This is my Venice moment. Like when my wife was fine on our week-long trip to Italy till the last day when we were on a water taxi and she saw a baby rocking in his stroller and broke down crying out of nowhere, missing our two-year-old back home. I had no words but could only hold her hand. Now I am having the same moment, flying back from Austin to Oakland after a long weekend away. There's a girl in the seat in front of me, kitty corner, with a lilac blossom woven into her hair. And the tight lid I've been keeping on missing my daughters has slipped. It's hard to even talk to them on the phone when I'm away because the sound of their little voices sets my heart to breaking. But I push through it and they don't hear the waver in my voice because they're little and have no concept of such things.
The girl with the lilac blossom swings her little legs on the edge of her seat but I can only see part of her head through the crack between the headrests. Like with my daughters, I can only see part of their beauty at once, sideways, because the full thing is too overwhelming. Tiny dimples on their knuckles, a pigtail sprout too tiny to even be called a pigtail, pink tutus spinning to invisible music. The way my 8-year-old Branna runs and tackles me when I get home - throws herself full force into my love with no reserve - confident that her Daddy will catch her but I'm not sure I can hold it, not all that love. But she trusts me, so I try. Try not to let any of it spill out but it does. It blazes out with a radiance. But some of it goes in a secret chamber in my heart, where I store it up like a squirrel gathering nuts for winter - the winter of her teenage years. The years I dread because I don't think I can handle it. No more "Daddy!" No more launching herself into the air. My sweet flying girl, this missile of love aimed right at my heart - my most vulnerable part. I'm afraid I can't contain it - that she'll pierce me straight through and we'll both fall to the ground.
I think of her now, my Branna. She looks up from her book with her hound dog eyes. Loyal like a great dog, loving like all dogs. "Hazel buddies," we say. These are the first of things we share - our eye color. Reading buddies, soccer buddies, dimple buddies. There will be none of this in the coming winter. There will be slammed doors and shouting. No more super snuggles, no more sloth hugs, no more horsey back rides, no more leg bugs. Just the empty space between us. I hope that isn't true but I know it is. Because it's the same space I gave my parents in my winter. I thought I hated them (I was wrong.) Or would have thought that if I thought of anything besides myself in that time. And I know that we never really got back to that place - to that unreserved, unabashed love when I was the missile. But the love sneaks out in quiet, unexpected moments, like when someone accidentally brushes against a wound you forgot. My Mom used to do that to me. But she's Mom now, not Mommy. And I know the same is coming for me. But right now, I just got home and I'm still "Daddy! " and my girl is in the air - she's flying to me and my arms are wide open and I'm ready to be pierced. And I'm storing more nuts for winter.