I took this photo probably ten years ago, maybe more.
I had just bought a medium format camera, a Yashica, from a colleague for a decent price and I was experimenting with the camera.
As I was staring down the top of the little box, watching the reflex prism and getting used to the strange counter intuitive movement I heard “Daddy! Look at me! I can touch the street!”
As I turned around Abbi was standing next to the concrete steps that led up to our little home on 50th street in Omaha. Her arms were up, and she was giddy that she could look at her shadow projected in perfect position so it looked like she was touching the street. With the hand rail, steps and her shadow, the lines were just perfect to snap a photo.
The thing is, she was a tiny little girl, the kind of kid Andrea and I both needed for our first. When Andrea got pregnant with Abbi, she wasn’t happy. She wasn’t indifferent. She wasn’t even pensive, much like I was for both Hannah and the boys.
She freaked out! I mean, catatonic, hair on fire, a hare’s breath from falling off the ledge freaking out. You know what, I got it, even then. We were only 22/23 at the time. We were young, stupid, and married only a year. We had amazing plans, travel we wanted to do, and a whole life that wasn’t planned out, but we weren’t ready to be parents. Still, she was freaking out, and even though I wanted to freak out too, one of us had to be calm.
But something happened after Abbi was born. She was this adorable little thing, hungry, helpless, and the strangely perfect combination of the two of us. Sure, she had problems. As a baby her GI tract was so messed up she had vomiting episodes that make the exorcist look like and episode of Sesame Street. She needed handmade formula because she was allergic to EVERYTHING!
But she was also the best kid, which was what we needed. Sure, we had our battle of wills. We had our crazy arguments. But she always was this smiling, bright little star that made both of us beam. While Andrea swore that Abbi was distant from her because she was so anxiety ridden through the whole pregnancy, she would be heartbroken to see how much her daughter misses her. Abbi doesn’t have breakdowns, doesn’t burst into tears. But I can see the missing pieces when I talk to her. When she has a problem with her math homework, when she’s having boy problems, when she can’t get a date for Homecoming. Still, there are times when she does something silly, not the adult Abbi she sees herself becoming, but the goofy, funny little kid – the same silly things that her Mom would do that made all of us love her so much more than we already did.
And I’ve noticed something, being the only adult in a house full of children. They have this amazing ability to look at the world with amazement. They can see their shadow and say “hey, I can touch the street”. When I walk with the boys they see a rock in front of them and they kick it. They don’t run, in fact they keep the pace, moving slowly right or left to meet up with the path of the rock . . . and kick it again. I get that it’s a rock, but it’s still a great indication of how they keep imagining the way things should go.
It’s made me think of something. The best times in our lives, the ones that we remember, laughing, falling over giggling, and loving every minute of it are the ones where we suspend our reality to look at the world through their eyes. It’s why we love going to theme parks. Take the analogy further – it’s why we ended up on the freaking moon!
Now Abbi is 16. I see some of that imagination wane. The small twinkling of that brightness comes back sometimes, and I see it: when she’s singing in the choir; when she’s dancing with the iPod in her room (and thinks I didn’t see her); when she gets an invitation to a party some popular kid is throwing and other people didn’t. I realize that those horrible ’80s movies we all watched as teens aren’t popular because they were amazing films. I mean, look at Ferris Bueller. Like he could jump on a parade float, get the crowd singing and get away without one bit of police brutality? But what made them golden – what makes us keep loving them – is that suspension of disbelief. We never thought Molly Ringwald would end up with Andrew McCarthy, but then, Ducky never lives happily ever after either. But we have just enough of that little kid left in us to still think those are the greatest moments ever.
I’ve realized it’s OK to think that, too. Why kill the one thing that keeps us from falling off the cliff ourselves?
I wish I knew when we stopped trying to touch the street. I’d stop it, and challenge us all to reach for the moon instead!