By Logan Cox
My daughter looked adorable with both hands wrapped around the mammoth smoothie glass. Four-year-olds tend to look adorable when they hold normal-sized things. I probably shouldn’t have indulged her request for an entire large-sized treat that would seemingly double her body mass, but what are fathers for if not for spoiling their kids?
What are daughters for, really, if not for asking painful questions at the exact wrong time?
“Oui, mon coco?”
“Why did mommy love you?”
“What do you mean, darling?”
“Mommies love their little girls and boys, so why did she love you?”
While I formulated a response, I sucked half-melted mango smoothie through my straw, giving myself a brain freeze. It was the second brain freeze. The first came as a result of my daughter’s question. I didn’t have a good answer, so I considered coming up with a good excuse to avoid talking about her mother.
It also occurred to me that I hated when my own father did that, so I decided to have a brief, honest conversation with my child. If Dad was willing to have one of those every once in a while, we might see each other more often than the occasional wave across the aisle at the grocery store.
“Sweetie, do you ever feel like I don’t understand what you mean when you ask me questions?”
“Do you like to be quiet, or do you like to be loud?”
“I get in trouble when I’m loud. I like to yell, but it’s only my outside voice, or sometimes when I’m mad.”
“I know.” I wiped sticky smoothie residue off her hands with a wet wipe. “So if I don’t understand you, I can’t forget about your question, right? Because I can’t hear you when you’re mad at me.”
“Am I in trouble?” She pulled her glass towards her as if I was about to steal her smoothie.
“No, of course not.” I laughed. “Was Mommy loud or quiet?”
“She was quiet.” She took a sip of her smoothie, her little body once again relaxed. “You said she was silent like a mouse.”
“I did say that, didn’t I?”
“You also said that she was the most infuriating woman in the entire world.”
“You remember everything, don’t you?” I was startled by her exact repetition of words that were far too advanced for pre-K students.
“Not everything,” she said, dead serious, taking everything literally.
We’d work on that later.
“Lots of people misunderstood her, but then they’d forget or give up because she wasn’t loud to remind them.”
“Was she sad?”
“I think so.” My voice cracked. “She was strong, so she wouldn’t tell me.”
“She was super strong,” my daughter said. “Remember when she opened that jelly jar? The one you gave up on?”
I considered correcting her about what kind of strength I meant, but chose to simply be entertained for the sake of staying on track.
“Super strong,” I agreed. “Lots of people loved her. She was easy to love. I loved her most of all.”
“That’s a story for another time,” I said gently. “I loved her so much that I spent more time than anyone ever had before, just trying to understand her. I talked to her so much, and I listened a little, when she would talk to me.”
“Yes. That makes sense,” she said, very adult-like, sitting up straight in her chair. “You said that you always had lots of words to say, but Mommy had the right words.”
A month ago in the hospital, hundreds of miles from the little swamp town drive-in we sat in now, my daughter had asked why Mommy had to go. I couldn’t make myself answer her, so my wife had explained it herself.
“She loved you because you were the only one who understood her?” My daughter slurped the rest of her drink.
“No,” I replied. “She loved me because she knew I would never stop trying to understand.”
“Is that why she called you mon étoile instead of mon coco?”
“Why would that be the reason?”
“Because mon coco means ‘my egg’ and chickens lay eggs no matter what, just like you and Mommy loved me no matter what because I’m your little girl,” she explained, with an impressive grasp of the language.
I remembered my wife teaching her what our little nicknames meant, only months ago.
“But you were her star, even though there are lots of stars. Mommy picked you out when she had lots of choices.”
Our friends always said that my daughter was much more like me than her mother. She was talkative, so it only made sense. What my daughter had just done, however, was something she could have only picked up from my wife.
She’d dropped a profound truth in the simplest way and then didn’t show any reaction in the slightest. Immediately after her statement, she went to work excavating the elusive last droplets of smoothie from the bottom of her glass.
I could finally see the gift my wife had left me.
I couldn’t stop tears from streaming down my face, and there was nowhere to hide from my daughter.
She promptly mopped me up with a partially used napkin that she held in her sticky hands. “Why are you crying?”
“They’re good tears, not bad ones.” I wrapped her in my arms and tried to smile to alleviate any alarm I’d caused.
“What’s the difference?”
I laughed at her ability to constantly ask questions. She laughed, probably because I was laughing. What a pair we made.
My wife wouldn’t have laughed at all. She’d have shot me a strange look and a wry smile, then stared silently at something in the distance for the next half hour until she slipped her hand into mine.
They say French is the language of love, but all the French in the world wouldn’t give me the right words.