It’s unusually hot for a September day. The temperature will swing nearly 40 degrees today; God, showing off. We are on a mission. I’m flying solo with my daughter.
I’d hoped to park close to the hospital, but my hopes are dashed by the giant red “Lot Full” sign being held by the parking attendant. He’s smiling as we drive past. I’m not smiling. I find a garage a few blocks away and creep slowly through each level behind an old woman in a Cadillac who insists on signaling at each curve. It’s NASCAR with blinkers, sans the whole ‘speed’ thing. We find a spot on the fifth level. We squeeze next to a Hummer with a plate that says “D0GL0VR”. Whether it’s the Hummer or the driver that loves d0gs is unclear, however there are paw-print stickers on the rear window. So the score is Hummer:2 Driver:1. I sit for a moment and then shut the car off. Anna is kicking her legs against the passenger seat.
I grab what I need for our adventure: a diaper bag, some paperwork. I haven’t told her where we are yet, or what we’re going to be doing. Some things are best left in the dark. Partially because I want things to stay as cool as possible until we reach our destination, and partially because withholding some useful information further reinforces our children’s belief in our omniscience.
We’ve got about 5 blocks to cover, which isn’t far when you’re 28, but when you’re 2 you multiply the distance by a factor of about 10 to account for your short, stubby little legs and the ease at which you’re distracted by shiny objects. She takes my hand on the sidewalk and says ‘OK Daddy’, which is, I think, her beautiful girlish equivalent of giving me a fist pound and saying “Let’s do this.”
We start out slowly and she’s fascinated by the fire truck to our left. “What’s that?” she says (Well, it sounds more like “was sat”, but for the sake of clarity I’ll take care of the translations for you in this post. I speak two-year-old at the conversational level, which isn’t saying much, literally). I say “that’s a fire truck”. She responds “that’s a fire truck”. We play this game for the first few blocks: “That’s a hot-dog stand”, “That’s a garbage truck”, “That’s a lady running”, “That’s yucky. That’s what that is”.
Three blocks down and the engine overheats. She stops and raises her arms into the air, gives me the puppy dog face, and asks “….hold you?”. I want to say no. I want to say you’re a big two-year old now and two-year olds walk. But I can’t resist. I love carrying my daughter. This is when we laugh the most, when we bounce along together. And there is something incredibly powerful about holding someone who has such complete trust in you. It gives you a sense of responsibility that is at once humbling and frightening.
So we knock the next two blocks out this way. She rests her head on my shoulder.
The waiting room of the Children’s Hospital is painted in bright colors. There are fish tanks, it seems, everywhere. We shuffle through registration and find a seat in the waiting area. We’re only here for a routine x-ray. Looking around, I can see that other kids are here for things that I am certain are far from routine. They all run around the waiting area. They watch Dora. They talk to the fish. I think about my responsibility as a parent. How I would walk to the ends of the Earth to protect her from anything. I think about the parents in the waiting room who are on that long walk right now. My heart goes out to them. Anna walks over to where I’m sitting and throws her arms around me. “Who’s my girl?” I ask. “Anna” she says. Yes, she is.