“Daddy, I want to show you something,” she crows, skipping down the park path.
About ten minutes ago, they’d both gotten cold and decided the splash pad wasn’t as interesting anymore. Her brother is content to sit, hooded in his yellow-striped towel, and watch trains go by, periodically yelling “TRAIN!” to Mommy. But she is too excited. Her shivers are gone, and the muggy weight of late summer is a suitable towel. There is much to explore.
She clambers up the red sandy concrete of the skate park half-pipe. The sign says that the walkway is not for pedestrians, but whoever skated here recently is long gone. My adult mind dismisses any danger and hopes her exploration is meaningful. I trail behind, soaking in the moment and my clothes. The splash pad looked like a lot of fun, what can I say.
She wants to show me how she can climb up all by herself. She is brimming with excitement and fourness. She filled up on the latter yesterday, overflowing with balloons and ribbons and this new purple bike with its white plastic basket. $10 on Craigslist. We’re proud of that.
She got to choose her cake – pink cake with blueberries on top – and helped Mommy make it in the afternoon. That is, after she spent a couple hours working on her bike skills. Bikes are freedom, wild and unrestrained and a little bit dangerous. Wheels to take to places, baskets to carry your treasures, the open road, the wind in your face. Am I that different, in my late 20s, stretching the bonds of my 5-year job, sniffing the wind for the next thing?
But she’s back, and will not be ignored. She slid down the half-pipe against my wishes (she’s four, after all), leaving a wet stripe on the curve. Scratches? None, to be sure, but I ask anyway. She confirms that my concern is silly. I knew it was. I just wanted to be concerned.
She climbs again, and shows me how brave she is, walking back and forth on the foot-wide ledge without my help (she’s four, after all). She is brave. She’ll have to be. She stops and sits and, finding the concrete warm from the day, stretches out. She is cozy in her fourness, wrapped in bravery and good cheer and, I hope, the knowledge that I’m nearby. I stand by her and lean on the half-pipe (“Not too close!”) and we talk about things that little girls talk about with their daddies.
Earlier, some teenage punks – daughters and sons reveling in their sixteenness – swarmed the swings right as she flitted toward them. And she stopped, and considered them. They were foreign, turquoise hair and flat brims and skinny jeans and ill-fitting boots. Did she glimpse something of her future? I was far away when she turned, and my outrage was tempered when she didn’t care. But I wanted her to ask them if she could swing. I wanted them to see her. I wanted them to remember, maybe, what it is to be small in a big world. My guess is, they know, but don’t talk about it often.
She is so old right now, and so young. So taken with her world and her self, squealing at spiders and playing peekaboo with the princess in the mirror. Her name is Nadia too, and they both have blue eyes and curls and a smile that stops my heart. She’s learning to pray, to listen when I talk to her about Jesus, though it’s clear the Wonder hasn’t penetrated her heart. We pray it will and we walk alongside her. She is so tender, breakable at the smallest slight, fierce in her wrath, tempestuous in her sorrow.
She is four.
There are many birth-days ahead, when we celebrate her being zero before this, and one, and two, and three… We count them with thankful hearts for a safe pregnancy and delivery, which is withheld from so many others for reasons impossible to understand without the mind of God. We count them with happy hearts for the life coursing in her veins, overflowing in her laughter, and we celebrate with toys and games and sweets to show her she is worth celebrating.
We count them to remember: the coughing cry, the excitement and surprise at a girl when everyone said boy, the squinched-up eyes that opened dark and sweet and perpetually suspicious. How I hated it when medical punks woke her in the night to poke and prod and test, when we only wanted her to know love, not professional disinterest.
Do these only get harder, days brilliant and sharp-edged and rare, diamonds of summer? I’m collecting them for my winter years, to uncover and admire – will they be as clear then? – to remind her of her summer when her children are in theirs. In our hearts we all need this.
She wants to sit and watch the sun go down, and I do too, so we linger longer. Her brother has since given up sitting and is racing up and down ramps, tripping and colliding into everything and bouncing back with skinned knees, unperturbed. He experiences life differently at two. His sister has time to sit and enjoy sunsets.
All the time in the world. She’s four, after all.