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My hands were full, but I carried her anyway.  I often do. There’s just something about having the whole world in your hands… that is until you need those hands for something else. I fumbled for the keys and accepted the fact I wasn’t going to find them buried in my coat pocket unless I put something down and so I stood her on her feet beside me. I grabbed the keys from my pocket and unlocked the car then I turned to see what my world would look like without her in it: dark, pitch black, even in the middle of the day with the noon sun shining.

She was gone.

I dropped the items I had in my hands ignoring the direction everything rolled in and desperately tried to look for her among the grid of cars in the parking lot. The minivans and the SUVs and the cars I heard humming warnings of mobility at any moment were blocking my view. I weaved in and out following the muffled sounds of her laughter.

“Find me, Daddy” she said in between toddler giggles and I was trying as hard as I could.

I yelled her name several times, each syllable growing louder before breaking in half. I could see her feet under the vehicles temporarily occupying their spaces and it felt like a lifetime before I finally got my hands on her again, before she tripped on a rock and stumbled within inches of some stranger’s bumper, before I lifted her up and squeezed her in my arms so tight she could barely breathe. I fought the urge to sit in the middle of an empty space outlined in white, surrendering myself to the hurricane of emotions swirling in my stomach. I swallowed the lump in my throat in effort to calm the storm within and strapped her into her car seat. I tightened the straps of the harness even though I knew they were tight enough.

We sat in the car for a moment before making our way home; we sat in silence with her in her car seat and me behind the wheel with a pending conversation filling the space between us. I was furious. I was ecstatic. I was scared. I was relieved. Several minutes passed before the words formed the lecture I gave her and to be completely honest, I’m not sure what was said. I have never felt like more of a failure.

It all happened so quickly. I put her down for just a second and took for granted how much her age allows her to listen. They say there’s a first time for everything and this was the first time she ever ran off. What if it had been the last? What if something happened to her on my watch? In my care? I don’t remember the things I was holding, or what ultimately happened to them, that seemed to be so important at the time that I couldn’t have set them on the ground instead. My whole life, our whole lives, could have changed in that short span of time. Instead it was just my point of view that was traded in those seconds between letting her go and getting her back.

“I was playing, Daddy” she said. “It was a game.” 

Obviously, I wasn’t clear of the rules for this game. It seemed the difference between winning and losing it all was divided by a very thin line. A game she invented to test my comfort level of this whole parenting thing, I assume. A game illustrating that parenting is about letting go, but still being there to catch them when they fall. 

Every time I teach her a lesson, I learn something new in the process. Every time I let go a little bit, I find I’m only readjusting my grip. I'm learning as parents, we never really let go completely but rather find another way of holding on.

1 comment

  1. I'm so glad she's ok! I've had those moments, for sure. Now, we take parking lots and streets very seriously. We remind J every single time that there are cars and it's dangerous and he must stay put until I am done whatever I'm doing, like opening the door or putting O in her car seat. There's a company that makes car magnets which have a handprint on them. It reminds children to keep their hands there until "released" by the adult. Again, glad she's ok!

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