Tomorrow is kind of a big day in the world of daddies and daughters.
In the morning hours that my forever-newspaper-night-shift brain still find obscene, my husband and I will drop our daughter off for her first day of ninth grade. High school. She has a new soft, cerise uniform shirt and a head full of anticipation and anxiety - as does the daddy who spent the evening biting his lip and looking at the picture of a pixie-faced 6-year-old perched on his knee, dwarfed by a shiny pink backpack, outside her first-grade classroom.
I have only had this child for four years, so my emotions are not scrubbed as raw by the unstoppable and unsympathetic march of time. I am filled with both excitement and dread. I am eager for her world to keep expanding, for it to stretch to include new people and ideas and for her thoughts and feelings to mold around them while maintaining the clean, simple shape of her own integrity. I am fearful of the yawning potholes I know crater that road, the superficial judgments and bone-deep pain that lie ahead. I try to talk to her about both. Who knows what words I choose, or what purpose they serve, in the moment or in the future. I hope I convey to her that whatever happens, whatever skittering joy goose-fleshes her skin, or whatever crushing disappointment darkens the light in her eyes, she can tell me about it. I tell her I will try to understand. I tell myself I will try not to understand too much.
I know this about the changeling child we'll leave on the way to her homeroom tomorrow morning around 7:30 a.m. I have more faith in her steps than I did in mine. Knock 'em dead, Maddie. Be a Veronica.
Then, hours later, I will collect her from The First Day of High School, and we'll head north to pick up my daddy at the airport. It's his first visit to my Florida house, and he's coming to see - well, us, but also the Dodgers play the Marlins.
If you've spent any time here previously, you know that my daddy taught me to love everything that matters - freshly shucked corn on the cob, the soft mournful gaze of cattle at the water trough, the ceaseless tug of love-them-or-hate-them family, and baseball. Specifically, the Dodgers, a team both he and my mother grew up loving, perhaps because of a lack of television and a strong Midwest radio signal.
This has been a good summer for my daddy and I, and for Dodger fans in general. Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Phillies snapped a 10-game winning streak (and preserved a measure of peace in my household) while ending one of the more remarkable runs in modern baseball memory. Before that loss, the Dodgers had gone 42-8 since June 22, the best 50-game streak since the 1942 Cardinals.
The MLB app on my phone has been buzzing with updates that remain unbelievable while becoming commonplace. The Dodgers take a 6-0 (!) lead in the first inning. Juan Uribe (!) belts a three-run home run. Yasiel Puig does something else jaw-dropping. Clayton Kershaw works another scoreless eight innings. The Dodgers win. The Dodgers win.
I've been afraid to write or really talk about it. As my Philly fan husband is kind enough to continuously point out, it matters who's hot in October, not August. But a hot streak in August can set a team up for October, by securing home-field advantage or erasing wild-card worries, or by instilling belief that has been in short supply during years of owner mismanagement and autumn insignificance.
Impressive as that all is, it will take a backseat to donning matching Dodger caps and driving my daddy to downtown Miami, where I'll show him the edge-of-the-Atlantic city skyline from bar in right field and point out Tommy Lasorda and Sandy Koufax and Kirk Gibson and Vin Scully in the bobblehead museum. I'll acknowledge the neon pink flamingo sculpture that lights up when the Marlins hit a home run, then feverishly pray we don't get a demonstration. I'll buy him a Cuban sandwich and some plantain chips and hope a torrential South Florida thunderstorm doesn't hit round about the seventh inning.
I have always loved daddy visits. (Mama visits, too, though those require a bit more housecleaning.) Daddy visits, when I owned a house, meant flower planting and gutter cleaning and leaf raking, then exhausted naps on the porch as twilight and fireflies descended around his salt-and-pepper head. Daddy visits included long stretches of cat-petting and football-watching, an occasional Yuengling and one or two Jack and Cokes, a trip to the barbecue place on the corner and an overriding feeling of security, of well-being, of the comfort of being a functioning, self-sufficient adult who remains, in one of her heart's chambers, permanently seven years old, pouring a pack of peanuts into an RC Cola with painstaking mimicry and singing along to "You Are My Sunshine."
We live in a beautiful condo now, a "carriage home" to be precise and snotty, and the flowers are meticulously maintained by the homeowners' association. Palm trees don't produce a lot of leaves to rake, though entire arms are known to peel off from the trunks and plop down in the middle of the road with little or no provocation. But there's this burger place near the ocean, where sea salt flavors the air and a bevy of blackbirds stand vigilant guard for wind-blown crumbs, that I think he'll like.
A lot has changed since my Daddy's last visit. I'm no longer quite as motivated to make sure he has a copy of the sports section every day, and the granddaughter he first met when she was 10 and to whom he gave a pink softball bat and matching glove on their first Christmas is now a high school freshman.
But there's still a fat orange cat waiting to be scratched, and there's still players to exhort and umpires to rag.
There's still baseball. And I still get to watch it with my daddy.