Monday, July 26, 2010

Shifting Sands...

Six thirty comes fast when you're on vacation...especially at the beach. Mary slept soundly at the foot of our bed so she wouldn't wake the others as the time for our morning run arrived.

Just the two of us.

A few weeks earlier she had begun her training for the high school's cross country team.  Rising seventh graders are allowed to join so she decided to give it a try. A few days before our trip to Nags Head, NC we hiked with several teammates up a well-known trail in our area.  The others were slightly older than my daughter, but she carried her pack and ascended the mountain right along with them all.

It scared me, though.  Her growing up, that is-mixing so easily with these teenage women. 

She seemed groggy as rays of light now infiltrated the tiny spaces between the blinds in our strange home for the week.  I dressed quickly and quietly in the bathroom.

"Do you still want to go?  It's really going to be hot."

"I know.  I want to go," she said in a perturbed, defensive tone, as if my question immediately insinuated her weakness as the fairer of the species.  I didn't mean it that way, but they never believe you anyway, so  I kept silent.

Soon she tied her laces and we opened the door to greet the oppressive air.  The weatherman was most correct in his prediction.  Sweat started to bead up on me before we finished stretching.  My shirt showed the signs by the time we got to the end of the driveway to start running. 

"How many do you want to do?" I asked as we began.

"Oh, eight miles should be good."

"Eight miles?  We're on vacation for crying out loud.  Besides, it's hotter than a depot stove out here.  How about we just run until we think we need to turn around?  Deal?"

"Deal," she said.

Around two miles I noticed her flushed face as she began to rest her hands squarely on her hips.  She labored hard in the humid, coastal air.

"You ok, sweetheart?"

"I'm fine," she said in the same defensive tone from earlier.

"Want to turn around?"

"Only if you want to, Daddy."

I knew what she meant.

"I want to," I said.

After the third mile, I sensed her struggling some more but didn't dare mention it. 

"How about we slow our pace a little?" I asked.  "My old legs are starting to ache."

"Ok, if you need to," she said.

We slowed abruptly and shortly thereafter we could see the house in the distance. 

"How about we sprint the last couple of hundred yards?" she asked.

"Ok, if you want to." I replied.

At once she took off.  Suddenly, a wave of nostalgia filled with tension flooded over me- a tension born from a father fighting to graciously embrace his daughter's speedy evolution. 

Nine years earlier we had come to this same beach, albeit much younger versions of our current selves.  I had carried her on my shoulders and in my arms then, walking along the shore; breathing the intoxicating fumes of the setting sun.  Together we scratched from the sand wondrous treasures- her perspective so new and innocent, as I dangled her tiny legs in the ocean's foamy surf; protecting her from the fury of its relentless assault. 

Now, as she ran away, her goals and my age filled the space between us.  It was bittersweet and I could taste them both.  She's so much like her mother.  Sweet and dreamy, but a wild strand or two in her otherwise tranquil sea of blonde.  Just enough to keep a guy honest and still interested in wanting a little more. 

I couldn't catch her, but a curious thought occurred to me.

One day storms will most certainly rain down.  But, when they come, I hope she knows I'll always be right there...He'll be right there...close behind.

Ready and waiting to pick her up...

To gently carry her...to protect her from...

the waves that crash around us all...