Last night Maly and I went out for dinner at the neighborhood restaurant. Nothing fancy. Nothing out of the ordinary. She had the burger with a side of fruit. I had the tortilla fried catfish and shared some of my fries and coleslaw with her.
Shortly after we sat down she asked, “Daddy, can I go play on the jungle gym?”
“Sure, but stay where I can see you. And don’t be gone too long; our food will be here soon.”
I kept an eye on her and noticed a few things during my subconscious observations.
My daughter and I haven’t gone out for dinner by ourselves in a long time.
I didn’t feel compelled to keep a hawk’s eye on her as she played. She’s almost 5-years-old and if she falls or hurts herself, and she has the capacity to do so, she’ll come running back to me at our table. If she gets hurt badly enough, I know her whimpers, cries and screams well enough to where I can hear them through the sounds of a busy restaurant and a playground full of screaming and laughing children.
She looked alone. She would come back to our table every couple minutes for a sip of her milk or to color in a few lines on her kid’s menu and then make her way back to the playground. Each time she’d leave our table, she’d do so in a hesitating cadence while she surveyed the landscape and the other children. It seemed like every other child out there was in the company of friends or siblings.
As she would cross the miniature suspension bridge or climb up and slide down the slide, I’d catch her watching for me out of the corner of her eye as I sat at our table. She’d tilt her head to the right and sneak in a bashful smile. And I’d reciprocate as my heart maintained it’s butter-like form.
At the time, I think I was indifferent. Thinking about it now, I think I was sad. I was sad because she’s old enough to where she can go out to the playground by herself and I no longer have to stay within arm’s reach to catch her every fumble or fall. It’s yet another sign that she’s growing and doesn’t need Elise or me all of the time. I was saddened by what I observed as her loneliness. She didn’t have a sibling or a friend with her like all of the other children. I was sad when when she came back to our table at one point and said, “Daddy, a little girl came up to me and said ‘you’re in my way.’ The girl didn’t even say ‘excuse me.'” I was sad when I told her that she’s going to experience little girls like that for the rest of her life. I was sad when, after I’d paid for our meal, I asked if she wanted to go back out to the playground with me and she said she wanted to go home instead.
As we were leaving the restaurant she said, “Daddy, I’m cold.”
I picked her up and held her close to my body. She put her arms around my neck and rested her head on my shoulder as we slowly walked back to the car.
That made me happy.