“I don’t want to get older.”
Jeremy didn’t know what to say. His tongue seemed stuck, unwilling to move. He could see it in her eyes, not just the off-hand statement of a five-year old little girl. No, it wasn’t just a passing thought. He could see the fear etched into her eyes.
“What do you mean?” Jeremy asked gently.
“I’m scared of growing up.” She looked up, tears thick in her eyes -at her dad.
He lurched, stomach twisting. What do you say? Long before the world comes in to have a say. Looking at his daughter, that thought changed. It wasn’t long before, it was now. A tear slipped from her face, and she started to cry. It was a small deep reaching cry. The kind that was real. The kind that you knew had a person wrought up inside.
What do you say to a kid? It’s going to be just fine? Maybe it would. He didn’t know. That was part of the parenting bit. There were books and classes and videos, pages and pages of opinions of what to do, how to raise your kid. Looking at her now, a real question of life, one that she was facing. If he treated it as a passing comment, maybe she would let it go, and the thought could pass on. If it didn’t though, and he had fumbled the chance. Would she be stuck in that fear? Kids are resilient.
“Listen, kiddo.” Jeremy said, he tried to gather her attention.
It was buried in that thought though. He could see it. Her attention was there, on that fear. He knew what it was. Worry, responsibility, unknown. He knew the feeling, it was what she had seen in the adults of her life. Something she saw about adults, it made her scared to become one. It wasn’t just the fear of dying, he knew she thought over that sometimes, there had been a moment like this before. When she had voiced that very fear. This was the stark fear of losing fun.
He fought to find the words that could soothe, was there really any? Sure, he could spit out the regurgitated thoughts of those who also feared the same thing. “It’s a long way off” or “You don’t have to worry about that.”. Of course, those were sound advices, things that parried the edge of right. But it didn’t feel right to him. When he looked at his daughter, he could see, she wouldn’t be satisfied with that kind of answer. She had a quick mind, thoughts that formed well and developed. Maybe all kids were really like this, just as smart, observing, keen to question and wonder as their adult counterparts. Maybe the adults just thought they had the upper hand. That was the way the world worked in a lot of other ways. Why not with kids?
He ran down these thoughts, stalling, trying to find the thing to say. This little person, this piece of himself, was staring down the tunnels of fear, and a false answer never gave alleviation to that. He knew. One day, when you find out differently, it hits just as hard, sometimes harder. Then you wonder why no one told you, or maybe no one else knew, or maybe everyone knew and they didn’t talk about it.
“Hey Munchkin.” That caught her look for a moment, and he knew he had only a moment, “You know. I used to be afraid of the same thing.” Still am.
“Oh, yes.” Jeremy said, he kept his voice as light as he could.
“What did you do?”
He couldn’t really remember the first time he’d been afraid to grow up, let alone what he did. That was one of those things that had faded for him. But he knew it hadn’t for others, sometimes that fear stays, sometimes it catches you. “You know, I don’t really remember exactly what I did.”
She looked sad, and he tried to catch it.
“-But that doesn’t mean we can’t figure out what to do now.” He looked at her closely, he was kneeling down on a knee, so they could look each other in the eyes, he needed to have her attention, to get it from that thought. “There is a lot to be happy about growing up.”
The look she gave him clearly said she didn’t believe him. He was trying to figure out how to believe it himself. Sure, he could do nearly whatever he wanted. That was what had always been used as an appeal to growing, for him. But it had never really sat well, as a kid it felt that way most of the time too, except of course when your parents reached out to stall and stop whatever it was you were doing. Most likely as a destruction of fun, at least that was how he remembered it, as a kid. He knew differently now.
Most parents were just like kids, moving into the future without really knowing what it was going to bring. Wondering where the next meal was going to come from, or how to keep the house together, or whatever the conglomerated mess of responsibilities that adults seem to place on themselves. He knew all too well how hard they could be on themselves, he was hard on himself.
“Like what Dad?”
“Oh geez, like having the best daughter in the world!” He said it and meant it, he was still stalling though.
She smiled but buried it quickly, like her worry was ashamed of a bit of mirth. It was okay though, he knew that was part of it, turning around that feeling. Like a plant that broke through concrete, it was done a little at a time. He wanted to be able to let her move on from it, to break free of that worry. Maybe he was worrying about it too much himself, maybe all she needed was a momentary patch over the thought. That didn’t seem right either, like it was the easy way out, it just tasted bad.
“Kiddo. Life is funny. I think it’s up to each of us to see it our own way. It’s up to you, but you have to feel it here.” He pressed his palm over her heart, “And only you can do that. I can’t place it there.”
It was a lot for a kid, but it felt right. Really it was about putting it in a way so she could see it.
“It’s a lot like learning how to walk.” He offered.
“Yeah?” He prepared himself for the next heart wrenching question.
“Can we go to McDonald’s with the playground?”
A small laugh echoed as he agreed.