Waltz for Lucy

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.

6 thoughts on “Waltz for Lucy”

  1. My daughters are now 13, and I vividly remember asking them when they were 6 where my 3-year-olds went. I have learned that all the things you know about kids on an intellectual level you re-learn on a gut level when they are your own.

  2. Beautiful, poignant, and true. While my wife and I were waiting for the arrival of our first, I passed the time decorating her room with a mural that covered the walls and ceiling with scenes and characters from every nursery rhyme that I could think of. It took six months to finish. I must say, it was awesome. As our baby girl grew up in this room, I knew the day would come when she would want something more sophisticated. That day came when she was fourteen (I actually think she put it off a few years in consideration of my feelings). So father and daughter spent a weekend together taking pictures of her favorite scenes and picking new paint colors. Then, side by side, we painted the walls of her adulthood.

  3. I don’t have girls but I understand what you’re talking about. Exciting and sad to see them growing every day.

  4. It’s unfair. It really is. It’s unfair that they grow up so quickly. It’s unfair that we have to suffer through that growing up, “surviving” each age as we mourn the loss of the previous years. It’s unfair that they won’t realize it until they have children of their own. It’s unfair that my wife suggested I read this at work where I now sit with tears in my eyes.

    But, nobody said it would be fair.

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