I am looking down at my shoes when I see hers. My flip flops have faded to a color that blends with my pale feet. Into my square of sidewalk leaps a pair of converse high tops. I look up, but not too far, to see a frilly dress, a freckled smile and mis matched pigtails. One is low the other is high and the girl runskipwalks quickly past me. She is headed to one of her last days of one of her first years of school. I get a bit of that almost summer feeling and forget my flip flops.
Half a block behind her I see her parents. They are walking hand in hand. The mom is wearing the same shoes as her daughter and is holding a coffee mug in her free hand. It makes me smile. This walk is just a bit of their day. I imagine them headed home, her mug still half full, to eat toast at a sunny table. They are a few steps beyond me now and I hear the mom call out “Stop” in a relaxed sing song. Then a little louder. “Stop” And finally it is piercing. “STOOOOOPPP” I turn at the sound, her mug crashing to the ground as the two of them sprint forward towards the edge of the broad road. Its canopy of trees has filled in, the houses lining it can best be described as stately. The three of them are in a tangle in the sloping curb. I see the mom gathering up the girl whose face is stone. The father is holding on to the mother as she screams. I have my phone out. It has just taken a moment.
Then come the tears. Before I have dialed 911 I realize the tears are from the child, not the parents.
The girl is fine. She was stunned and now she is crying. I’m not sure she knows how close she came to a car. It almost doesn’t matter though. I can imagine her parents’ bodies. The rush in their ears. The thundering thud of their hearts. It is strange that trauma has a sound.
I am holding her coffee mug. It is empty and its handle is chipped. I run my thumb along the chip. Such a small mark really. I imagine they will keep the mug. It will be dry in the cabinet tomorrow. This moment will be forgotten, but somehow imprinted on the mom.
It is so hard to love so hard. I am flashing through time next to incubators, calls that turned out to be meaningless from pediatric oncologists, a son covered in blood in Steve’s arms as I stand at the door of the ER. In a moment I am scared of the other times that we haven’t yet lived.
I am holding out the mug but they are walking away from me, the three of them together hand in hand in hand.
I don’t want to interrupt them.
I set the mug on the sidewalk, its chipped handle facing the direction they will walk when they return from dropping their girl at one of her last days of one of her first years at school.
This is the truest part of parenting. Where the tangle of love and fear can stop life in an instant, even if it is just for an instant.