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John Boston: In search of magic lemonade

How Beige Was My Valley

Posted: January 8, 2009 10:03 p.m.
Updated: January 9, 2009 4:30 a.m.
 

“There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.”
—Elizabeth Lawrence

I don't know if I'm breaking, but I'm certainly bending a small promise. I said I wouldn't write - much - about my daughter as she grew older.

It's not like your 5-year-old can dash off a letter to the editor in rebuttal.

Like all of us, kids worry about getting older.

Indiana's kindergarten teacher promised the class she'd add a potion to the lemonade ensuring they wouldn't grow. Alchemy is more art than science.

"Whoops. Guess it didn't work," the teacher exclaimed afterward. Indy turned 6 yesterday.

Six.

Foof.

What wonderful thing I must have done in a previous life to deserve such a treasure. I am a father, a job better than president, king or even best-selling author. Since I don't have the figure to pull it off, it's even better than being a mother.

We have an extra-long hallway and, once a week, I bend and bequeath to Indiana a finger-wagging lecture about the dangers of running down the narrow corridor.

"There is to be absolutely no running in the house," I warn.

We regard each other for a moment, then both of us sprint, screaming madcap down the hall to the kitchen.

I've yet to taste victory.

I used to let her win. Now, drat, she is 6 and I'm 58 - that merry mischief-maker is faster than me. Which
is OK, and not for reasons you might think.

You see, I set off metal detectors. A few years ago, I had a hip replacement. Science is a miracle. I can walk for days, lift a ton and more importantly, I no longer have that crippling pain.

But I couldn't run. Last summer, picking up Indy from school, she challenged me to race to the car.

"I can't, Hon. I'd like to, but Daddy can't run anymore," I said.

Sounds like a poor-me book on Oprah: "Daddy Can't Run Anymore."

The rotter (Indy, not Oprah) had already left a vapor trail from her cheater-cheater head start. She strolled back, took my hand matter-of-factly and promised: "That's all right, Daddy. I'll teach you how to run."

Starring in her own kind-hearted Monty Python skit, Indiana began, in her own amiable style: "Let's break it down." In exaggerated steps, she gave a sidewalk slow-motion clinic on How Man Runs.

You know what? That night, I ran. A couple of steps, then walk. A couple more, then walk.

I'll never return to my lost days as young Tarzan, but you know what? Today, I can run. My daughter taught me that, one step at a time.

We sing inappropriate cowboy songs that the Granola Police would have me lynched for, involving brawls, stampedes, showdowns and reincarnation. Indiana was first suspicious, then most amused to learn that long before there was Play-Doh the Clay, there was Plato the Philosopher. She taught me the phrase, "No puppy guarding."

We have a safety couch. If anyone in the house makes it to the blue denim sanctuary, no one may touch them. That rule has been amended by Indy to forbid "puppy guarding." It's a child's ancient forbiddance against antagonists standing too close.

We're pretty lucky to have a big lawn, "the world's longest bungee cord" and a comfortable supply of large plastic restaurant trays. A couple of hastily drilled holes and voila, I get my exercise and Indy gets to play Fairy Princess Being Whisked Through the Forest by Magic Horses.

Three guesses who's The Princess and who's The Livestock.

I find it fascinating, the variety of personas in her games of fantasy. She is ephemeral as the sprite, pretending to be the gentle seeds of a daisy in the wind.

A few moments and costume changes later, she is - blare of trumpets: "INDIANA BOSTON - QUEEN OF THE PIRATES!!!" Indy is in her Chimp Stage now and can pretty much stack 12 of anything to reach what is not supposed to be reached, including my epee. I sometimes defend life and lamps by parrying with a wooden spatula as she fiercely swashbuckles me into a corner.

I swear I'll start hanging dinner by a rope from the ceiling because I've yet to discover a way for her not to start wolfing down her chow before grace. At least she likes Dad's cooking.

"Thank you, dear God, for all your blessings, especially this half-eaten albeit tasty food," I once prayed, one eye open. Indy stopped chewing, glanced heavenward in suspicion, quietly held up the O.M.P.F. (One Moment Please Finger), then pointed to a stuffed cheek.

Especially in winter, we dine quietly by candlelight. There's no TV mindlessly blabbing. Grandpa Walt sometimes joins us. Once my daughter earnestly asked: "Can I sit on your shoulders and eat the rest of my dinner?"

As requests go, it was unusual.

Life offers defining moments, some crippling, some empowering. How do you help someone in their quest to become themselves? Eating with utensils helps. You need that rare reality, where Yes means Yes and No means No. Calmly, it helps to answer the question: "Why?"

After all. If you can't make your case, why are you making policy?

Spoon up, she waited for my reply.

I explained to Indy that when she got to college, or was 40 or 50, she might not want to sit on Dad's shoulders with her plate balanced on his head. "But today, a Dad's shoulders is a good place for a 5-year-old."

Plus, the view's different.

She summed life up on Christmas Day.

Remember how cold it was? Our big trash bin is a good hike up a hill, lined with huge pines. I zipped my jacket and shivered: "It is one blustery and freezing Christmas, Indiana Boston."

My daughter stopped, turned to me and smiled. When Indy was 5, she held out her arms, as if to embrace the entire universe and said with so much contentment:

"Yes, Father. But it's also such a glorious day."

John Boston's work appears Fridays and Sundays in The Signal.

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