Illustration by Popularium. Source images Universal Pictures
“We don’t know what tomorrow holds, there’s no time to lose.”
I’m rolling in the grass, and my sister and brother are wondering what I’m doing. I tell them I’m eating, because that is what Spike does, and I eat a blade of grass. It’s not very good. I spit it out and we all laugh.
I spent less and less time with my dad those days — a couple weeks at Christmas, a week for spring break, and a couple months in the summer. Between those times, I memorized the song from the end credits of The Land Before Time, and sang it to myself when I missed my dad and needed comfort.
My siblings also loved the movie, especially my little brother. There was a five year gap between my sister and me, and a seven year gap between me and my brother. Finding something all three of us enjoyed was rare, so when my mom found The Land Before Time, she capitalized on it. I’ve seen that movie more times than I could count; my ties to the movie evolved from coping mechanism to bonding activity as our collective view count reached the hundreds.
After the movie was over, my mom would funnel us out into the backyard. We’d act out the movie or develop new scenarios for the band of young dinosaurs, stomping around on all fours in the grass and roaring.
The sounds of the park faded away. All I could hear was the blood rushing in my head as rage bubbled up inside me.
My wife Rachel, the kids, and I spent our Christmas day at Civic Center Park, trying to bring cheer to the city’s homeless. I’d been recruited by a friend from choir. Her church was hosting an event to give away necessities like clothing, food, and sleeping bags. They thought that having a group singing carols while people waited in line would add some much-needed holiday spirit. I jumped on the opportunity; we could bring the kids and teach them an important lesson about giving to those who needed it most. Kevin and Isaac spent a few minutes next to me, singing carols hand in hand, but they lost interest pretty quickly. They wandered away to chase Rachel through the grass. She ran in loops and circles, letting them almost catch her. Occasionally she’d grab one of them and twirl them high in the air. I heard their giggles over the sounds of the crowd and smiled.
Suddenly, the giggling stopped and Rachel screamed my name. I whipped around and ran over to where Rachel was standing, Isaac shaking in her arms and holding a hand to her eye. “What’s going on?” I asked, assessing the situation. She nodded her head to a woman nearby, who was eyeing us suspiciously and mumbling to herself. “She hit me.”
I gently touched the red lump forming above Rachel’s eye, then glanced at the woman, confused. “She just walked up and hit you?”
“At first I thought she was someone from your choir, walking up to say hi, but something didn’t feel right. She tried to grab Isaac, so I blocked her and picked him up. Then she hit me in the face.”
The sounds of the park faded away. All I could hear was the blood rushing in my head as rage bubbled up inside me. This woman had dared to attack my family, and, without thinking, I reacted.
“Stay the fuck away from my family!” I screamed, barrelling towards her.
I charged her, and she darted towards our stroller parked a few yards away in the grass. She shoved it towards me, trying to put distance between us, but I twisted it around, grabbing the handles and ramming it towards her in one smooth motion. She circled around me, eyes looking for an opening, but I kept the stroller between us. She darted forward, grabbing the stroller and trying to pry it out of my hands. I yanked it back. “Stay the fuck away from my family!” I screamed, barreling towards her. She darted off into the park, and I collapsed onto the stroller sobbing.
I didn’t notice the pair of arms around me, holding me upright, until we were walking back towards Rachel and the kids. One of the organizers had seen the confrontation and rushed over to help me, while shouting instructions to call the police. He gripped me firmly by the shoulders, and I sagged into him, shaking all over. The fight was done, and I was exhausted.
“It’s OK now, it’s all over.” He talked in low gentle tones, soothing me as he guided me to a bench. Isaac ran over and climbed into my lap. I held Isaac tight, taking big gulping breaths and trying to slow my racing heart. Rachel sat down next to me and pulled Kevin into her lap, and we huddled together soothing each other and recovering from the unexpected turn the afternoon had taken. The man summoned someone to bring apple juices for the kids, and Rachel explained the situation. He apologized profusely, and stayed with us until I had calmed down.
I replayed the situation over and over in my mind. If it hadn’t been for Rachel’s quick thinking, we might have lost our baby. I’d prepped for scenarios like this before, imagining what I’d do if someone threatened my family. I was pretty sure my response would be fight over flight, but I hadn’t foreseen turning into a quivering pile of human jelly in the aftermath.
If I were to die, would I leave my children with enough love?
I’ve been excited to watch The Land Before Time with my own kids. Sharing my favorite childhood movies is one of the best ways to bond with them. It gives them a little insight into who I was a child, and gives us a common interest to talk about. They’re both dinosaur-obsessed, so I knew they would love it.
We were barely out of the opening credits when I started to wonder if I’d made a mistake. A flood of dread washed over me — what was going to happen when we got to Littlefoot’s mother’s death scene? Would they be scared? I remembered my own reaction as a child, and braced myself to comfort two sobbing children.
Though Sharptooth made them flinch, and they were visibly affected by the heroics of Littlefoot’s mother, I needed comfort more than they did. I’d come to term with Littlefoot’s loss years ago. I’d seen it so much I was somewhat numbed to it. But this time, I experienced it with a fresh viewpoint. I didn’t cry for Littlefoot, I cried for his mother.
I saw myself lying in the mud, struggling for breath as I tried to impart some final wisdom, some last lesson my kids could carry with them. Having kids doesn’t guarantee your time with them. Each second of our lives exists in a closed set, finite and countable; it’s up to us whether we spend them wisely or squander them on distractions. What if my children were to be snatched away from me, like Isaac nearly was? Or what if I were taken from them? If I were to die, would I leave my children with enough love? Have I taught them the skills they need to find their proverbial Great Valley without me?
Sometimes when your head’s down and you’re focused on getting through the day, you don’t notice the years flying by. It hasn’t been many years since I held Kevin for the first time, exhausted and more full of love than I’d ever been before. Wasn’t it only last week that he started to walk? I swear he only started to talk a few days ago. His baby face has grown longer and more mature. He writes his own stories, he rides a bike. He’s almost too big to hold. Isaac was just born, wasn’t he? How is he already speaking in full sentences?
Ultimately, there comes a time when we have to step out of the frame and trust that they can navigate their own lives using the skills we’ve taught them and their own inner strength.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Littlefoot’s mom it’s that our time with our children is limited, whether by tragedy or by the natural course of growing up. Ultimately, there comes a time when we have to step out of the frame and trust that they can navigate their own lives using the skills we’ve taught them and their own inner strength.
I don’t know when my time with my children will come to an end. Maybe it will be soon, or maybe I’ll be lucky enough to watch them grow and test out the waters of their own lives. Until then, all I can do is love them with every fiber of my being, just as they are.
I dried my eyes and resolved to spend my seconds more wisely. I went back into the living room where my kids were enraptured by a few small dinosaurs taking a stand against the monster that had disrupted their lives. I held both kids on my lap, snuggling them up and treasuring each second as it flew by.
I gave them an extra squeeze as the credits rolled, then took them into the backyard to play. We stomped and growled like dinosaurs, running and laughing in the grass in the fading evening light.