Clara has been joyously exploring her seven year old freedoms recently. It’s like a door to the world has slowly started to come open and she is charging into it with her shoulder down, the moment she sees daylight. She is throwing it wide, rushing through, eye closed, arms spread, and with a great deep breath she floats there for a moment before rocketing up into the clouds. Into space. Invisible except for her triumphant laughter. Like Amelia Earhart chasing her dreams into the unknown.
During the day she and her new bicycle companion have taken over mailbox duty. Every afternoon now she straps on her helmet and sets sail out of our driveway on the quart mile journey down stream to the edge of our neighborhood. Her mother finds an excuse to stand at the kitchen sink watching anxiously out the back window waiting for the first glimmer of pink rounding the corner on her way back. She has always returned, sometimes with a shriveled frozen cranberry she found hiding in the bushes behind the mailbox, or with apologies about the piece of “unimportant looking” mail that fell out of her back pocket on the way home, lost forever to the wind.
I wonder, is this how it felt to be the parent of one of the great explorers? Did Magellan’s mother stand at the window and watch her son as he paddled his first boat off the dock and around the nearest cape? Every time he left, did she hold her breath waiting for him to return, watching the coast, counting the minutes? I have no doubt.
Yesterday evening Clara came with me to my office so I could attempt to get some work done before this morning. The building was quiet and empty, and she was energized by the spirit of adventure that haunts office buildings at night. She sat on the floor and practiced her writing while I sat nearby writing a traffic report.
After an hour or so she got bored, and then asked if she could go to the bathroom by herself. Of course she could. The bathroom was just 4 doors down. She had been there many times, but never by herself. I walked across the room and helped her unlock my office door so that she would be able to get in when she was finished.
“Okay Dad! I’ll see you in a few minutes!” she sang as she danced off down the hallway.
I returned to my desk. I opened my document. Time passed. Periodically I would look up at the door, expecting it to come flying open. It never did. I braced myself for the explosion of noise. It never came. I started to get worried. I stood up and went to the door.
The hallway was quiet and dim. I looked down the corridor towards the bathroom. There, standing a few feet away was a very small girl, waiting outside the office door, patiently wringing her hands. Her face stricken with worry, lines crossing her forehead as she tried to come to terms with the fact that she had been forgotten, that her father had abandoned her in the wild. That she had been locked out and no matter how much she knocked and called for me I did not come for her. She stood there staring up at the gold numbers “204” above the door, as I finally exited an identical door 15 feet away marked with a “206”.
Before my brain even realized what was going on, she was around my waist, suddenly sobbing. Finally letting herself cry in relief the tears she denied herself to cry in fear. I held my hands firmly on both of her shoulders and allowed her to cry.
Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 while attempting to circumnavigate the globe by plane. Her mother, Amelia Otis Earhart, died 25 years later. I’ve been thinking about that a lot today. 25 years watching out the kitchen window at the backyard, waiting. Walking to the door, looking out at the bend in the road, expecting something to arrive at any moment.
Parenting an explorer is troubling work.