A simple wave

Tonight, like most every night, I took Caroline for a walk after dinner. It's a ritual we do as frequently as we can before Sarah gives her a bath and bottle then puts her to bed. At 11 months old, we hope the evening walks help fill Caroline's mind with the sights and sounds of nature as she unwinds, processes what she learned during the day and settles herself for a good night's sleep. We began the ritual when Caroline was just a few months old and it has become one of my favorite times of the day.

Here's how it works. Following dinner, I clip on the Baby Bjorn like a climber clips in to a chest harnesses then Sarah secures Caroline onto my lap. A bit of bug spray keeps the mosquito bites from happening and a play list on my iPhone speaker puts music in the air. Then we roll off in search of birdies, bunnies, squirrels, puppies, mice, moles and even the occasional fox or deer.

It's a rare night when we don't see something in the woods and we have become good partners at letting the other person know what we have spotted. When I see an animal, I quietly point in its direction to get Caroline to look and not disturb it. Then we creep close. When Caroline sees something first, she waves her arms and let's out a laugh or a scream to let me know there is an animal in range. She hasn't yet learned that her excitement effectively scares off whatever she has spotted and we never get close. That's just fine though, I love her simply for the effort.

A few months ago, I began catching her looking at airplanes. When the sky is clear and the winds are out of the southwest, planes on their approach to Charlotte-Douglas Airport pass directly over Lake Norman so we get a perfect view of their beauty. It is even more exciting to see them descend in the colorful evening sky.

Caroline's reaction to seeing an airplane is different from spotting an animal. Rather than voicing her discovery as only babies do, at some point she decided to wave to the planes as they pass overhead and fade from the horizon. In fact, Caroline has become quite skilled at recognizing the sounds of the engines far off in the distance then positioning her head toward the sky in the proper direction quite often before the plane even appears. She rarely misses an airplane and I'm often surprised to see her waving long before I either see or hear the plane myself.

Tonight, as nearly one dozen planes approached the airport and flew overhead during our walk, I told her about what happened on September 11th twelve years ago. I told her about how two planes went where they shouldn't and how the skies over our house then became quiet for a few days. I told her how I would go outside, look up at the same skies and see nothing.

Then I shared some deeper feelings. I told her about how difficult it was for all Americans to watch and how our country - and the entire world - changed that day because of what happened inside some airplanes. I told her many people were at first sad then they grew stronger. And I told her how many people are still sad today, too, and that's part of life. I also told her that's why things are the way they  are when we fly on airplanes.

To be honest, I'm not sure Caroline either heard or understood what I was saying. You see, in her mind, there is something better. A small section of tree branch has lodged itself onto a power wire along our route and it really looks like a bird. So, every night when we get to a certain place on our walk, Caroline starts searching for it then smiles excitedly and waves her arms when it appears as it always does. As a new Dad, I'm not really sure if I should tell her it is just a tree branch or let her go on spotting that uniquely looking birdie and believing it is real. I hope time will help us find the answer.

But tonight, after I had finished my story and was feeling like my words had taken a back seat to her nightly stick-on-a wire sighting, Caroline did something very special. A few minutes later, as a huge plane descended slowly and purposefully over our heads, Caroline leaned back in the Baby Bjorn and looked directly into my eyes. She put one of her tiny hands into mine then urged me to look skyward with her at the plane in a manner I had never seen before. She then raised my hand toward the sky with her and held it as tightly as she could. With her other hand she waved to the plane. Then she smiled at me when I waved, too.

Her simple gesture - a wave of her tiny baby hand - helped me realize that while the painful memories of that day are still with me, as I think they always will be, it's all going to be OK.

Thanks, Caroline, for tonight's walk. Thanks for hearing my story. Daddy loves you.