“Bye, Sophie!” yelled Papa as we were leaving for the bus stop yesterday.
After a brief pause, our 10-year old suddenly turned around and ran to her father, who was standing in the vestibule waving to her. She hugged him so tightly around his midriff that she squeezed a grin right out of him.
She followed the embrace with an emphatic kiss on the cheek and an enthusiastic “I love you, Papa!” as she crossed the threshold of the front door to the chilly air outside.
Sophie has always been a warm and effusive child, but as she’s wandered further into the mysterious depths of puberty, her physical manifestations of affection have waxed and waned, in lockstep with her moods, which are ever-changing and totally unpredictable.
Sophie still occasionally acts like a little kid with her friends, but those moments of regression are fewer and farther between. She’s on the precipice of pre-adulthood, but she’s trying desperately to keep one foot in childhood. It’s a confusing time.
Her feelings over the past several weeks have collided to form an intense maelstrom of emotions: elation, sadness, frustration, anger, confidence, self-doubt…she’s all seven dwarves, rolled into one pre-teen package. One minute she’s happily reporting that she finished another chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the next minute, she’s in a state of pure panic about an upcoming math quiz. One minute she’s giving me a kiss, the next minute she’s giving me the stink eye because I dared to breathe. One minute she had a good day at school, the next minute school is the bane of her existence. It’s enough to make me want to take a solo trip around the world. For several months.
Given the complex push and pull of Sophie’s inner life and the fact that she’s becoming more stingy with her public displays of affection, yesterday’s heartfelt goodbye to her Papa came as a surprise. Its spontaneity and warmth caused me to reflect on the special bond she has with her dad.
When Sophie was an infant, he was the one who cuddled her between feedings, in the wee hours of the morning. He was the one taught her to take a bottle when I wasn’t available to breastfeed. When Sophie was a toddler, she cried for her Papa when the shadows on her bedroom wall morphed into the scariest monsters she’d ever seen. When Sophie was in preschool, she didn’t want me to read to her. She wanted her Papa, with his charming French accent, to read to her – every single night. Since kindergarten, Papa, who always patiently lends a guiding hand, is her go-to parent for all her big school projects. Even today, when Sophie gets hurt, it’s Papa who consoles her.
When I was working full-time, my husband and I spent equal amounts of time with – and without – our girls. We both struggled to enjoy our too infrequent time with them. Now that I work from home, however, the balance has shifted. Sophie spends many more hours with me than with her Papa. I take her to the bus stop in the morning. I take her to see her friends. I help her with most of her daily homework (and try valiantly to remain calm, cool and collected). I take her to her basketball practices and her sewing class.
During the week, my husband spends no more than an hour or two with Sophie on any given day. And when he’s home, he’s not always in the moment because his work is all-consuming. While she tends to take me for granted now that I’m around more, she treasures the stolen moments with her Papa. I realize that there’s truth to the adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Yesterday, my husband was in the right place at the right time when Sophie left for school. And after that sweet goodbye from his youngest daughter, I couldn’t help but marvel at the unadulterated feelings of joy generated by a simple “I love you” from a child who’s no longer such a child anymore.