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So this is what it feels like.
I’m standing inside the screened porch watching my 7-year-old daughter, Jessie, and a younger man as they walk toward the lake for an afternoon float. My little girl is wearing her life jacket with a whistle attached. She looks so grown up. The young man beside her (who’s actually not all that young) is my wife’s brother, Gary. For the past two days, he’s been taking Jessie out on the lake, teaching her how to paddle a kayak.
It’s great that Jessie has her mom, Mattie, and Uncle Gary, to assist her with water sports as I don’t swim well and am not comfortable around water. For the past two days, I’ve waited on the dock and taken lots of pictures of their kayak rides together. Today, Gary has a different plan. He’ll stand on the shore and watch as Jessie kayaks across the lake by herself.
“She needs to build confidence,” he assures me. He promises if she gets into trouble, he’ll jump into his boat and save her. I’m not the least bit excited about this plan but here we are.
Don’t get me wrong; I realize the importance of teaching children to be independent — perhaps just not at age 7. So I choose to stay on Gary’s porch rather than watch. He assures me the lake is down and that Jessie could stand up at just about every spot. There are no motorboats around, she’s wearing a life vest and has had plenty of swimming lessons.
I tell myself she is safe. But still, I’m nervous.
Jessie is 50 yards out when I finally join Gary and Mattie on the shore. If she got into trouble, I reason I could run in and save my baby. Steadily, she paddles to the other end of the lake. I hold my breath as she makes her return. With 50 yards to go, I’m cheering louder than Mattie and Gary combined. Finally, she makes it!
I’m so proud of my girl. I’m excited that she’s learned a new skill, and discovered that when you set a goal and work at a task, you can accomplish it.
I’ve learned a few things, too. I need to shelter her less, so Jessie can experience more independence and grow. I’ve also discovered that when a boy comes to the door for my daughter’s first date, I’ll feel like running after the car as it pulls from the drive. Fortunately, I have many years to come up with a plan for that, but an arrangement similar to the kayak situation might work. We adults could attach a whistle to Jessie’s clothing and jump in to assist her if we noticed any signs of trouble.
But for now, I’ll hold Jessie’s hand as I walk her to her classroom for the first day of school. I know she won’t let me do that for many more years. So I plan to stay in the moment and cherish life as a dad to a third-grader. I’ll cheer her on as she masters her multiplication tables. We’ll do high fives after she completes a challenging assignment. I’ll remind her that it’s “i” before “e” except after “c” as she prepares for her weekly spelling test.
Just as there are exceptions to this rule, I realize that parenting decisions won’t always be clear cut either. My opinions will differ from her mother’s at times, like whether to allow Jessie to kayak solo across the lake. Together, we’ll strive to find the right balance between allowing her to grow into an independent young woman and keeping her close and safe.
For now, I’m holding on to summer. Too soon it will be time to let go.