She was so excited by the prospect of a simple walk by the river, how could I say no. So after days of intermittent rain, Brenna and I spend two hours walking the familiar paths near home.
“You don’t even want adventures anymore!” Brenna complained to me a few days ago. Rain was keeping us from the park. As dad, it was my fault and she knew how to hurt me most.
I wanted to tell her she was wrong, that when mom’s business makes us rich, I’ll retire and have nothing but adventures. But she only cared about that moment.
Today the sun is out, a pink backpack loaded with apple slices and My Little Ponies, and all is forgiven.
“Wait, dad!” Brenna yells, stooping to pluck dry dandelions in the grass along the sidewalk leading to the river. “We each get two wishes,” she explains.
The usual question, “tree house or beach,” has led us today to the tree. Brenna runs ahead and begins … well, I don’t even know what — climbing, singing, dancing.
Whenever I see cattails around a pond I remember the summer between second and third grade when our family moved from Aumsville, Oregon to Troy, Idaho. A freckled boy from the next hill over showed up one day and simply asked, “wanna blow up some grandpas?”
Turned out he had some firecrackers and “grandpas” were his name for the dry cattails around the farm pond between our houses. Brett and I blew up a lot of stuff over the years.
She doesn’t remember, of course, but six-and-a-half years ago, when she was only two days old, we held Brenna by this same tree, under this same branch. It’s been one of her favorite riverside places ever since.
starPhoto by Cheryl Reed
The six ponies come out to play a while (forgive me, I forget their names) before I’m regaled with a hula hoop show which I record to video.
Running maniacally through the tall grass around the tree after the hula hoop show, Brenna runs straight into a down tree at full speed. Laying on the ground she holds her knee, wailing, “I think it’s broke!”
“It will feel better in a minute,” I assure as I scoop her up and carry her to the nearby bench where she cries in my shoulder. Tending to a hurt child is one of a few things in life that come from deep within the primal brain. It feels inexorable.
“Are you ready to explore farther?” I ask after she’s finished crying.
“Can you carry me?” she asks.
“Alright,” I concede.
Our goal is the heron rookery we’ve visited several times. “This way,” I point out before she takes the lead again.
As we near the rookery, we glance up to see heron glide toward their high nests in what seems the manner of pterodactyls, bent necks and huge wings. Then I see two deer and then more in the grass directly ahead.
“Brenna,” I whisper. “Be quiet. Do you see the deer?”
When she does, she demands to move closer.
“That will scare them,” I say. “Let’s just watch from here.”
“No,” she insists, “I want to see them.”
When I still refuse, she goes into meltdown, an episode that concludes with her running after me from the place she said she’d never move from, crying “daddy.” You know how it goes.
Research has found a strong relationship between the ability of children to delay gratification and positive outcomes in adulthood. I always think of that when our kids are impatient and wonder how best to encourage them.
Brenna recovers from her mood crash and decides we should continue farther up the trail to the “waterfall.”
“Want to wear my coat?” I ask Brenna. Blue hour has replaced golden hour and I can see she’s getting cold.
“This was my dad’s coat,” I say as I wrap it around her small frame. I don’t think of that much anymore. It’s just a simple jacket I bought for him when he was last in Boise. But I think Brenna might like the connection.
“I’m sad that I’m going to live longer than you,” Brenna announces as we’re walking along the dirt path. “You’re going to die before me, right?”
“Yeah.” We’ve had this conversation a few times now.¹
“No.” I lie because I know she’d choose to give the coat back and be cold herself.
She asks me to wait as we pass the special tree again so she can check to be sure we haven’t left a pony behind. They’re all safe.
“Can we stop at Blue Cow on the way home?” Brenna asks.
“No.” Twelve dollar frozen yogurts aren’t in the cards this close to bedtime. She waits a few minutes and asks the same question (kids!).
“No, but maybe we can stop for something at Albertsons on the way.”
“Okay,” she allows.
Then Jessica calls to say dinner is on the table. “We’re just now on our way,” I tell her.
“I have news you won’t like,” I warn Brenna because I know how this goes. “Mom has dinner ready so we’re going straight home.”
Then begins tears, yelling, “but you said …” and I decide to bring out the big gun, effective because I only use it every month or two: I speak loudly. She immediately stops crying and is cheerful the rest of the night. Sometimes they just want to know the boundaries are still there.