Parenting

Photo credit: David Clinton

One Mississippi.

It’s Tuesday night. Dinner is finished and the dishes are done. There is a little time before bed, so I ask the kids what they would like to do.

“Hide and Seek!”

Hide and Seek always ends with someone crying. I remind the kids of this fact and suggest an alternative that better fits my mood and energy level.

“There’s no such thing as Silent Uno, Dad.”

“But there could be.”

“Hide and Seek! Hide and Seek!”

Two Mississippi.

My nine year old daughter is “It.” I hide in her closet, behind the hamper. Hiding spot level of difficulty: 7.5.

Her closet is filled with clothes and cheap plastic trinkets from school fun fairs and Chuck E. Cheese birthday nightmares.  I affectionately call this stuff “future trash.”

It smells like kid in here.

Three Mississippi.

I can hear my daughter on the hunt in the distance, bounding from room to room. What she lacks in stealth, she makes up for with enthusiasm.

Crouching behind the couch, her younger brother is more or less hiding in plain sight. Hiding spot level of difficulty: 1.75.

He is quickly discovered and promptly explodes in protest, “No fair! You cheated!”

My daughter goes with a diversion tactic, “Help me find Dad!”

He pauses.

“I have to pee. Don’t look for him without me.”

Four Mississippi.

My hiding spot provides me with a rare moment of quiet stillness. I reach for my phone…which is still on the countertop downstairs.

Damn.

Five Mississippi.

Light peers through a gap in the bi-folding closet doors that I’ve been meaning to replace for a few (twelve) years. It illuminates a white dress hanging a foot from my face. My daughter wore it as a flower girl in my sister’s wedding. She was three.

It is unclear if she ever understood that the wedding was not for her.

Her soft curls bounced in her face as she danced the night away. She was enchanting, unselfconscious, and falling in love with life.

“Watch me twirl, Daddy!”

Six Mississippi

The dress has seen better days. A safety pinned strap. Beads gone rogue. Faded stains like hieroglyphics, recording the adventures of a princess-school teacher-vet-tea party hostess, who jumps off of (and into) furniture.

And of course, more dancing.

Seven Mississippi

Time felt different then. A day seemed to last a year.  But now…

Eight Mississippi

My chest tightens. My stomach sinks.

Life is going by so fast. That little girl, the younger version of my daughter, is gone. Sure, she is still a child and, in many ways, she is the same little girl—she still dances, constantly. But these days will soon be gone as well. Before long, I will have to say goodbye to the nine year old version of my daughter, too.

Nine Mississippi.

Suddenly, the stuff I spend so much time worrying about feels less important. I wonder if the problems, worries and irritations that we take so seriously might be a distraction. Or a hiding place.

But who or what are we hiding from?

Grief.

Our constant, every-day grief over the passage of time. Grief over the temporariness of our lives, and the lives of those we love.

I hide from the grief that my child is…mortal.

Hiding spot level of difficulty: 10.0.

I whisper to myself, “Don’t wish this time away. Don’t miss your life, her life, this life.”

Ten Mississippi.

The bi-folding closet doors open.

My daughter yells, “I found Dad!”

My son bolts into the room shouting, “She cheated!”

Looking at me, my daughter asks, “Dad, are you crying?”

Of course I am, Sweetheart. Hide and seek always ends with someone crying.

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David Clinton
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