me! Play with me!” when all I want to do is sit and read the paper for a damn minute, it makes me a little sad to think that there will come a day when she won’t say that any more. Soon enough she’ll want to play with her real friends, and won’t have time for me. She might even be embarrassed by me, at least in public. My hope is that this embarrassment is only in public; the day she starts being embarrassed to be around me even in the privacy of our own home… well, that will be heartbreaking.
At this kindergarten they have a big lunch room, where all the grades eat at the same time. I can’t imagine my little girl collecting her tray and sitting at a table with her friends, eating and chatting. She’s so little yet! And, of course, I worry that no-one will want to sit next to her, will want to be her lunch buddy. I worry that other kids will be mean to her, make her cry. I want to protect her from all of that.
But I can’t. And whatever she faces in kindergarten or elementary school will be nothing compared to what’s to come in middle school and, yikes, high school. She’s so emotional now, so sensitive. She gets her feelings hurt if I tell her that whatever I’m doing at the moment is more important than playing with her. How can she possibly survive high school?
I’m speaking metaphorically, of course… but 10 years ago today, a lot of parents where not.
As a parent I can’t help but put myself in the position of those parents who stood outside a high school building in Colorado for four hours, waiting to see if one of the dead was their child. How can you possibly endure such a thing?
The world we live in seems so ruthless, so dangerous. It seems foolhardy at best and criminal at worst, to send your children out into it unprotected. But that’s what we have to do. The alternative is to have a woefully sheltered, backwards kid… and I’ve seen kids like that. It’s not desirable.
In our living room we have an old green chair. Since we rarely use the living room, it’s almost never sat in. In fact, it is used much more often as a ladder to get to the Playskool slide that sits next to it. However, whenever Lily is really upset about something, something we can’t talk out, I’ll scoop her up and sit in the green chair and just let her cry. It’s become shorthand in our house. “Honey, are you really upset? Do you want to go sit in the green chair?”
Usually a good cry in the green chair will set things right, or at least help Lily get over the worst of it. This probably helps me was much as my daughter, because when I’m powerless to help her, when I can’t fix the problem, I can still let her sit in my lap on the green chair and cry.
But Lily’s problems today are that her sister broke her favorite toy, or that she didn’t get to watch the TV show she wanted, or that there wasn’t any more lemonade or countless other things that seem so minor to me that I have to remind myself that they matter to a five-year-old in a way I can no longer understand.
But, the day will come when the problems are that the boy she likes doesn’t like her, or that she doesn’t have a date to the prom or that her best friend’s parents are getting divorced or who knows what else. Big problems. Problems that even 40-year-old me (or more like 55 by then) can understand.
And I won’t be able to scoop her up and take her to the green chair any more. And even if I could, she probably wouldn’t want me to. She’ll be on her own to face the big bad world.
And when she’s even older yet, and living on her own? How can I know she’s safe if I don’t see her every night? How do parents deal with that? I suppose, like most things, it becomes easier the more often it happens.
But how do you deal when something unimaginable happens, like Columbine? Waiting outside in the cold, hoping for the best, fearing the worst? Twelve kids died that day. And none of their parents thought anything about them going off to school. Assumed they would be safe and that they’d see them for dinner that evening.
How do you go on if your kid doesn’t come home for dinner and is never coming home for dinner ever again? How do you get over that grief?
I have to think that you’d have to sit in the green chair for a long, long time.