The guest bed in our house, the one in the room that smells like something old and musty and unused, is covered in the detritus of my daughter’s art projects and school work.
These pieces were first housed in my wife’s office in overspilt piles, but Laura needs the space now and, as such, Darcy’s various colorings, worksheets and various other progresses lie on a bed which no one uses. My wife Laura and I mean to go through the pile but haven’t managed to despite it being more than a week.
There’s always something else to do.
It’s this thought with which I’m preoccupied as I carve up a mango for Darcy. I hate paring mangos. Aside from becoming a nun, I’m hard pressed to think of anything more difficult to get into. Four lateral cuts around a giant pit (the mango, not the nun) and then the scoring and filleting the components into small cubes. A father has no greater love for his daughter than when he is cutting up a mango for his child.
More often than not I nick my palm or finger in the process. I’m not “present” when I’m cutting a mango. Given my fumbled fingers and stay at home father I suppose I should be. There’s always something else to think about. What to make for dinner, the back deck that needs to be cleaned and sealed before it rots, art projects to file or dispose of before they take over the house.
Instead I spent the bulk of the day pulling clover, Charlie Creeper, tenacious bits of Euonymus, English Ivy and really weeds by any other name to make room for more socially acceptable plants. For Mother’s Day I bought Laura five daisy pots and some Lamb’s Ear, both of which needed to be put in the ground before they withered and died. Plants like to be in the ground and the daisies, my wife’s favorite flower, have been wilting in the sun for the past two weeks for lack of being planted.
Darcy watches me as I pare the mango and move the knife around the bulk of the pit.
“Can I eat that?” she asks then slurps before looking at me knowing that that the sound always makes me chuckle.
“Go at it,” I say and give her a side piece upon which to gnaw.
“Daddy. Daddy. Daddy,” she shouts a few seconds later.
I tell her to be quiet. I’m scoring the bigger parts of the mango and trying not to puncture the skin of the fruit or my palm.
“Daddy, you need to look right now,” Darcy says. “There’s something here I can’t eat.”
I tell her to give me a second, focused upon cleaving the fruit from its skin and other myriad to-dos. There are bulbs to deadhead in the front yard, a lawnmower I’ve been meaning to clean for a year or two. There’s laundry to wash and sort and floors to clean, dishes to stack and much else to be done.
“Daddy,” Darcy says again, jerking me away from my thoughts and instead of simply scoring the mango, I dig too deep and score my palm.
“Damnit, Darcy,” I bitch. “What is it?”
“I think I just lost my tooth.”
“Holy. Shit,” I say and there, in the rind of a mango and after a cursory inspection, is my daughter’s tiny tooth.
“I tried pulling it at school but it wouldn’t come out,” she tells me.
We both place it carefully in a small bowl so that it isn’t lost. I take a picture of it and the gap in Darcy’s mouth to send to her mother who’s at work. I caption the photo with “do you see anything missing?” knowing that Laura will be upset that she’s not been here for this milestone, that pictures are second best to “being there” but better than nothing at all.
Laura calls a few hours later and Darcy talks in exclamations as I fold the whites. A small pile of tiny socks lies on the couch waiting to be paired. Like most kindergartners, Darcy has many socks and loathes them all. Every few months I buy a few new pairs in the hopes that some won’t be too small, too itchy, too much of something I can never adequately diagnose.
“Stop jumping on the couch,” I growl as a pile of clothes tumbles to the ground. Little shirts and shorts tumble and become unsorted. A small avalanche of tiny socks spills across the wooden floor and I manage to keep from cursing. Her feet, though larger than they were five years ago, are still small. Toes peer over the pads of her feet like five or ten tiny Killroys.
When Darcy was born there were tests. One involved taking blood from her arm, which was upsetting to both of us. It was the one in her foot though that I remember most. The needle, carefully placed into the heel, and then the way the nurse milked it. I had to turn away as Darcy howled with all of the impotent fury of a girl not more than forty-eight hours old.
Her first night at home I remember placing her in the crib. She scarcely took up a third of its length and seemed to be so small and infinitely vulnerable. I used to bathe her in the kitchen sink and now she spans the length of the bathtub.
Yesterday she found a “callipitter” in the schoolyard while playing with her friends. Darcy shrieked and called them over to see the tiny, hairy little thing in the palm of her hand. They didn’t correct her, nor did I, in her pronunciation. There will be time enough for that later. Innocence and the infinite joy of discovery doesn’t last long and should be preserved. It is a sacred thing.
Laura always reads a story at bedtime. I try to stay most times to listen but there are other, many nights, when I don’t. There’s always so much to do. Tonight I stay, and when the story is done and the lights have been turned off, Laura sings to Darcy. It’s a piece by Billy Joel, a lullaby that’s both sweet and depressing in equal measure. The line, “someday we’ll both be gone but lullabies they still go on,” resonates in my wife’s sweet voice.
“Daddy, my legs hurt,” Darcy whispers and flips over to face me.
I remember growing pains when I was a boy and the constant ache in my thighs and calves. My father would wake up with me in the early hours of the morning after hearing me flip and moan, half asleep in my bed. He’d ask me to take deep breaths in some pseudo attempt at meditation, but the old man never rubbed the knots out of my legs. To be fair, I never asked.
I rub Darcy’s legs. Laura finishes the last stanza of her lullaby and our daughter plants her thumb firmly in her mouth. A few minutes later it pops out again, a sure sign that sleep has taken hold. She gives a tiny snore before rolling back over on her side.
Laura’s voice and song have almost lulled me to sleep. I fight it as best as I can. She asks if I want to go downstairs.
“Just a few more minutes up here,” I say. Darcy is firmly wedged in my side. Now that she’s almost six, my daughter rarely seeks me out for comfort. She prefers her mother. I understand. Laura is often at work. The parent who isn’t around is often the novelty.
These days, these moments, are numbered and I know that there won’t be many left. I blink and nod off for the slightest second before waking with a start. I haven’t cleaned the kitchen. Aside from a few hard boiled eggs, there isn’t much to eat in the refrigerator. I need to think about what to buy from the store tomorrow and what to cook for breakfast.
I tell myself “ten more minutes,” knowing that my eyelids will close for increasingly lengthy intervals. I can feel them grow heavy. I blink once and Darcy’s eyes are twitching, deep in REM sleep, I think. I blink again and she has taken my hand and placed it on her chest and I feel it rise and fall in a slow and steady rhythm. I blink again not knowing how much time has passed. Neither of us has moved. I watch her as long as I am able. I see her take her tiny and regular breaths and fidget ever so slightly until I too close my eyes and succumb to sleep.