There you are, in the big chair, half curled and snuggled up against me. A tangled clump of hair covers part of your face. You’re somewhere between wake and sleep listening to Goodnight Moon and my made up stories of butterflies and rainbow fish. You are warmth to my perpetual chill.
There you are, lying sideways asleep in the bed. Crumpled sheets draped over you rhythmically rise and fall with each breath. You are eight or nine years old? The stillness of this tableau a striking contrast to your boundless energy and movement during the day. I stand, a sentry in front of your door making a silent promise to protect you always from the darkness. All the while fighting back my own fears. Fears of the randomness of the fates that even a father’s love sometimes cannot overcome.
There you are, standing next to me at your first concert. Coldplay at the United Center. You jump. You wiggle. You watch. You listen. The music moves you as it does me. There is just joy on your face. I can’t hear a Coldplay song without flashing back to that moment.
There you are, at the Aragon ballroom. Sold out and packed for Bastille. I worry about you and the adult standing room only crowd. Almost wall to wall with people twice your size and age. But no need. Without pause or fear you work your way through the masses and stake for yourself a front row spot in the balcony, your mouth moving to the words song after song.
There you are, sprawled all over the room. Computer on in the middle of some group skype chat. Papers all over the floor interspersed with a bowl of hand-picked pieces of Chex-mix, a water bottle and some books flipped open and turned face down. It is late, approaching midnight. The price you pay for juggling poms practice and competitive dance team till nine pm. I can’t stay awake, my eyes too tired. But I head to bed knowing you are figuring out your brain and how it learns. And for some reason this seems to always requires Chex-mix!
There you are. This weekend. Up on stage. Moving. Dancing. With power and strength and grace and determination. You are in your element. No longer the shy preschooler who shunned center stage and hated the feel of eyes on her. Now, with music and motion you have found your passion. On stage you move and glide and turn and leap while fighting back the smile the judges are not supposed to see. But it is hard to hide pure happiness.
There you have been. Snuggled next to, standing beside, plowing ahead, dancing in front of… Always in my sight. Always within arm’s reach. Until now.
One word. One number. But its impact is greater than its seven letters. With your birthday your world just got bigger. You and your friends are no longer geographically limited by how far your feet can pedal. Growing independence combined with four wheels and an engine has now made my promise of protecting you that much harder.
I have adjusted to your skinny jeans and short shorts, snapchat and Instagram, and studying with Spotify and Skype on all at the same time. So I know I will adjust to your sixteen years of age, a driver’s license and your growing independent voice. You will forever be my baby girl but I am learning how to be your dad when you are not always within my arm’s reach. But remember, I have the biggest wingspan of arms that you know! And I will use them always to protect you from the darkness. Even as you need me less and less so….
Happy sixteenth Birthday Maya…