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 showing me.
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 on it.
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 trees?"
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 grown.
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.