I smoothed a few of her fly away, sun-bleached hairs and concluded our talk with the most important thing I could say to my child. "No matter what circumstance you find yourself in, know that your dad and I will always, always love you and we will face any problems together."
She smiled warmly, "OK, Mama." And then as if to tell me that was enough information for one night, she whispered, "I'm sleepy now."
I held my breath as she climbed into bed and pulled the covers to her chin. I feared that this new knowledge would instantly age her.
"Can we go to the beach again tomorrow, Mama? I want to catch a big wave on my board!" But just like that, she was 9 again.
That night I had trouble sleeping. Our talk had drudged up painful memories from my own preteen and teen years. I reviewed our discussion in my head — hoping I had made it clear that she could come to me with anything. As if on cue, a scream of "Mama!" violently punctured the silence of our vacation rental.
But it was not the voice of my oldest child; it was my 6-year-old. I ran to her bedside and instinctively put a cool hand on her forehead. "What is it, honey?" I asked softly.
"You know that little tiny elf that visited Grandma and Grandpa's house last Christmas?" she asked in a semi-delirious state.
I nodded. How could I forget? I had never seen two children so delighted by the sight of a semi-creepy doll unexpectedly perched in a high, humanly-unreachable location.
"Do you think the elf will come back next Christmas?" my child asked earnestly.
I couldn't help but smile. In contrast to the questions her sister asked mere hours before, these questions were quite enjoyable — even at midnight. "Yes. Yes. I do believe the elf will come back," I said with absolute certainty.
And with that peaceful assurance from her mother, the curly-haired child drifted back to sleep.
I felt my eyes well up with tears. Yep. The line is mighty fine. You know, the line children cross when they go from believing in all things magical to facing the harsh realities of the adult world, including drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, and peer acceptance — just to name a few critical issues.
As I watched my youngest child's dark lashes flutter in the midst of a whimsical dream, I was never more certain of my role in my children's lives.
When they cross over from the child world to the adult world, I want to be there. I want to cross that line with them, or at least be there to accept the invitation when the window is open and they ask me to come in.
So I will watch her when she asks me to count how many waves she rides.
And I will talk to her while she makes her strawberry smoothies.
And I will rub her back when she has trouble falling asleep.
And I will give her truth when she asks questions that have no easy answers.
I will try my best to be a constant presence, an every day parent, not just showing up for performances and holidays.
My child is going to have to brave the world whether I like it or not. I wouldn't expect her to battle the ocean without proper skills, knowledge, and equipment — and I won't expect her to navigate the world without them either.
Therefore, I vow to give her pieces of protective armor — armor that comes from daily offerings of parental presence, wisdom and unconditional love. So that if one day, God forbid, she finds herself drowning, she'll have the strength to call my name.
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