I tucked my daughter in about 9:30 p.m. last Thursday. But this wasn't our typical tuck-in time.
As any parent knows, the days of tuck-in time don't last forever, and it's a pretty special part of the day - maybe the most special. My tuck-in time with Olivia as I know and cherish it is sadly drawing to a close. I know there soon will come a day when it's just, "'Night Dad." Door shuts.
But for now, I hold that time at the end of the day close to my heart, even though I'm well aware she sometimes just wants to talk to delay the going-to-sleep process. But last Thursday night's tuck-in time turned into something real special. It came a little more than an hour after we left an informal memorial service for Cody Hartson, a 13-year-old Garvin/Revere boy, whom Ole had played softball with in Garvin just about every week.
Cody died July 14 in a freak accident while doing something he loved doing: playing outside. Thursday's service for him was nice, intimate. As vehicles whizzed by on U.S. Highway 59 carrying passengers oblivious to the pain the 100-plus residents of Garvin were feeling that night, Cody's family and friends held each other close and huddled together to remember. A poem was read. There was a moment of silence. We let balloons go. There were a lot of tears shed and enough hugs shared to warm the iciest of hearts.
Afterward, I got to go home with my kid. Cody's folks went home with red eyes and only memories of their son.
That night, Ole and I talked during tuck-in time. She opened her arms wide and asked for a hug liked she always does and then gave me a clown kiss (think Bill Cosby's "zerberts" on his kids, only ours are on each other's cheeks). But then she did something she's never done before: She asked for another hug and squeezed really hard this time, as did I.
This was the end of more than just another 24-hour shift in life, it was the end of a day where we were both reminded how short and fragile life can truly be.
Funny thing about death. Sometimes it's welcomed, like when a person is sick and is suffering. And sometimes it's tragic and sad and leaves you with a bunch of questions. But either way, death forces you to appreciate what you've got. Yes, life sometimes sucks, but we should be thankful every day we're alive to make the most of it.
Appreciation - that was the message we should try to drill into our children's heads every chance we get. Many teachable moments come courtesy of the TV news: when we see kids in other countries who are starving, or hiding or running from the terror of war; when we see kids who are disabled or those who have a terminal disease fighting to, you know, make the most of it; when we see that yet another family is mourning the loss of a soldier overseas. This is when I remind Ole how lucky she is to have her health, to have food in the fridge, nice clothes on her back, the chance to play sports, to go swimming, to ride bike, to hang out with friends. That's when I remind her she's still got a bunch of grandparents around, and aunts and uncles, too.
Last Thursday, we didn't need the nightly news to offer up a teachable moment - we got one in person, and it was for the both of us: We were once again taught to not take any person in our lives for granted.
When a child dies, we, as parents, all stop. We all close our eyes and think. Sometimes we cry. But we have a problem. We shouldn't stop to think and appreciate the people who shape our lives just on these sad occasions, we should do it every day.
Or every night at bedtime.