by the Night Writer
Riding into work this morning my iTouch randomly played Richard Thompson’s version of “Oops…I Did it Again”; the kind of off-beat juxtaposition I tend to like in my music selections. It also brought back the clear memory from nine or ten years ago of driving my oldest daughter, her cousin, two of their friends and my youngest daughter to Valley Fair amusement park one fine summer morning. The four older girls were just barely into their teens and greatly enamoured with Britney’s original version of that song. Squeezed into my wife’s Mercury, they were singing the song and doing the accompanying hand motions, forming little halos over their heads as they sang, “Sent from above…I’m not that innocent.” Even then the words made my heart ache a little bit.
Ironically, or perhaps cosmically, the next song that came up on my Touch was Mindy Smith’s Hard to Know,
I really didn’t care
‘Cause I was trying to hurt myself
A sticky situation
I’m still trying to work it out
And I didn’t want to know
That I was the one to blame
Pointing my finger
Tryin’ to push all the blame away
Sometimes it’s hard to know
That you need to be saved
‘Til you hit the bottom
And rattle that cage
Sometimes you just gotta keep
Until you break through
To the light of day
Since that long ago day on the road to Valley Fair I’ve nearly lost track of one of the four older girls, while two of them have gotten married (one now pregnant) and the other girl lived with her underemployed boyfriend, got pregnant, and has moved back with her baby to live with her parents. A couple of years ago she landed an opportunity to get a job paying $16 an hour, but she needed to go to a week-long training program first. The training site wasn’t far from where I work and her father asked me if I could drive her in the mornings. Sure I could. I’d go to the designated spot to pick her up and I’d see the boyfriend drop her off and drive away in his vehicle with one of those small, temporary tires on one wheel. Each day. A couple of days into the training her father called me to say that she was feeling ill and wouldn’t be able to make it that day. I bit my lip, then my tongue, and picked her up the next morning as scheduled. I gently told her how important it was to make a good impression in a new position and how little things such as just showing up when you’re expected can make you stand out from most others of her age and with her experience. She seemed to understand, but later in the week she missed another day … and was terminated, much to her distress.
When I hear “Oops, I Did it Again” (and couldn’t that be the theme song for all of us?) I always end up thinking about “innocence” and what it means. An Innocent is someone who is unaware or uninformed about some aspect of life, who doesn’t see the sometimes dark aspects of things that are largely bright and wonderful. Such ones can often find themselves caught in the snares of others or find their attempts to cast snares of their own sundered. Ah well, there are easy ways to learn a lesson and there are hard ways, but the important thing is that one learns. As a father, though, I am all too aware that I have to ultimately send my daughters out into the world of wolves while desiring that they be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. It’s a difficult assignment, finding the way to expose them to just the right amount of fire that will temper them without searing or burning them.
On that same trip to Valley Fair the young Tiger Lilly, who was about six then, stayed with me while the older girls were allowed to run off in their pack. The two of us rode the more age appropriate thrill rides as we made our way through the park. At one point as we were leaving one place I turned to latch a tricky gate behind me while Tiger Lilly ran ahead, not realizing I had stopped. When I turned back around she was already out of sight in the summer crowd. On full alert I jumped up on a nearby 3-foot retaining wall to get a better vantage point, my eyes peeled for a flash of orange hair. I didn’t have far to look because she had only gone about 60 feet before realizing that I wasn’t behind her. Her immediate distress at this revelation caught the attention of a passing woman who stopped to help. They both looked my way as I came down off the wall and steamed through the crowd in their direction like a dreadnought parting the waves. “I bet that’s your father right there,” the woman said. Indeed.
I don’t know if that memory has stayed with her, but I think that Tiger Lilly and her sister have always had a sense that I’d be nearby, flying cover (in word if not in person) while they ventured, ready to swoop if needed. How valuable is that to their confidence, decision-making and sense of security? I suppose it’s impossible to quantify though many may seek to diminish it. I only know — now that one is an adult and the other acts more adult than some grown-ups I know — that I wouldn’t have wanted to try it any other way.