Dancing With My Daughter

In honor(?) of the recent heat, an excerpt from the new book (due out August 21, but happily available for pre-order right here):

The heat is still oppressive, and Jane asks me to fill her wading pool. “How about if we go swimming in Cotter Creek?” I ask. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” she says, one pogo per exclamation point. I retrieve the scythe from the oat stubble, hang it from the granary rafters, and we head for the house to change into our swimming suits.

We have access to the creek through the property of some friends a short drive down the road. They’re not home, and all is quiet as we park the car and I unbuckle Jane from her seat. We make our way around behind the house and down a footpath through the trees and into a patch of canary grass taller than my head. Forcing my way through the grass toward the gurgling sound of the creek, I find a spot where a log projects out over a sandbar and we step into the shallows. “Huh, huh, huh!” Jane says at the first cold shock of the water on her feet, but she acclimates quickly, stomping and splashing. The creek is barely ten feet wide, but the current is swift and the sand bar drops off darkly, so I grip her hand at all times. “Let’s dance and twirl, Dad!” she says, and I know from our many living room ballet sessions that what she really wants me to do is sweep her in wide circles so her feet skim in and out of the water. Then I wade off into a belly-deep hole and swish her back and forth while she giggles and giggles. Then we slosh back up to the sandbar and dance, she rising on her tippy-toes and fanning her fingers, me stomping around white-leggedly.

We take a break then, sitting side by side on the log. The stream is deeply canopied here, the scorching day shut out, the air mud-cool. Jane leans in tight and shivers against me, elbows tucked to the sides of her belly, wrists crossed over her chest, teeth chattering. Now the mosquitoes show, whining around our ears and settling on our bare shoulders, where I feel the first itchy-sweet bite. But she doesn’t want to go just yet. She just wants to sit there huddled next to her old dad, and I can’t find it in me to budge. The love I feel is nearly overcoming, and as always in these moments the joy is crowded by a breathless realization of how fleeting this moment is, a desperate desire to burn it deep in some crease of the brain so that you might call upon it even as you let go this world.

It is no good to overthink these things and I am spared the sentimental whirlpool when I feel a hard lump between my butt and the log and realize it is my cell phone. “Rattafrat!” I say, managing to maintain a G-rating.

Jane straightens. “What, Daddy?”

“I got my cell phone wet!”

She shakes her head with her eyebrows raised. “Well that’s a problem.”

The skeeters are really digging in now. I wrap Jane tight in a towel and carry her up the path. When we reach the yard, she asks me to put her down. When her feet touch the ground she runs up the lawn and around the house toward the car, and in a beautiful bit of mangled syntax, hollers back over her shoulder, “I will win you, Daddy! I will win you!”

Visiting Tom c. 2012, HarperCollins Publishing

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