Can Homicidal Cuteness Be Loved? How to Face Plant Gracefully when Knocked Off Your Feet.
(and Other Life Lessons Averting Everyday Dangers)
Isn’t there grace in getting up? That total face-plant could change everything. Be thankful for falls. Sometimes tears clear our eyes of unnecessary illusions. They clear perspective, like rain on a dusty window.
When I was a little girl, no one was taller than my daddy. There was nowhere I felt safer, even on top of his shoulders, fingers in the sky. I could almost touch the clouds. I never feared his big hands. I swung wildly from his biceps. I laughed as he tickled me into squeals. He was a giant. In countless ways, he still is. Understand that my father is 5'6". Technically. Granted, at 5’2”, I am still a little shorter than him. But, I am no longer convinced of my father’s towering physique. Looking up isn’t about inches, much the same as strength is not about force.
Dancing on my daddy’s feet is my first memory of being truly loved. I would stand on his feet. He would hold my hands. We would waltz around to John Denver pouring out of the eight-track in the living room. I was plump dimples and stringy pigtails. And, I was so happy my daddy was home from whatever business trip.
One day, we were dancing in the space between the hard-backed couch and the linoleum in the kitchen. At four years old, I had mastered ring-around-the-rosy and London Bridge. Both games end in an Armageddon of children falling into heaps. I imagine that was what I was thinking. In a moment of ecstatic dancing, I pulled down suddenly during our dance. I collapsed on the floor as the eight-track played, gripping my daddy’s hands. My father came tumbling down after me. Ashes, ashes…
Do you know what happened? We all fell down. He was big. And I was small. For a moment, I thought I thought the world would end.
John Denver’s voice kept singing as my father crashed down. I had pulled him directly toward me. I was next to the couch. The only way to fall was on top of me. There was no backwards. There was no way to careen towards the open kitchen and away from the momentous jerk of my little body. His hands slipped away. Rather than fall on me, he broke his nose on the couch. It was the only way to avoid me.
There was a lot of blood. He did not cry. I cried. He did not yell at me. He never yelled. As soon as the blood was gone, he scooped me in his arms. He laughed. I broke my daddy’s nose and I cried. I cried and he held me and smiled. And he never, ever fell on me.
When I say my dad never yelled at me, that’s a little bit of a lie. He did. Once. That is what he told me:
“You were just a little girl, still toddling. You were near the top of the stairs and I thought you’d fall down them.”
This is when I still wore my pacifier on a bright yarn lanyard. I was picky about pacifiers. Without it, I would wail. All the photos of my bald years are with these bright yarn necklaces.
“I yelled at you, so that you’d stop.”
My dad loves this story. He says it defines me. In some ways that is good. In other ways, it is bad. (Overall, I trust him more than bad times. Because he is still taller than me.)
He continues, “Most kids cry and run away when you yell. But you turned and looked at me. And you ran straight into my arms and cried. You threw your little arms around me as tight as you could.”
Same as he did not fall on me, I ran to him.
I have not learned not to run towards someone I love when they yell. Maybe they love me and I don’t know stairs. Every time I have to stop myself from running into the arms of someone I love — arms that were gentle, safe — I feel like I am about to topple head-over-toe down those stairs. Sometimes people yell. Or they are hurt. And, there is that moment when you don’t know what to do but cry and wait for them to scoop you up again. It’s scary.
You trust the people you love. You try not to fall on them. You try not to get overly excited and out of synch. You cry into their arms. And John Denver keeps singing. You keep growing up. You try not to fall on the ones you love — or make them feel bad when they accidentally knock you off balance. A hug can change so much. At the bottom of everything, we all want to be safe. Anger is just frustrated emotion, frantically trying to resolve some hurt or fear. Fear wants to be assured. Pain wants to heal. At the bottom of it all, it’s love that makes things okay. That gives us a warm place to cry and laugh. That lets us dance on its feet. That sometimes knocks us down — and lifts us up.
You learn a lot from dads. Even when they fall.