The gloomiest day cannot overcome the glee of a child, and indeed, the glee of a child can brighten even the gloomiest day.
“Play with me daddy!”
He reached down scooping up his little daughter, swinging her through the air, her legs flying out behind her. “Wheee!”
“Okay, okay, okay, let’s play something else,” she rushed on as he was lowering her to the floor. She was going to wear him out, but he loved her smile.
“What would you like to play?” His indulgence came from his full appreciation that she would not want to play with him forever. Soon she would be too big to swing around, and shortly after that she would be too cool to want to play with her old dad. It wouldn’t be too long before she married and began a life of her own. The thought made him just a little bit sad, but then he looked at her.
“Ummm…” she paused, her pigtails cocked at just the right angle for thinking, her finger flat against her lower lip, her eyes looking at a world only she could see. “I know. I know. Let’s play the princess and the dragon,” she exclaimed this suggestion in a squealing rush as she was jumping up and down. He almost didn’t understand her, she was so animated.
“Am I the princess or am I the dragon?” He teased knowing what her answer would be.
“Not the princess silly. I’m the princess,” she sing-songed the last word. “You are the one who will fight the dragon.”
“Oh, I’m the hero of the story,” his smugness was as exaggerated as it was joking.
“No, I’m the hero. I’m the princess.” She stated this so matter-of-factly that it seemed that the entire world should certainly know that the princess is the hero of the story. He really loved her miniature feminist streak. She would be the hero of her story. Of that he was confident.
“Oh, I see. Well, then who is the dragon?”
She looked up at him quizzically, a little furrow on her brow. He wished that he could forever keep her deepest worries as significant as a rainy day of play. He could see the wheels turning as she was trying to figure out the dragon. “I don’t know his name. It doesn’t matter, I’m the princess—the hero,” she said for emphasis, “and you are the one who fights the dragon.”
“Why am I fighting the dragon?”
“Because he’s being mean.”
“What’s he doing?”
“He’s not very nice. He says mean things, and then he sticks his tongue out at you and kicks the dirt.”
“Does the dragon look a bit like Tommy.” She had been having a particularly troublesome time with the little boy who lived down the block. She did not like that the boy wouldn’t let her play with his cars, because ‘girls didn’t play with cars.’ He knew she could do anything she set her mind to, and right now her mind was working out preschool relationship issues. “That kid will have some serious life lessons to learn as he grows up,” he thought to himself.
“Maybe…” she was thinking again. “I know, maybe let’s not have a dragon.”
He chuckled as she took his hand leading him to the magnificent castle they had been building in the living room. He loved these days of play and times of pretend. He was watching her intently again. She was sharp, kind, and he couldn’t wait to see what she would be like when she was a grown woman ready to conquer the world. Perhaps she would be the one fighting dragons. Perhaps, someday.
“Then what am I supposed to do if I am not to fight the dragon?”
“You are going to come to the castle and live with me.”
“What will I do there? Be the handyman?”
“No, Dad. All of that is taken care of, we don’t need a handyman.”
“Okay, so what shall we do then?”
“Let’s start by getting in the car, and we will take it from there.”
“What?” He blinked his eyes. Where just moments before he saw his little girl looking up at him, he now saw a woman. “Who are you? What happened with Annie? Where am I?” He began to get frantic. “Where is Annie? She was just here. Help me look for her!”
He stopped, looking at her more closely now. He looked into her eyes that still held a bit of fire. “Am I not going to be the one who will kill the dragon now?”
“What? Dad what are you talking about?”
“I was playing princess and the dragon will my little girl, but she isn’t here anymore is she.”
The tears began to pool in her eyes, just almost to the point of spilling over. “Daddy,” she said softly. I’m just taller now.”
He began to cry. “It was so real.” His thoughts were catching up with him now. He was old, older than he ever thought he would feel. Looking around he saw he was in a hospital room. He remembered how he had fallen at home, and couldn’t move. He laid there until she had stopped by to check on him. He also remembered the look of fear and concern on her face. “I’m sorry I’m such a burden.”
She stopped and sat beside him holding his hand, smoothing the wrinkles. “Oh, Dad, you aren’t a burden. Never!” She said this so emphatically, that he turned to look her. Softer she began, “Daddy, it is real. It is all real, it’s just a few years into the future. We were playing princess and the dragon, and I wanted you to come live with me, right?”
He nodded slowly holding on to her hand like she might vanish if he let go.
She glanced down at his hand, still strong even at his age. “And who was the hero?”
“The princess. You.”
“And what happened next?”
“I would come to live in the castle that we made of sofa cushions and bedsheets. We would talk and laugh and play. We had tea parties. It was just a joy to listen to you reason things out in your mind, and the smile on your face could make me feel like the world could never be gloomy again.”
The tears began spilling down her cheeks, but she smiled her brightest smile just for him. “Okay dad. It is real. You are going to come live with me. I’ll make you tea, and we will talk. Is that okay with you?”
He nodded slowly, then stopped. “What about the dragon.”
“Tom will be right back,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes, “he just went to get the car.”