I briefly met that hazel gaze in the rear view mirror. She sat back on her booster seat, legs crossed, hands on her lap, before brushing a strand of dark brown silk behind her ear. Such a grown up gesture for such a young kid.
"Which one?" I asked, marveling at the little face in the mirror.
"Play that "Gypsy" song again. I like it."
I reached down for the iPod and tapped the rewind button twice. After a brief pause the timeless sound of Fleetwood Mac caressed the air in the car.
"Can you turn it up?"
I obeyed and the 8 speakers melted under the unmistakable vibrato of Stevie Nicks singing of the days of velvet and paper flowers. Beneath her voice, another faint voice, a bit off key, joined in, the beat tapped by little bare feet.
The road stretched before us, endless, vast, as I let the car coast down I 81 North into Wilkes Barre. We had another three hours to go before our destination, Connecticut.
As "Gypsy" played I fondly recalled my mother dancing and singing that same song while she cleaned our small home in Ecuador. I had a sense of circle of life type thoughts while Kendra sang in the back with gusto.
That was when it hit me.
Kendra is on the verge of 6. That chubby baby I once held forever gone, I thought with a lump in my throat. 6 years...
"Dad, can I listen to it again?" Her voice carried a bit of the little baby voice I hear in my dreams. "Of course,"
The song started again and I smiled to myself, good taste in music, kid, I thought.
So much of me in her gestures, so much of my Sheri in her attitudes.
And there is more.
I don't know where her kindness comes from, her inquisitive drive, or her emotional tempests that I endure along with the purity of her thoughts and laughter. I am seeing the world and life anew through her eyes, and rediscovering the beauty of it all. She once said she felt lucky I was her dad. Surely that is not what she thinks on the occasions I am forced to guide and correct her, or enforce some rule I feel she needs to learn.
It is me who is the fortunate one.
I would like to know what it was I did to earn the opportunity to live a life with Kendra Marie in it. This smart, little bag of bones that can pierce me in place with gazes that often change from gray to green to golden...
It's me who is the lucky one, to raise such an amazing little girl.
It's hard to believe that she weighed barely 5 pounds... 6 years ago, Sheri and I wondered what she would look like, or be like, and although we explored many scenarios, Kendra has defied them all, and surpassed every expectation we may have had. She looks far more beautiful than any picture I created in my head. She brings me a joy to live, a will to believe, and a strength I never thought possible. I am the fortunate one.
I pray every day for strength and guidance to never let her down.
As we crossed the Connecticut State line, Taylor Swift graced the airwaves with her lovely rendition of "Fifteen". Once again, Kendra sang along, and although the song is sweet, it filled my eyes with stinging tears as I thought of the inevitable time to come. She will go on growing and the little girl will fade as a young woman emerges. It's happening faster than I'm ready for, and at times, I despair over the world she'll be part of, and while these thoughts torture my mind and heart, I look in the rear view mirror trying to find her gaze.
Her knowing eyes fix on mine, and her lips break into a smile that's missing a front tooth, and yet doesn't diminish the glitter of her grin at all, and my soul soars.
So much strength, so much promise, fearless before the passage of time, that's what I see in that little smile.
She is my daughter. She is my hero.