Once, last week, on a day I had work that would take me away from the house, I drove Lia to the school where Franca teaches so that she could stay with her mother. It was summer vacation still and Lia was happy to be going to the school because only the teachers would be there and she would pretty much have the run of the place. She carried with her her diabetes supplies as well as a backpack of artsy activities suited to occupy her, though most of her time would be spent either playing on the computer or drawing on the white board at the head of the class.
I think there is something strangely alluring to a child and an empty school building. It reminds me of when I was her age and visiting my father’s uncle who drove a school bus in some far out country school district in northern Ohio. I can still remember the thrill of him taking us for a Sunday afternoon joy ride in the enormously long (back then) yellow bus.
For the drive over we took what we call The Big White Truck, which for Lia is always a treat, but not because it is big, it isn’t, but because she gets to sit in the front seat. This puts us on even par, at least conversationally speaking. Just two dudes — a new favored term she has recently picked up — ridin’ in a truck, yappin ‘bout the day.
I was feeling nostalgic for other reasons as well. This year Lia will be in the fourth grade and as such will be moving to another building. This is good news for us as a family because that means that Franca and the girls will all be at the same campus, which brings us both great assurance from a diabetes care standpoint — this school has no nurses, mom and dad are the nurses — as well solves for us a number of logistical problems, primarily, for me anyway, avoidance of cutting my workday short to attend the dreaded carpool.
But a new campus also implies something lost: The early mornings of waiting with Lia in the car at the library, talking and listening to music until the school doors opened, then holding hands as we walked down the street and past the flag pole and up to the school’s front steps; later in the day, sunny afternoons waiting outside on the sidewalk to pick her up, sharing a wave as she found me in the crowd of other parents, listening as she told me about her day as we walked back to the car; the occasional side-trek to the park or the library, which, sadly in hindsight, never happened often enough. To make matters worse, in the fourth grade building there are fifth graders to serve as reminder that just around the bend are the sixth and seventh and eighth graders, who are just a short skip and a jump from the high school, of which I can’t possibly consider for fear of discovering that a blink is truly all that it takes and then you are there, years ahead of this one certain moment.
Lia is old enough to know this too but to a child time passing is different. It is something of which to look forward to, to dream upon and make wishes — who you might become, where you might live, what work you might do — and yet…
As we head to the school that day in The Big White Truck, her mood suggests also a special sadness. Whether she is old enough to appreciate it or not is another matter, but I sense this tinge of regret in her that all children eventually come to discover, that life does indeed hurry by.
I will miss our walks, she says, but her grin betrays her. She has said this for my benefit and I love her even more for it. It is one of those cherished moments you’d like to freeze in time, the beloved gift of a glimpse into someone’s true heart.
Our wistful moment is short lived, as most are, and we have moved on further down the road. Our discussion has moved on too and we are talking about barns and how it would be nice to have one on a farm, with cows and chickens and tractors. Lia turns to me and says, Daddy?
When we grow up, she begins.
I look at her suddenly with puzzled amusement, and she stops. I regret my intrusion at once, the suggestion is just too farfetched, though also extremely appealing. But I am too late with remorse. Lia has already realized her verbal mistake. It shows on her face in embarrassment and I feel for her disenchantment. It is one of adulthood we all share eventually, there is no turning back.
And so she starts over with the proper beginning, and we continue down this path, where my daughter, and all of my children, in fact, keep proving to be miles ahead of me.