March comes in and it’s hard to believe. Peanut will be 11 at the end of this month. The years have rolled on like a dream and raised the specter of growing older, but prospering in their wake.
Today, a day after the Santa Ana winds blew through and wiped away sharp edges and pointed peaks, the sun rolled in softly over the still green hills and warmed the afternoon, burning off the cool morning breezes. Peanut and I were on our way to the dog park with Simon when a fortuitous distraction took us north instead of south to the groomed mounds, hills and larger foothills of Tierra Rejada and Moorpark to see Castle Rock farms.Peanut is a horse girl and one of the fine people for whom I write, John Lockhart, invited us out to Castle Rock to see his daughter Alice do her practice and run through the paces with Vinny, an off-track thoroughbred. He’s gorgeous, of course. At 16.2 hands, he’s a tall, roan beauty, muscular, driven and ambitious. He wants to run.
And so does Peanut. So she watched like a hawk as Vinny was charged to go cross country over four-foot bars and jumps. John’s kindness was unforced and smooth as was his daughter’s. We were so easy and calm and Peanut was blown away by the skill of horse and rider as was I. Simon came with us and his dog-sense told him that these animals, in all their grace and nobility, were not his to rule. He whined while we watched them, mostly because birds flew overhead–birds of all kinds that drew him like a flame on the hot afternoon breeze. March is spring and the burning Santa Anas of yesterday gave way to slow, calm warmth today. Simon was keenly aware of it, keen to it and while it slowed horse and human down, it only made him more electric.
Peanut awoke this morning thinking of horses-reminded of the problems she ran into last Thursday when she slipped, made mistakes and didn’t give herself the charge, the seriousness and the focus she needed to. “Dad,” she said. “Do you think I can be a serious horseback rider?”
And for the first time I’d thought about the way she asked questions. When she was five or six or seven and would ask, I felt a need to answer. I felt that I had to jump in and point out who she was going to be. I knew that what I said could make a difference and could make her choose an outcome–based entirely on what I chose. But that was no longer the case.
“Well,” I said. “I do have an opinion on this. I have known you long enough to know that you can be whatever you want to be, honey. That if this is a passion you’re choosing, then you can do it–yes. But it’s not really important what I think…”
Two nights ago, I raised my voice. Two nights ago, she had chosen to regress, to become less than she was and to hide behind the little girl she used to be. Instead of pulling her out of it and making her think more seriously, more calmly about what was next, I grew narrow and insulate. “You don’t get the luxury of acting like a five-year old when I’m paying for lessons like this…” Suddenly, money was more important than her personality, than her own humanity and occasional regression. Suddenly, the stark and bold darkness of an ungrateful child, entitled and spoiled was all I could see.
It took me all night to see it–but I was ashamed of myself.
So, this morning–after telling her yesterday how wrong I was–how I didn’t have all the answers, I thought better of it indeed.
“Honey, the reason I behaved so badly last Thursday is actually pretty simple. I retreated to the place where I solve all your problems for you–with either love or anger–I went backward, just like you did. I said, ‘you don’t get to go there with my money.’ That was wrong. You see-you’re now at that odd age where you’ve made some choices on your own, like choosing to learn to ride horses–but you’re not entirely capable yet of making your own decisions.
However–this one is definitely a decision you get to make. You’ve chosen to ride-to learn horses and to be part of that world. Do I think you can do it? Of course I do. I think you can do anything. I know you can.
The question isn’t about what I think, Shannon. It’s about what you think. Do you think you can be that kind of horseback rider? Because it seems to me yours is the only answer that matters.”
And that’s when it occurred to me that another milestone was past today: I had to tell my daughter that what I thought wasn’t the issue and that what she thought was. “What do you think?
I learned more than she did today–and it was a little painful and a little wonderful all at once.