My father was so tall. The way he threw back his head to laugh, he could make anything look like fun. I was about four, still in ruffly pants and shiny curls.
There are pictures in an old album of that day. I think my uncle even had a mustache back then, so dark and swarthy, he looked like a Spanish pirate. In flannel. With glasses.
I remember their hilarity, they laughed out loud all morning.
I was curious, peeking around corners, watching the construction. With my little red wagon, horse bridles and buckles, and maybe some duct tape, they built a small buggy and hitched it in on to my uncle’s Doberman. They planned to take me for a wild ride. It sounded fun. It looked fun. And I loved their handsome giggles, dimples showing.
The laughter, I loved, the joy and the silliness of these grown men.
On the other hand, I had always been a little bit afraid of that dog. She never hurt me, but still. She had a “liver” coat, a color which, to me, was about as appealing as its name.
And looking down her long sloping snout, all I could see was a swirling vortex of drool and steam and pointy teeth.
The wagon was good, I was used to that. It was a little bumpy, but sometimes they put a blanket in for a cushion. I liked it. The horse bridles were fine. I hadn’t had the great fall yet at that time, and I loved everything about horses.
But the dog, she and I kept our distance. She was so hard and sharp all over, and jumpy.
By the time they finished the cart and harness, they were laughing so hard they could hardly stand up, and someone had out a giant camera, a silver box that blinked and caught time.
They came into the house. I took one look at that liver-colored dog, the straps and the wagon. No blanket. And, just like that, I changed my mind.
I did not want to get in that wagon. I did not want to put my life in the control of a dog that was, at best, a toothy acquaintance. I did not trust her. Too many angles, too little fur. Suspicious.
I did not want to put myself in the hands of these near hysterical men. I had seen their exploits and bucking stallions. My heart pounded. Mayday, mayday!
As a mother, I now call that feeling “Daddies do it different!” And I smile brightly and make sure I know the location of the nearest ER, and I send them on their way. A bandaid here and there is worth an adventure with Dad. Dads have a way of planning these beautiful disasters that usually turn out alright. And the kids get tougher. And the memories are priceless.
But I didn’t know that then, and I shook my head. They laughed and said, “Come on, come on, it’ll be fun!”
“No.” I whispered, a mixture of wanting to, but not, a sick feeling at disappointing them, and fear of the dog, and of bravery at saying what I felt, a tiny voice in a room full of deep and boisterous sound.
My grandmother was there. She must have agreed with me, because when I whispered “no,” she grabbed me up and hugged me against her plump chest, and said, “This little baby does not have to get in that wagon. You boys take it right back outside!”
She tucked me next to her and got out a lapful of books. I felt some relief, but I peeked out from under her soft arms at my uncle and my dad, giving up, disappointed, no more laughing, sighing out loud the way that big boys do. The last thing I saw was the tail of that liver colored dog walking out the back door.
I was a tiny adventurer who got afraid. I wanted to do it, but I didn’t.
I wish someone had put a stuffed animal in the wagon to show me it was safe and familiar. I wish my grandma had said she’d hold my hand and walk next to me if i wanted to try it. I wish I would have known that a chance to ride in a Doberman-dog-and-pony-cart would not come again. I wish those men had tried harder with me. Not just that day, but every day since.
But it’s hard when a child is pushing you away, and the women around them circle to protect.
I think I would have said ok, and I think it would have been crazy fun. Bumpy, yes. But, then, Daddies do it different. Gloves off. Rub some dirt on it. Get back on.
It can be hard for moms too, when something looks like a danger to a child, a child they looked death in the face to bring into this world. Like I always say, if men gave birth, you would never see a baby on a motorcycle.
There is a balance in this child rearing thing. And it’s a challenge to find that balance when we don’t know how to be a team and the moment takes us by surprise.
If I had a time machine, I’d go back and try it, that dog and pony show. The wild ride the men had planned, holding on to my grandmother’s hand.
We need the men and women both, in our lives. It’s important that moms and dads look at each other and know it, that we all look at each other and know it. And love and respect . And help. And share.
Fathers are so important.
Mothers are so important.
Blessings on all your efforts.
Thanks for all you do.