“I’ll be dead by then,” I’d answer, unable to peer 12 years into a future of chalk dust, mortgage payments and a little brother, with a predilection for costumes, we’d name London.
Well, I’m still alive (at least physically) and Poppy is now beginning middle school, a quick walk away from where I try to convince 17-year-old kids that books are at least as exciting as the Super Monkey Ball game on the new iPhone.
Even though it’s a dozen years later, some of those same colleagues are still standing, many of them having had their own faculty kids graduate. But this time, their advice about a daughter roaming hallways with her father sounds a bit more restrictive.
“You know you have to leave her alone,” the ceramics teacher informed me.
“What? I can’t follow her around, carry her books, that sort of thing?”
“Nope. None of that. Not even a wave.”
“Can I at least have lunch with Poppy and her friends? I’ll buy!”
I sounded like a meth-addicted, used-car salesman on late night TV.
She offered me a look of pity. “You have to let her come to you.”
I sought out second and third opinions, hoping folks from other disciplines like math and science would offer advice better suited to the chemistry I believed I had with my daughter.
Every edumacator told me the same thing: Poppy needed her own space, even though it was on my turf. Frustrated, I decided to go to the girl herself.
Poppy had just finished riding a borrowed pony named Peter and we drove to my friend Nell’s house to water her flower and vegetable garden since she was away on a retreat of some sort. Still in her riding breeches, Poppy waved the green water wand over some cosmos while I checked the mailbox.
“Hey,” I called as casually as I could. “My friends tell me when you come up to school that I need to leave you alone. I can’t drop in on your classes or hide in your locker.”
Her shifting gaze denoted some thought in a brain that could now conceptualize broad issues and connect them. I wondered if I liked the foot sucking one better.
“Sounds about right,” she said.
“You realize that might just drive me insane.”
She laughed and the hose formed an arc of water that reached some cherry tomato plants bordering a flagstone path.
“And my students would have to suffer through at least one semester with a madman teaching them.”
“They’re probably used to it by now.”
“Funny. You’ve seen my office, Pops. I have a phone that actually works, candy, school supplies. None of that can entice you?”
“You forgot money.” She shifted away from me toward a ceramic birdbath. “Dad, I can come get that stuff if I need it. You just can’t bring it to me.”
“Sounds like you’ve been talking to the same quacks I have.”
I thought about all the things we’d done together—hundreds of trips to the barn, flea and farmers markets. Then the soundtrack from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father started playing in my head, which was odd since I’ve been married for 17 years.
“So, how are we gonna work this, us being in the same acre or two and me not even waving hello?”
“Consider it a friendly restraining order.” She smiled and turned off the hose.
Robert Wilder’s latest book is Tales from the Teacher’s Lounge. His column, “Daddy Needs a Drink” appears the first Wednesday of the month.