A couple of years ago, when I was the morning DJ on WFPK, there was something that happened to me that felt like a strong punch to the stomach, and it still feels like it to remember it tonight.
My morning routine was always the same: At about 5:50, I’d put on the headphones – my next three hours of music mapped out and on the little shelf in front of me – and listen to the last song that Bob Parlocha would play, and his closing monologue (Bob’s a syndicated overnight jazz host that we use for the 1 am to 6 am stretch). Usually it was nothing very dramatic, and I’d come out of it and say good morning to the good people of Louisville and plunge right into some Husker Du or Pixies or whatever.
But this one particular morning, he played a song with a vocal, a song I’d never heard with a vocal before – “Waltz for Debby,” one of the immortal Bill Evans pieces. I’m pretty sure the version he played was sung by Al Jarreau. And the words … my god, the words …
My daughter is six years old now, so she was either four or five when this happened. And I’ve always been a sentimental fool. So these words, all about how ephemeral a little girl’s childhood is, absolutely destroyed me:
In her own sweet world
Populated by dolls and clowns
And a prince and a big purple bear
Lives my favorite girl.
Unaware of the worried frowns
That we weary grown-ups all wear.
In the sun she dances
To silent music-songs
That are spun of gold
Somewhere in her own little head.
Then one day all too soon
She’ll grow up & she’ll leave her doll
And her prince & her silly old bear.
When she goes they will cry
As they whisper good-bye
They will miss her I know
but then so will I.
This is exactly the same nerve that those beautiful bastards at Pixar willingly and knowingly poked and prodded with “Toy Story 3,” the nerve that connects a parent’s own childhood with his view of his child’s, now informed with the understanding that it all happens too fast. And it’s just not fair how fast it all is.
So that morning, I recall having about a minute and a half to pull myself together and get the quiver out of my voice in time to say “Good morning!” on the radio. And I guess I did it, but probably only barely. And no joke, from that morning forward, I didn’t put the headphones on until 5:59.
Tonight, my six-year-old daughter and my nine-year-old son had a fight. It was stupid, and unnecessarily mean, and they both acted badly and they knew it and both ended up in their respective rooms, in their beds. My son got some extra hugs from me and his mom, and I’m sure he still thinks he was right in the whole matter, but he was okay. My daughter got the hugs too, and cried a little bit more, and when it was over she retired to bed with a very battered and beaten babydoll that everyone in our house knows as Soft Baby, an absolutely precious couple of ounces of fluff and plastic that has provided her comfort on many, many occasions.
One day, all too soon, she’ll grow up and leave her Soft Baby and her silly old bear. And they will cry and whisper goodbye. They will miss her, but so will I.