Following Zu

A week ago, we celebrated your tenth birthday. You picked out a cake mix and we spent the afternoon baking it. There were presents. We watched a movie. I enjoyed celebrating the decade I have spent with you in my life.

You're a year older, chronologically speaking, but not much has changed. You are still the same bold and sweet young woman you were a few weeks ago. You are still as boisterous and compassionate as you were a year ago. You're a few inches taller but you are still you.

Of all the days between your ninth birthday and your tenth, there is one moment that stands out more than others.

Last summer, you and I had an afternoon to ourselves. Your brothers were occupied and we had a few hours before we needed to pick them up. I gave you the choice of how to spend our time and you asked to go to the beach. We didn't have any towels and you weren't wearing a swim suit, but you didn't care. All that mattered was how much you crave sunshine and water; both were available.

We were listening to The Beatles as we drove. I used to sing 'Hey Jude' to you as a lullaby when you were a baby and I always look for opportunities to keep you familiar with their music. We pulled up to the parking lot with the windows down and the song 'Got to Get You Into My Life' playing.

I exited the car and opened your door. As you stepped out, you looked up at me with those deep sparking chocolate colored eyes and asked "Daddy, did I tell you I need you every single day of my life?" Quoting the words of the song we just heard.

"No," I smiled and knelt down to your level. "But you did now."

Your question was a reflection of who you really are. You are the most observant girl I've ever met. You pay attention to everything even when it appears like you are focused on something else. Anyone who asks "How could she possibly know?" doesn't understand you. Your personality was full on display as a lover of music and as a daughter who adores her dad. You demonstrated that tightrope you walk balancing between bravery and vulnerability.

Then we walked, crossed the street, and followed the road to the beach. Your excitement carried you with a quickness uniquely reserved for youth. Nothing was going to stand in between you and the lake. Yet along the way, you still looked back to make sure I was there. I was and seeing me gave you the confidence to speed up your pace a little faster.

I was right there behind you. And I always have been. When you swing on the monkey bars or when you fall and scrape your knee. When you walk to class on your first day or school or get frightened by thunder on a stormy night. I'm right there behind you. Over the next few years, you will be facing a lot of new and potentially scary moments. For all those firsts, I hope to remain right there behind you.

When you attend your first day of middle school, go out on your first date, are crushed by your first broken heart, get your driver's license, and do all of those things kids do in their second decade of life, this moment on the way to the beach is the one I will always remember. You told me you needed me, then looked back to make sure I was still there.

I was. And I still am.

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