It’s sunset and Kevin and I take the dogs for a walk in Karl Schurz Park while Eyrna is at her martial arts class. This is my favorite time of day, twilight, and a huge amber harvest moon floats above the buildings on the other side of the East River. We walk past the children’s playground, where we haven’t been at all lately. Through the tall fence hang the bright red harnesses of the baby swings, empty at this darkening hour, and I say, “Do you remember when we put her on those swings for the first time?” Of course, he remembers. She was only a couple of months old, fearless even then. She laughed and laughed, not wanting to stop.
We pass the toddler jungle gym, painted in primary red and blue, with its curving wood bridge that seemed such an obstacle to her at eleven months, when she first stumbled across it without holding on. I was scared she’d fall and tear open her face, but I let her do it on her own, trying not to hover. Across the way stands the elementary school kids’ jungle gym, colorful scaffolding with obstacles and levels and ropes and rope ladders, and a twisting shiny slide.
“Remember when I let her climb that one?” Kevin points, “And you were scared to death?” I was scared to death, it’s true. Having only this one child, I looked around to see if any of the other mothers or nannies were concerned. But Kevin never cared what other people thought. She was the smallest child on the jungle gym, and the older kids weren’t above shoving her out of the way. But still, she wasn’t afraid. Kevin stood underneath, watching, not saying a word. Would he be able to catch her if she fell? I had faith he would. But still, I held my breath.
She’s too old now even for the middle-schoolers’ park, which stands slightly away from the others, surrounded by its own gate. Ah, the hours we spent in there, watching, staying out of her games until she wanted us to play some part: tick-tack-toe opponent; pretend vendor; Frankenstein; time-keeper. Kevin reminds me of the day she made the transition to the big kids’ swings. “Do you remember?” I laugh. I remember that he pushed her so high in the air and she kept shouting, “Higher, Daddy! Higher!” until the chain ropes that held the swing lost their tautness and I thought she was going to go flying over the fence.
“We did a good job, didn’t we?” I ask Kevin.
“I think we did.”
I grew up rich, in Paris, in a town house on the Seine. Eyrna had none of that. But we traveled a great deal, and took her with us, everywhere. We went to the Venice Film Festival and stayed in a Renaissance palazzo as guests of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory. We went to San Diego and swam with dolphins.
She saw the sun set from the top of Montmartre as the nuns sang hymns inside the cavernous church, their high, innocent voices carried forth on the still air. “Eyrna,” I said, opening my arm in a wide circle, the city spread out below us, “I give you Paris.”
Once, a crotchety super down the street yelled at her while she was walking the dogs by herself. He scared her so badly she wouldn’t walk on his side of the street anymore. Kevin went out there and told the super if he ever scared his daughter again, he’d beat the crap out of him. The super said he had a gun. Kevin said, “Good, I look forward to the law suit.”
Next year she’ll start high school. We’ve told her many times, We’ll always be here if you need us. Even at three o’clock in the morning. If you’re ever scared, we’ll come get you. Only four more years and she’ll be off to college.
Soon, we’re going to have to step back and say, “Eyrna, we give you the world.”