Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Crime and Punishment

I was not happy when my cell phone started singing as I was heading south on I-205.

The early dark had caught Portland's evening rush hour in a rain-slick chaos of a Tuesday.

For all that we here get a tropical hundred-some inches of rain every winter we are really terrible drivers in it; speeding, tailgating, and weaving between lanes in a contemptuous hurry. Familiarity with the slippery roads breeds insurance claims, and I really wasn't in the mood to talk both because of the difficulty of the business at hand and the long day of cold, wet work I'd had.But the curse of the cell is that you're tethered to it; everyone knows you have one, and you can no longer pretend to be unable to respond every time some trivial crisis reaches for your collar.

But as soon as I flipped the phone open I realized the crisis was a different sort.

"Can you speak to Missy?" my wife asked in her you-don't-really-have-an-option voice.

"Sure." I replied, canny husband that I am, and was rewarded with the sound of a tiny, hiccup-sobbing little voice in my ear as some jackhole cut into the lane a half-chrome-bumper-plating-layer-thick width in front of me.

"I'msosorryDaddyIdidn't..." was all I could make out of the confusion of little-girl hysteria.

"Calm down, sweetie," I said, looking over my shoulder as I slid to the right into the vacant travel lane, "...and tell me. What happened?"

Out of the incoherent kidspeak - instantaneous translation is one of those parenting skills they don't tell you about in "What to Expect When You're Expecting" - I sussed out the tale. Little girl had done something unforgivable to something of mine and was now terrified to collapse by the fear of parental vengeance.

"Do you still love me, Daddy?" she asked between sobs.

One of the least-appreciated parental skills is the ability not to laugh at inappropriate times. Missy's fear was a live thing to her, for all that it might seem silly to me after fifty years of living and the hard knowledge of real wrongs done and forgiven. She was really terrified that I might love some object associated with me more than I loved her.

"Sweetie, I will ALWAYS love you. Always." I tapped the brakes to avoid an overloaded panel truck weaving ominously in and out of the center lane to my left "I might not be happy with what you did but I will never stop loving you."

I paused to let a gust of hiccuping pass and then asked the question that had been on my tongue since the phone rang;

"What DID you do?"

At that point I was transferred to my son, who explained that his little sister had drawn a beard and other additions on a picture I had stuck up on the refrigerator."It's really funny, it was wrong, but it's also kinda funny, but she's really, really sorry, Dada..." he expanded for his erring sister.

"Okay. Let me talk to your sister."

"Missy, sweetie, it's okay. I still love you. I will ALWAYS love you. Just ask next time, okay? I don't like when you take things without asking. But that will never make me not love you."

The assurance seemed to have its effect, as her sounds lost their bereft quality. By the time I closed the phone all I heard were small sniffles.

Where did we get this terrible power? What strange need in the human heart grants a man of average mind and no particular gifts the ability to reduce a little girl to helpless grief over some silly, trivial sin for no better reason than because they are father and daughter?

We sail so thoughtlessly through our emotions, these loves and likings, the complex shoals and deeps of need and desire, hope and hatred, freedom and dependence that we don't often stop and contemplate the ocean we sail upon. At least, I usually don't.

Until the brokenhearted crying of my little girl makes me look around me and marvel at the broad and mostly unexplored distances of that vast and perilous deep.

We have no charts to the passages of the heart.

When I finally walked up the night-wet steps to the door this was affixed under the knocker:My bride looked up from her book as I passed through the doorway reading this plea for forgiveness obviously penned for my daughter by her brother. Mojo frowned at me as I grinned at the amanuensis' addendum - "I still think that it looks funny" (I detected the likelihood that the smaller child had been led into temptation by the larger...)

"She really was very worried that you wouldn't love her anymore. They just went to bed. You might check on her and see if she's still awake and let her know everything's OK."

So I went softly barefooted down the darkened hallway to Missy's little shed-roofed room at the back of the house. The small figure was cuddled inside a muddle of pink little-girl blankets and stuffed bed-friends, and the cheek that was half-covered by a sheet of nightblack hair was warm and smelled faintly of her beloved strawberry "Pixie Hollow" shampoo. The skin under my lips was very soft. I ran one hand over her head, marveling at the rich complexity of this small person that life and Fate had brought here and to me.

"I love you, sweetheart, and I always, always will."

From somewhere deep in dreams she must have heard, because a tension I hadn't even noticed before went out of the small shoulders. She sighed and settled back into her pillow, and her lips curved ever so slightly upward.And I left her smiling into the silence of her darkened room.


Dee said...

It's true, that we have no idea of the power we wield over their hearts. But, they hold the power over ours. Thanks for the reminder to be gentle with that power.

Pluto said...

Good story, nicely told.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to all a good night!

Anonymous said...

So, I'm going over to GFT to see what's happening in Oregon, after I read about and see a Texas judge's method of disciplining his daughter, older than yours, and the language he uses with her.

This verse has always been hard for me, Matthew 7

9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

I'm not linking to the video, that's up to you. Here's the C&L link with the video link

Jesus' famous words about forgiveness, "They don't know what they're doing" applies to good as well, I think.

You and your bride have no idea what your love for your child will produce eventually, but I'm confident it will be good. From Good Fruit comes Good.

I shudder at what possible outcome will appear out of the Texas judge's actions legal and domestic.

Have a Pleasant ThanksGiving.


Lisa said...

"Where did we get this terrible power?"

It's such a good question, and a good observation that we troll about on the surface of the water, and cannot fathom the depths.

It seems on a personal level we have only the powers others impute to us. For Missy, it is a girl's need to have a strong father, and if she is lucky, to have him bestow his validation upon her, as you did. All children push their limits knowingly, and they the lucky few have patient parents who let their dismay be known, but follow it with confirmation.

In retrospect, I wish I had been more theatrical, emotionally, and could have received that validation. Alas, I was reserved, and do not ever remember asking if I was still loved. It seems healthy, tough, to ask for that reassurance. I think it is necessary theatre.

Lisa said...

Oh, and I hope you enjoyed a Happy Thanksgiving!