Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias "Ball!" said The Little One crawling in the grass of our home's lawn in Mitchell.

The Little One had just mastered a few words, including "Mommy," "Daddy," "Donald's" (whenever she saw the golden arches on our way to buy groceries,) and "ball."

It had been a warm day, and the grass in our front yard hadn't yet begun to fade from the summer heat.

It was still lush and green and cool on that clear summer evening.

We pushed her in her stroller, which kept her happy for a while. But after a couple times around the block, she made it clear she wanted to do some exploring on her own.

We took The Little One out of her stroller and sat in the middle of the lawn. She loved crawling through that soft, refreshing carpet.

We brought out an old quilt for her to sit on, and some of her toys. We rolled a ball back and forth, but there were times she made it clear that she'd like to be left alone, to use her imagination as she played with the objects that surrounded her, ranging from the latest creation by Fisher Price, to a collection of old measuring spoons from our kitchen's baking drawer that she liked to rattle around.

The western sky turned orange and purple and soon it became too dark to play outdoors any longer.

Cindy and I began gathering up the toys and other knick-knacks that had kept The Little One entertained for so long.

"Ball!" Ball!" she kept repeating.

I naturally was fulfilling the role of Sarah's father, who was 1-year-old. It was something comparable to a faithful dog's relationship with her master.

"Fetch!" "Fetch!" The Little One might as well have been saying. I was doing my best to heed her every command.

Evidently, one of her toys � specifically a ball � was still in the grass somewhere. She wanted to make sure I didn't leave it outside.

"Ball!" she said again.

I searched and searched. Maybe the ball was green and blended with the grass too well.

Cindy, who was holding The Little One, began looking, too.

"Ball!"

I had to hand it to The Little One. She was persistent. Maybe the ball rolled under a bush. Perhaps it bounced onto the street.

Everywhere I looked, there was no ball.

I glanced at The Little One, hoping for a clue. I tried to watch where she was looking. If I could only read her mind.

And then it happened. The Little One must have reasoned that, despite her limited vocabulary, a one word sentence wasn't enough for her dolt of a dad.

"Ball ? sky!"

Cindy and I looked up. And there it was. The biggest, brightest, roundest, most beautiful full moon we have ever seen.

The ball in the sky.

It's a rather profound moment when you discover that your toddler is taking notice of the beautiful things in the world � things that you've long taken for granted.

The Little One grew and grew, and became a big sister, and grew some more. Before Cindy and I could fully realize it, she was old enough for kindergarten.

I often would pick her up at the end of her half-day of class. We would talk about what she learned that day, and she usually had a stack of papers and worksheets for me to browse through.

After about a month, it was clear she had the school routine down pat. On our drive home, the Little One looked at me and asked, "What did you do when you were in kindergarten?"

"My school didn't have kindergarten," I replied. "I started in the first grade."

It took a moment or two for the shock of that revelation to subside. Dad isn't only a dolt, he's ignorant.

"Well," The Little One asked slowly, as if she was afraid she was about to hear more bad news, "did you have computers?"

"Nope. They hadn't been invented yet."

"Did you go to the library?"

"Our grade school didn't have a library."

"Did you have centers?" That was just one of the modern teaching methods The Little One was exposed to at the beginning of her education.

"No, honey, we didn't."

There was an eternity of silence in the car. She finally stopped staring out the window, and turned toward me once more.

"Well, what did you do all day? Just sit there?"

I was laughing so hard I could barely keep the car on the street. It wasn't what she said so much as the way she said it.

In many ways, that conversation has set the tone of our relationship. It has reminded me of a nagging fear that I think all fathers, and particularly fathers of daughters, have from time to time.

You can't help but wonder, as time goes on and The Little One in your life isn't so little anymore, that you've become maybe a bit irrelevant.

The Little One and I were inseparable during those early years. Shortly before her younger sister was born, I remember reading a magazine article about how unsettling a new addition to the family can be to an older sibling.

I knew Cindy would have to devote time to the Little One's younger sister, Andrea, when we brought her home. So I made sure the oldest received plenty of attention from me.

I loved it, because she always gave back more than she received.

The Little One isn't so little today. She's a young adult. I'm not the only interest in her life by far. Besides school and a part-time job, she has a boyfriend.

Sunday, she graduates from Vermillion High.

Sunday, she drifts just a bit farther away.

This is no big surprise. It's an outcome set in motion so long ago when she first stepped inside her kindergarten classroom.

Our home no doubt will remain an important part of her life. She may enroll at USD, meaning she may be hanging around for a little longer.

But one day, she will do what Cindy and I have always expected her to do.

She'll leave.

She'll begin living her own life away from us.

When that day comes, we'll stay connected, I'm sure. There will be phone calls, e-mails, holiday get-togethers, birthday cards and the like.

But there eventually will be an empty spot in the house � that corner in the kitchen where she always throws her coat and books and other stuff will be bare.

Someday, I'll never shave with cold water because she won't be around to empty the water heater during one of her marathon hot shower sessions.

And her laugh. I'm not sure what I'll do when a day goes by and I don't hear the special way she expresses pure joy.

The only remedy I can think of when my thoughts turn to how much I'm going to miss The Little One who graduates Sunday is to take a stroll outside.

And just stare ? at that ball in the sky.

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