Li-An sat on the edge of the dock, feet dangling, toes barely touching the water. She giggled as she swung her feet back and forth making ripples on the surface. Her imagination soared.
She had always felt so at home in the water; so much so, that she never realized the inherent dangers lurking just below the surface. Fortunately, and unfortunately, this is an affliction with which her parents did not suffer. They were constantly worried about the consequences of her carelessness, and were torn between the overwhelming need to protect their precious daughter and the understanding that if she did not fall in small pieces along the way in life, she would not have the skills to cope with the inevitable problems life would hold.
Li-An understood nothing of this. Where her parents saw carelessness, she saw only the water in front of her. She didn’t care about the temperature of the water or the air around it. She didn’t care if the water looked pristine and crystal clear or that beautiful orange muddy brown color the lakes turned after a heavy rain. It was all water to her, beautiful and wet and begging to be entered.
She looked over her shoulder to see if her mother was still watching, which of course she was. Her mother knew what she was thinking, though Li-An didn’t quite realize it. She believed, in that way that only an innocent can, that she was being sneaky, that she could catch her mother off guard and dive, then miraculously charm her way out of the small trouble this would cause.
Sensing the growing urgency of Li-An’s desire, her mother reminded her again that she was wearing good clothes and was forbidden to enter the water just now. She also reminded her that her father was almost finished preparing lunch and immediately after, they were to go to her aunt’s for her cousin’s birthday party.
At the mention of her father, Li-An’s mind acknowledged the smell of cooking meat passing by her nose.
She had been so wrapped up in the notion of swimming that she had not noticed the hunger growing in her tiny belly. Her stomach made a rumble to remind her that she was a living thing that needed food. “I’m hungry mama! How much longer do I have to wait?” she asked in that impatient way children have of asking such questions. “I just told you that your father is almost finished.” Li-An felt the love coming from the look in her mother’s eyes. “By the time you wash up your lunch will be on the table my darling.”
Li An again looked back at the water and considered the idea of diving in to “wash up,” then thought better of it. She had been given explicit instructions concerning the water today, and, though her mother was a very kind and gentle woman, she did expect her daughter to listen to explicit instructions without argument.
Li-An reluctantly removed her toes from the water and stood on the dock for a moment. A fish jumped in front of her causing her stop and take a closer look, then she giggle and said “hello fishy!” She expected an answer, but heard only silence. She wanted to jump in to see where the fishy had gone, but she thought of her parents.
She suddenly turned and ran up the dock as fast as she could. She did that sometimes. Just start running as fast as she could for no reason other than she liked the way her muscles felt when she did it. She liked the way her lungs sprang to life the way they did when she was holding her breath under water, “taking too long” as her father would say in that tone he took when he was trying to hold back the pride as he corrected his daughter’s behavior.
“Be careful Li-An.” She barely heard as she flew past her mother towards the water hose near the barbeque.
“I am mama!” She lied without knowing it was a lie. Her life was too safe to know what it meant to need to be careful.
She felt her foot catch on the root of a giant oak tree. Her body began to fall forward and she felt a knot of excitement in her stomach. She saw the ground grow closer to her face, but just before her delicate knees made contact, she felt her father’s strong arms around her waist. He scooped her up and held her close as he swung her around and around, listening to the squeals of pleasure the motion elicited from her. Spinning was her third favorite action, especially when another person would spin along with her. “Daddy!” She squealed and giggled. Love had once again helped her to avoid another tragedy.
“Oh no! I’ve lost Li-An! I hear her, but I can’t see her. Stephanie, have you seen Li-An?” Her father spoke as he looked lovingly into her eyes.
Li-An giggled louder! She didn’t catch that daddy had just called mama something other than mama. She had no recognition of the name Stephanie, anymore than she had any recognition of the name Daisy, the name her biological mother had given her in the brief time she had known her. Daisy was her favorite flower, not her name and mama was the only name that the most important woman in the world could have.
“I’m here Daddy!” she screamed over and over. “You have me!” The warm laughter of love filled the
“She’s right baby. You’ve got her in your arms!” Years later, as Li An searched in vain to find her biological mother, this phrase would ring through her head giving her comfort.
Daddy stopped spinning and held her at arms length before placing her on the table. “Ah yes. There you are!
I must have been confused.” His smile was strong, like him. In his presence, there could be no danger. Her young mind couldn’t know that behind that smile was a multitude of fears. She couldn’t understand that his love for her made him hold them in. She only knew that he always caught her before she fell.
“Why don’t you wash your hands and go tell mama that dinner is ready.” She felt his huge hands lift her again, then felt the familiar strength of the earth beneath her feet just before her legs pushed her towards the water hose.
“Mama!” she yelled as she turned on the water, stuck her hands in, then pulled them immediately back out.
“Mama! I’m hungry!”
Mama had already joined her husband in preparing the plates. The two moved with a precision that never showed their separate inner lives.
His inner life was full of physical worries. Would the car make it another year without a major repair?
Would everyone be safe on the ride to Disneyworld this year? Would he be able to put enough money away for Li-An to choose whatever school she liked?
Mama’s inner life, on the other hand, lent more to the emotional. She worried she wouldn’t be strong enough to help Li-An deal with the realization that she was not her biological mother. She worried that, although she had only known her mother for 2 days outside of her womb, that the damage done by that lifestyle during the pregnancy would follow Li An through her life. She worried that her husband wouldn’t understand why she worried so often.
“I know pumpkin. Are your hands clean?”
Li-An held out her tiny hands for inspection and felt her mother’s hands wrap around hers, gently rubbing away the dirt she had not herself noticed. “Honey, remind me to show our dear Li-An the proper way to wash up again.” Li-An watched her parents kiss in passing.
“Again? But she was doing so well with it.” The warmth of his smile told Li-An they were not angry.
The sunlight washed over them as they sat down to enjoy their meal. Li-An heard her parents talking of things she didn’t understand and looked back over her shoulder at the water. The sun dancing on its surface called even louder to her now that she could see more of it, but her stomach made her look back to her plate.
Hotdogs were her favorite.
“Eat up pumpkin…before it gets cold.” Mama and daddy always knew what she really needed.