It’s been clear to me and to Angela for a while now that it would be a really good thing for the girls, in particular for Mara, to have quality time alone with me — adventure time with Daddy. Time that validates their intense but easily overlooked existences as children who wish and need to be observed, regarded and communicated with by their father. They occasionally get a species of this time when I grab one or the other of them to dash out and get some groceries or run some other errand, but these events are always besmirched for them by the discovery of something they’d like me to purchase for them and the ensuing argument in which I restate the purpose of the trip, which doesn’t include buying impulse items. It’s not the same as an outing made for the express purpose of doing something fun together and without the older or younger sister, as the case may be.
The movies that Mara wants to watch are too scary for our sensitive Millie, who crawls onto my or Angela’s lap (or behind our backs) at the merest hint of danger or hostility in family-rated screenings. So Mara frequently watches Curious George or Richard Scarry’s Busytown Mysteries instead of the more relational preteen dramas she craves. And to her lights, this is just the tip of the iceberg. EVERYthing has to be chosen with Millie’s sensitivity, or bedtime, or menu preferences in mind. I realized earlier this summer that I needed to get Mara out on a canoe trip or a bike ride or to a movie or something, just a few hours dedicated to doing something with her that did not have to be a compromise with the needs of her little sister. But we’ve had such a busy summer full of fun weekends — little outings as the whole family to places around the region — that I simply have been unable to schedule anything like this.
I purposed to get Millie out by herself, too, though Millie does not need exactly the same thing in Daddy-time. She’s still “just little” and does not feel the preteen confinement that Mara sometimes does — she loves playing with her older sister and does not really ever tire of it — but she is approaching the end of a long cling-to-Mommy phase and seems more desirous of relating with me.
Last weekend, I finally had time to take Mara out, and while she initially said renting a canoe would be fun, she chose a long bike ride in the end. Because we live on a steep hill, practically a cliff, the girls cannot just go outside and ride bikes, except in the sixteen level feet we get if we move the car out of the garage. Otherwise we have to take them somewhere, and that means rigging up the bike rack to the back of the car. And when we’ve done that we’ve also brought Millie’s scooter or trike or training-wheeled-bike along, too, which means slower going wherever we go. So even though Mara has been able to ride for years, she has never been “out on a ride” around here.
It was a sunny day. A sunny hot day. We put the rack on the car and the bikes on the rack, and drove over to Lake Washington and parked near the Burke Gilman Trail, which is an old railbed of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway. It was turned into a jogging and bike path years ago and expanded, and now runs all the way from the Shilshole Bay on the Puget Sound out around the north end of Lake Washington and on to Woodinville on the Eastside. I don’t even know where it ends, maybe in Redmond somewhere, and if it goes that far then it probably connects to a similar rails-to-trails easement along the east shore of Lake Sammamish and then on up over Snoqualmie Pass. Basically, I guess, it goes to Boston. Anyway, we got on this trail and rode for almost three miles and back again, taking it easy and saying “on your left” to pedestrians ahead. My bike is a good one but it’s been in the garage for a decade and a half while my buttbone has been in a soft chair, so I was sore within five minutes and I was grateful that Mara asked to stop for water every five minutes.
Still we had a great time, except for the little snag we hit when two ladies walking a tiny, irritating dog were not paying any attention to the fact that it kept trippity-tripping across the trail, directly athwart the path of cyclists. I managed to swerve around the feckless yapper in a moment when it was at perigee to its owner, but it swung out again in front of Mara just as a team of serious neon-and-smart-fiber cyclists were approaching the other way at Mach I and another group was speeding up behind us. Mara bailed off to the left in front of all of them — suicide, but what else could she do — and managed to get into some grass on the other side just before all the supercyclists slowed into a knot of wobbling and swerving and loud huffing in that self-righteous way of serious cyclists and the offering of suggestions about dogwalking on a bike path to the woman who sauntered along talking to her friend and taking no notice of the near-multideath accident unfolding at the other end of the leash.
Today it was Millie’s turn. She wanted me to take her to the Seattle Aquarium and we’ve been looking forward to it all week. (Sweetheart that she is, though, and in perfect breach of the purpose of Millie-Daddy Time, she suggested that maybe Mommie and Mara would want to come, too.) We rode downtown on the bus, which is part of the fun, although she did fall asleep about a block before our stop — it’s just something that happens to her when she’s in any vehicle for very long; her eyes roll forward and her head falls back and she’s out cold. It was drizzling lightly (drizzle, that’s one of the northwest’s words for rain, like a particular kind of snow to Inuits or a type of sand to Berbers) and there was a bit of a cool breeze, but it was otherwise a not-cold cloudy day, just perfect for walking along the waterfront for a while and then getting out of. We stopped to get a latte for me and an Italian soda (raspberry, with cream but no whipped cream) for Mills.
The highlights at the aquarium were the giant Pacific octopusses, one of which was very active and the other, whom we heard called “Delilah” by the docent, was asleep; the touching pools, where I held Millie up so she could reach all the way to touch the anemones and other non-dangerous tidal critters — one finger only please; the seahorses (for Millie) and the cuttlefish (for me); the bright and exotic tankfuls of reef-dwelling fish and eye-bogglingly beautiful giant clams; and across the wharf the puffins (for Millie) and the at least 40-year-old sturgeons (for me); and finally the harbor seals and otters — both sea otters and river otters, what Millie remembered later as “stream otters”, which were curled up like cats and sleeping.
All that viewin’ made us powerful hungry, and we dashed over to Red Robin for a bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese (for Millie) and a burger (for me).
Both of my daughters are at periods in their development where they are more interesting than ever to listen to and engage in conversation, and I cherish their company like nothing else in the world, but it’s a lot easier to focus and enjoy it one on one. Hopefully we can fold more Mara-Daddy-time and Millie-Daddy time into our routine more often.