(Published in 2014)
Nope. I don’t wanna build a snowman. In fact, I’m pretty sure I never wanna see another friggin’ snowman…ever. This is what I thought in my head. What I actually said to my lovely daughter was:
In the dead of what was a brutal winter this year, I had seen Frozen one too many times. I couldn’t do it anymore. I dreamed of the summer to come and hoped it would be like the summer before, but already things had changed.
Last summer my work hours were reduced due to budget cuts and changes in the healthcare system, and I spent a lot of time working just half days from home, which meant a lot of time goofing around with Reilly.
We’d eat breakfast and watch Disney Junior, and then it was time to take off on Daddy’s “motorcycle.” Mounted on my back like Yoda, Reilly and I raced about on a Trek mountain bike as she cackled madly, played with my emerging ponytail, and whispered words of encouragement.
“Good job drivin’ Daddy.”
Every passerby got a “Hello” and also a “Bye Bye.” By mile five Yoda was asleep on my shoulder, and so I would coast into the driveway and put her down for a nap. After lunch, we had appointments to keep. I had started a lawn care business, and I needed help with the estimates.
Even at only one-and-a-half years old, Reilly could hold entire conversations with strangers, announcing who she is and what she was up to at any given moment.
“Hi, my name Reilly. I’m gettin’ my juice,” was the standard greeting to the clerks at the gas station. She would toddle to the cooler and then bring her apple juice—the one adorned with an animated character—to the register. She even became adept at swiping my debit card through the machine—foreboding this was.
Afternoons were spent swimming in the lake and working in the yard. If you’ve never seen a little girl messily gather pinestraw and spread it wherever she wants, you should know it’s priceless. Once she strayed into some poison ivy, and I had to quickly bring her into the kitchen and soap her up in the sink. I rinsed her, dried her, and then stuck her in the high chair while I dug in the fridge for some snacks. Apparently, I did not dry myself well enough, because I dropped a half-gallon of milk perfectly on my pinky toe.
Oh, there were so many things I wanted to say at that moment, but I confined it to a mild “Damn it,” and then quickly I looked to see if Reilly had caught what I said. She appeared to be engrossed in the iPad. Bullet dodged.
Inevitably business picked up, and my summer days alone with Reilly came to an end. Daycare was now in the picture. Reilly howled and cried when I dropped her off, but that wasn’t the most difficult part. The hardest part was looking into the rearview mirror and not seeing her in the car seat…and then there was the silence.
This summer Reilly and I still get to ride and swim some, but she now goes to school all day. She returns home singing songs and relating all her new activities—her world has begun to grow beyond Daddy.
It’s at these moments that my mind anxiously drifts to Reilly’s future adolescence, and I picture harsh words and Reilly refusing to come out of her room…me at her door trying to coax her out. Even worse, I picture myself sitting alone in the house the day after she leaves for college, a familiar tune escaping my lips:
Do you wanna build a snowman? Come on let’s go and play. I never see you anymore. Come out the door. It's like you've gone away. We used to be best buddies…Do you wanna build a snowman? It doesn't have to be a snowman…Okay, bye.
I gotta go. I have lots of snowmen to build.
Incidentally, during Reilly’s first days of daycare, my wife got the following email:
We have a slight issue. Reilly has been saying "damn it" all morning. We have told her no and made her know that that word is not acceptable, but I just wanted to pass along the information so that you know.