I was pretending to be a fairy, along with my five-year-old, when I noticed a couple tweens making out on the sidewalk across from the slide.
We were at an elementary school where my seven-year-old son’s soccer practice was held. Norah and I started out on the grassy field where Tristan played, like we always did, and then we became fairies, opened our wings, and flew to our castle (the play ground).
We were at the top of the slide when I looked out and noticed a group of five tweens, probably 11 or 12 years old. Two of them were obviously a couple. While the other three rode skate boards in the U-shaped pick up and drop off area, a black-haired girl and a blond boy stood on the sidewalk sharing a sloppy, open-mouthed kiss that seemed to last for an eternity. This girl was old enough to have breasts, but still young enough to not seem out of place near a playground. The kids on skateboards clumsily used the f-word as verbs and adjectives and all other parts of their speech. They seemed to be feeling out the word, and I could tell that it made them feel rebellious to say it.
I don’t know how long I’d been staring at them when Norah tugged at my arm.
“Daddy,” she said. “We need to go down every slide in the fairy castle. It’s the only way to save the princess.”
I looked down at Norah. She was wearing a purple dress and Disney princess shoes with hearts on the sides that lit when she walked. She smiled at me, and in her eyes was an urgency to get things done. To save the princess. This was the same look she gave me when she told me she wanted to marry all the boys in her kindergarten class, or own a really big pink car. She seemed to be in a huge hurry to grow up, and I couldn’t help but look at her, and then look at this young girl awkwardly accepting a soggy kiss from a blond boy sporting baggy cargo shorts and a lumpy erection, and wonder how much longer I had with this sweet little person.
Norah went down the slide first. Then I followed her. Once I reached the bottom, Norah was standing on the wood chips facing the young couple. I couldn’t tell if she was looking at them, or looking past them, but what I do know is that she seemed to be deep in thought. She seemed to be taking something in, and suddenly I got really scared. I thought about influences, and what this was doing to her. Sure, she’d seen Mel and I kiss. She'd seen us say that we love each other. But we were married. Honestly, I wanted her to see stuff like that. I wanted her to know what a loving couple looks like. But at the same time, I didn’t want her to get confused between love and lust. I wanted to do the dad thing and tell the two to stop kissing. Say something like, “Do you mind? My daughter is watching.” And they would’ve looked at me like I was a huge dick, probably told me to F-off. It wouldn’t have solved anything.
“Hey,” I said. I crouched down, so I could look Norah in the eyes. “Let’s fly. Where should we go?”
Norah smiled back at me, her mouth open a little bit. She loved being asked what she wanted to do. I don’t think young children are asked that nearly enough. At least, I wasn’t when I was a kid. I felt like I spent most of my time being told what to do.
“Let’s fly to the bright island,” she said. She pointed to a large map of the United States that was painted on the ground behind the basketball court. We put out our wings, and flew away from the tweens making out.
As we flew, I thought back to my teen years. I thought about James May, who was the only boy in my junior high who was having sex. At least that I knew about. I recall feeling so jealous of his great accomplishment. That was, until the 8th grade when he got his girlfriend, Amber, pregnant. He dropped out freshman year, and so did she, and after that I only heard rumors of James and Amber. They got married at 16, and were divorced by 18. Both worked in retail. It is only now, at age 32, that I realize how scary that all sounds. Raising a family is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I’d hate to have done it at such a young age. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I don’t want that for my children.
Norah and I jumped from state to state on the painted map, and I pointed out the ones we’ve lived in: Utah, Minnesota, and now Oregon.
“You’ve lived in a lot of places,” I said.
Norah smiled and said, “Yup!”
I looked at Norah, and wondered how much longer I had to influence her. Six, maybe seven years, before she stopped listening to me. From here on out what I have to say will mean less and less. Perhaps it’s the Mormon in me, but I want her to be a sweet, chaste little girl forever. I don’t want to find out that at age 13 she was making out with some f-bomb dropping dreamy skateboarder next to a playground. And the more I think about that, the more I realize that my real fear is myself. I wasn’t the one making out at 13. But I was at 16. That’s when I lost my virginity to a young redhead. I felt so old and mature and ready then. But now, I realize that I was just a dumb kid. That redhead and I were together for a few years, and the first time we used protection, but after that we stopped. Somehow, remarkably, she never got pregnant, which is a relief because if she had, I probably never would have married Mel. I never would have moved from Utah to Minnesota for graduate school. And then from Minnesota to Oregon for a university job.
I would’ve probably ended up like James and Amber, trying to make a go at raising a family while still being a kid. I’m not saying that having a child in high school would have ruined my life, but I can say that it would have made my life harder.
I crouched down once again, to look Norah in the eyes. I wanted to explain to her about the dangers of making out at age 13, and how I wanted her to grow up and go to college. To meet the right person. Someone that will support her dreams and aspirations. To set her standards high. I wanted to tell her about James and Amber. But I didn’t know how too. I didn’t know if she would understand. So I said, “I love you, Norah. And I love Mom, and Tristan, and baby Aspen, too. I know that with hard work, you are going to do great things, and I will be there to help you.”
“Like live in a castle?” she said.
“Why not,” I said.
Norah smiled. I gave her big hug. And the two of us flew back to the soccer filed to watch Tristan play.
Clint Edwards Kickstarter Campaign from DonaMajicShow on Vimeo.