A Father-Daughter Story about a Frog
"Let Go" by wayseeker...
There are moments in the life of every parent when you realize that, no matter how hard you might try to escape it, you end up in the same place as the adults you promised never to become. This is the story of how this happened to me once, and how that experience led me to realize the deeper meaning of the lesson I had been taught so many years ago.
The summer sun played across my daughter’s small round face. Her bob of curly brown hair popped in and out of my sight as I watched her toddle along through the vegetable garden in our back yard. Weeding quietly, the jovial sound of intermittent laughter filled my world with warmth and light.
Suddenly, her terror-stricken voice cried out, “Bug!”
Being familiar with her two-year-old tendency to over-dramatize, I replied without looking up, “What, Naomi?”
“Bug. Bug—there!” She thrust her finger down at a small puddle that had formed below a tomato plant. Scurrying over and knocking me off balance, she buried her face deep in my shoulder. Smiling, I looked up and took her into my arms. Secure in the safety of her fatherly sanctuary, she peeked out to investigate. I looked over to see what had caused such a commotion and found the little green “bug” sitting pleasantly on the bank of the puddle, “Oh, you mean, ‘frog’.”
She looked up at me with a delicious look of exasperation—a look, it seems, reserved especially for me, her dim-witted father. “No. Bug!”
Holding her close and stifling a laugh, I tried again. “No, dear. It’s a frog,” pausing for emphasis and pointing, “Frog.”
Her eyebrows knitted together quizzically, “Fog?”
“Yes, dear. Frog.”
She paused for a moment, considering how much trust to place in me. A sudden smile seemed to indicate the direction of her decision, “Fog.” As she turned her attention away from me and back to the frog, the intensity of her fascination caught me like a net and drew me in to this new experience with her, carrying me back to a long-forgotten sense of wonder...
Lake Roberts, New Mexico. My cousin Rafas and I were tromping through a shaded ravine. The sun, cascading down through the canopy of the trees above us, painted a mosaic of dancing light across on the small river rocks beneath our feet. A small stream burbled along beside us, filling the air with the sweet smell of wet earth and kissing our young faces with a cool mist, freeing us from the heat of the late July sun. Softly, in the distance, came the illusive whisper of the waterfall we were hunting for, “Come. Come. I am waiting.”
Suddenly, Rafas’ voice burst out, “Hey, look at this!” As he ran over to me I looked up to see his face lit with a bright and mischievous light. He opened his cupped hands to reveal a small, green frog. The frog, sensing its moment, leaped for freedom, down to the rocks below. We looked at one another, smiled, and scrambled after it. As we continued our walk, we reveled in catch and jump and run and play with this little wonder of nature.
I smiled. Knowing the fun that was in store for Naomi, I scooped her up and went directly to the house for a jar. Reassuring her that I was a renowned frog-catcher, I tracked it down, placed it in the jar, and dropped in a bit of water. Through it all, Naomi’s eyes glowed with nervous energy, and she giggled gleefully as she watched the frog jump around in its glass cage.
Once we got the frog inside, she made it quite clear that a thrill of this magnitude absolutely must be shared with Mommy. Thus, with great pride, she charged off to find her mother who arrived moments later, video camera in hand, to secure a record of Naomi’s first “fog” experience.
As I shared this little snatch of life with my wife and daughter, I was completely transported back to the joys of my own youth. No question: the secret to loving life is hidden in the kernel of such simple, wonderful experiences as this. Unfortunately, the callous hand of time is relentless; like a thief, it slips in to pull these moments out from under us long before we’re ready to let them go. In just this way, the time came when we had to let the frog go.
Time to let the frog go.
As a father, this notion came to me so naturally that, for some time, I did not recognize the irony in it. To me, as Daddy, this was simply what must be done. However, to me, the boy of seven, this same idea had been outrageous:
“What!?! Let it go!?!” cried Rafas, “No way. I’m keeping him.” In his cupped hands, which he held protectively close to his chest, he held a horned toad—easily the best find we had ever had. I stood by my cousin, wanting to rage just as he was. I, too, wanted to yell in my Tio Nash’s face. I, too, wanted to fight. But I could not. I was afraid.
With a firm and measured voice, Tio Nash repeated, “I understand, but this is his home. If we take him from here he will die. You must let him go.”
Rafas fought my Tio Nash hard that day. Even now I can clearly see his wide, swollen eyes and tear-stained face as he returned from the woods without our treasured prize. I fought hard that day too, but my battle took place within: “Why is he so mean? It’s just a horned toad. It’s not like there aren’t a thousand others out there. I hate him. I’m just going to go up to him and tell him to back off!”
Which, of course, I never did.
“Naomi. I’m sorry dear, but we have to let it go.”
Sooner or later life brings this feeling to everyone: the “I-swore-I-would-never-say-this-and-now-I’m-hearing-it-come-out-of-my-own-mouth” feeling. It comes with an odd mixture of disgust, horror, and—strangely—pride. The kind of pride that you would flatly deny if anyone ever took the trouble to ask. Nevertheless, I found myself standing in the place of my Tio Nash, “We have to let him go.”
“Why Daddy?” came Naomi’s expected reply.
“Well,” I said, “this little guy has a family too, and he needs to get home so he can have dinner with them.”
“But I don’t wan’ to let the fog go,” came Naomi’s small voice from beneath huge eyes.
“I know, dear,” I replied with a rueful smile and a heart heavy with my own memories, “If we keep him he will get very sick, and we don’t want that for him. I know it’s hard, but we have to let him go. Maybe he will come back to play with us another day.”
And so the tears flowed. We went to the garden and returned the frog’s freedom with a duly sad farewell. Naomi put on a brave face, but she could not hide how it hurt her gentle spirit. Looking into her heavy eyes at that moment captured my imagination once more and carried my thoughts away. This time, however, I did not travel to the past; instead I caught a glimpse of the future and began to understand the real depth of my Tio’s lesson:
I hold Naomi tight in my arms. As I hold her, I close my eyes and breathe a deep, contemplative breath of prayer—the kind of breath one takes before receiving a sharp pain that cannot be escaped. As I pull away, I put on the mask of my very best smile. Naomi’s eyes glow with anticipation for the future mixed with a hint of nervous energy. She is ready.
Trying to contain the eagerness in her voice, she says, “I love you, Mom and Dad.”
My wife, Lacy, responds, “And we love you, Naomi.” I take Lacy’s small, soft hand and squeeze it. She returns the pressure as we steady one another for what is to come. “Take care of yourself and don’t forget to call us once a week.”
Accompanied by a now familiar roll of the eyes, Naomi responds, “I know, Mom. I promise.” Eighteen years she has spent with us. And now—today—we say goodbye. I take Naomi’s delicate hand one last time. I just don’t want to let go. Please. Please don’t make me let her go. But I remember.
I smile and let go.