I tried to take a snapshot with my mind, to just remember this simple, innocent, inconsequential moment where our small family drove off to find something to eat on a Saturday night and my little girl reached out to make a connection with a parent, a sweet girl looking to express her need for love and affection from the people she trusts and relies upon the most. I saw the momentary drift of a dust mote through a slanting beam of setting sunlight just before it lighted on a stuffed Snoopy toy that is Callie’s flavor of the week in plush companionship. I felt the uncommon softness of her tender skin, the lithe plumpness of her still-small but no longer toy-like fingers embracing my own. The radio played a morose tune about lost love and I squeezed a little bit tighter.

The agony of parenthood is the knowledge of inevitability. This small, vivacious, veracious girl will one day know heartache. She will find the dark corners of the Earth that I can’t hide from her, the places from which flow things that I have vowed to protect her against to my dying breath, to the best of my ability. The light that dances in her eyes, the light of trust and careless enthusiasm, may one day dim as war and poverty and hate manifest themselves to her. I resent the world for not being as idyllic as she is, for not meeting her perfectly reasonable expectations for comfort and joy and love. We speak of sheltered children as if they were broken in some way but the mad, frenzied instinct for me is to shelter her up, to block out the hard, harsh truth and take the brunt of the world against my back while I hold her in an unending embrace.

It’s foolishness, I know. I can’t possibly fight off the world. I wouldn’t, even if I could. Within the confines of that embrace, she would smother. Yes, there is darkness. Yes, there is pain. But there is also light. And there is also beauty. My gift to her should not be a protective shell but a toolbox, full of whatever she may need to fight the world or champion the meek all by herself. But still it hurts. She deserves better; better than me and better than this place.

She gave a little sigh. Just a small puff of contented air pushed past her lips that swirled the invisible dust in the air. Her hand loosened on mine, the reassurance she sought now found and she retrieved her small hand to focus back on her toys or a sip of water from the cup we keep on hand in case she gets thirsty while we drive. For an extra moment I just looked at her, peering over the car seat from the awkward angle that allowed only an outline of her full, ruddy cheek and her little button nose. I saw the pleasant bulge of her little toddler belly, pressing against the fabric of her t-shirt as she took another breath and began a stream-of-conscious monologue that was mostly about puppies and mamas and daddies and how they liked to play and eat. I smiled around a thick tongue and turned back, rubbing my fingers against each other where there was still the warm, lingering sense of contact, left by her tiny hand.


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