“Dad, can I sit on your lap?”
I was on a daddy daughter date with Taylor and the movie had just started. When she was younger, she always wanted to sit on my lap during movies, but I didn’t want to force anything. These things change quickly, you know. The theater was pretty much empty and we were sitting side by side getting settled in. I folded up the armrest that separated us just in case she wanted to lean on my shoulder or even tuck herself under my arm. I thought at least that initiative would communicate that I would take whatever affection she felt comfortable to offer.
It may seem odd that I’m thinking through affection with my youngest to this degree of nuance, but of all the girls, she’s the deepest and most abstract thinker of them all. She can tell when I’m changing the conversation and can literally start answering my probing fatherly question before I complete it? She can feel when I’m moving toward her for a hug. She can smell any move I make before I make it. When she holds my hand, it’s methodical. When she snuggles at bedtime, it’s mechanical. When she speaks her mind, it’s measured. Put it this way, I don’t pull any fast ones on this girl.
As she’s gotten older and wiser, her personality has made it more difficult for me to stay affectionate with her and she with me. She’s very tender, don’t get me wrong, but she thinks so hard and so much that I wonder if it makes every spontaneous occurrence almost predestined in her mind. She knows things are going to happen before they do, almost like she’s gone to the future and come back to live it a second time.
So she knows that when we go to dinner, I’m going to ask her questions. She knows what the questions are going to be (at least most of the questions) and has answers (edited though they are) polished and pure, ready for delivery. Sometimes I catch her off guard, but that’s just it…she’s on guard. It makes natural conversation and natural interaction much less so when the guardedness is there.
So sitting in a theater pretty much by ourselves after dinner is somewhat predictable for her. She loves that we’re alone (no survival of the fittest between her sisters to expend energy on) and that the night is about her (I keep saying things like, ‘If you want to’… ‘If that’s what you want’… ‘whatever you feel like’). But she also has probably already lived the whole night out in her head and is on high alert for my next move and how she can “do what I want her to do” (did I mention she’s a pleaser on top of everything else). This complicates matters all the more. It’s hard to know what she wants cause she wants what will make the other party happy, whomever they may be. She wants what I want. In fact, she said no less than two times already on our date, “But is that what you want to do?” You see how complicated even simple things are for her beautiful little mind?
So as we’re sitting in the theater, I am careful not to do anything that makes her feel like I want something, like she needs to do something to make me happy. I don’t want her to hold my hand if she isn’t inclined to or to lean on my arm if she’s not in the mood. I want her to relax into what she most naturally needs in the moment. But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I’m watching out the corner of my eye wondering what she’s thinking and what she’s wanting. It’s a cat and mouse game, really.
“Dad, can I sit on your lap?”
Those words reach my ears and send a signal down into the center of my soul like an electric current from a lightning bolt! She wants to sit on my lap. She wants to.
I scoop her up into my arms and place her on my legs allowing her to shift and wiggle her body into a comfortable position, which she does for almost a minute before she finds the perfect contour that lets her reline back against my chest and see the movie without any imperfection. (Did I mention she’s a perfectionist?) So if something looks off, feels odd, or is slightly incongruent or out of place, it’s hard for her to relax and lose herself in the moment. I could tell when she found the perfect position because her body went limp. She was unconscious of her surroundings. This is the perfect place for her little heart, a place she isn’t in very often.
It was a movie she had already seen (and I hadn’t), so every now and again she would lean back and say, “I love this part” or “I don’t like this part”. After the scene would end, she would re-say the phrase of a particular character than she found intriguing. It was beautiful. I would also whisper into ear little lines from the movie that were unique, and she would smirk in agreement.
One time she grabbed my hand and put her fingers in between all my fingers forming a firm lock. I’ve heard it described as “interdigitated” handholding. This rarely happens with her for some reason. She usually will hold my hand, but stiffly and stoically, like she’s holding a railing or a vacuum handle. To be intertwined with her little hand was a gift that I received with great honor. It was hard for me at times to concentrate on the movie because I was so immersed in these small movements within the story of Taylor and my life happening in real time. I would move in and out of the movie, back and forth between its plot and my own, trying to make the most of every moment afforded me.
She was letting my rub my whiskers softly through her hair, combing it like a bristled brush. I would kiss her forehead and her cheek without so much as a flinch. She was open to my affection. She was lost in the movie and the moment. No pretention, no tension. She was present. No then or there, only here.
Every 20 minutes she would shift her whole body around to find another position and I would fear that she’d snap out of the freedom and into a place of “trying” again, but she would seamlessly and thoughtlessly move into another trance which is called the “suspense of disbelief” in storytelling. It is that place where you forget that you are doing something because you’re so enthralled and immersed in the thing itself. Her body felt light and her limbs, limber. Over and over again I wished to myself that I could freeze-frame time and stay there longer. More than that even, I wished I could take this moment of child-like freedom and make her feel it all the time. I know this to be a flight of fancy, but I couldn’t help but feeling the strength of that thought overtaking me. I so much want her to be free. She’s only ten and it seems her soul at times lives as if she’s carrying the weight of the world, the burdens of a 45 yr old widow. I long to create moments where she can be young and juvenile even. I want her to make mistakes because she’s not thinking about each and every consequence, paralyzed by “what if’s” and “if only’s”.
If only but for a couple hours, we sat woven together like two peas in a pod, father and daughter, unfettered by the cares of this world.
She sat on my lap last night. And that’s saying a lot.