I wrote this 13 years ago. My girl is turning 18, and I think the things I wrote then -- especially the part about a risk of "civil war and public breakdown before she is grown" have held up pretty well.
Tonight as I put my daughter to bed, she
looked out her window and whispered, “Papa – look! There is a boy robin in the
garden, on the rocks.”
I see him! I said, as our faces gazed out the window together. I think his
missus is in the trees back there.
"Why doesn’t she come out?"
She takes care of the eggs, while he looks for food. He’s bright red so
predators will see him instead of the missus.
"And there is our neighbour – he is smoking! That is bad for you,"
she said, pulling out the lung page of her children’s book about the body and
Yes, you should never do that, I agreed.
"And what are these?" she asked, pointing to the book’s pictures of
red and white blood cells.
Well, the red blood cells carry oxygen to the … um … let me start over, I said.
The red blood cells are lorry (truck) drivers, I said, and they take air from
your lungs and deliver it door-to-door in your body like postmen. The white
blood cells are gardai (police), and if a germ tries to sneak in, they pounce
She asked to play red blood cells for a little while -– I swear I don’t make
these things up -- knocking on each cell door and announcing they had an air
delivery. Then she wanted to play white blood cell, creeping up on a naughty
germ and saying, "I’ve got you now!"
After a while of this she asked, "Papa, what would happen if there weren’t
That would be very bad, I said. Trees make the air that lets us breathe – they
are why the sky is blue. The sky is made by life.
"And they grow fruit," she said.
Yes, and nuts, and many other things to eat. What else can you eat that comes
from a tree?
"Linden leaves!" she said.
Yes, and you could even eat sap and some bark, I said.
"Wow!" she said in delighted disgust.
It doesn’t taste good, but you could eat it if you were hungry in an emergency,
I said. What else can you eat in an emergency? She cheerfully rattled off the
list she knows from songs, and we talked and read a bit more before I kissed
her good night and came downstairs.
I have often written here about my four-year-old, and the responses have
allowed me to meet many kindred spirits far beyond my circle here in County
Kildare. The moments with her are what give my life meaning; every day it tears
me up inside to leave her with her grandmother, and go to a day job, and no
amount of promotion or rewards will change that. A part of me dreams of being
able to let go of my job, spending time with her all day, every day, and post
daily four-year-old stories for years to come. But she will not wait for me,
and today, already, she is five.
Of course a yearly marker does not make her a different person. But time will,
and too quickly for me to do anything but run behind it, calling for it to
stop. Perhaps it is because I am in my thirties now, and my clock was set long
ago – like most middle-aged people, I feel a year go by when two or three have
passed. Perhaps it is because the world events that I study have accelerated with
harlequin abandon in the last few years; already we have seen so much of the
world unravel, and might see civil wars or public breakdown before she is
I only know that each moment flickers by like passing traffic out the window,
too swift to observe as it happens, but only to remember dimly after it has
gone. Part of me wants to live in a painting – Still Life with Four-Year-Old, a
golden moment in amber. A part of me winces to see my toddler grow lanky and
coltish, tapping newfound reservoirs of defiance and negotiation, her
once-giant eyes occasionally rolling in the first fetal signs of adolescent
ennui. I want to throw a hook into the blur and reel in the moments, pore over
them, plead with each of them … stay. Please, don’t go. Linger.
But they won’t. She will be six soon enough, and ten, and fifteen, each age
attended by its own moments of comfort and joy, its own arguments. I can try to
be a good escort into her future and linger over the moments, knowing their
blurred passage is all I will ever have. I cannot extend my life’s length, but
you, my girl, allow me to extend its depth.