Just day before yesterday, it seems, little Rooty plopped down astride a resting Sandy, startling the otherwise gentle Collie. With blurring, growling speed, Sandy instinctively turned and snapped at her unwelcome rider.
The closing jaws snagged two canine teeth above both eyebrows and raked them downward across the cheeks of the 2-year-old, while the bottom teeth tore open a gash under her chin.
Rooty howled in pain, her dad yelled in anger and her mom screamed in fright, while Sandy sulked away, confused and clearly upset at having accidentally hurt her little companion.
On the way to the hospital, wrapped in a towel and clenched in her mother's arms in the back seat, with blood smeared across her face, the now-quieted Rooty soon started crying again - loudly. When her frantic mother asked if she was in pain, the wounded toddler quickly gasped, "No - you're squeezing me too tight!"
Frightening as this drama was at the time, and now that the scars have long-since healed, that little scene is one of our favorite family stories. And here we are, some 14 years later, and the hands of time are reaching in to pry loose the parental grasp.
Eleanor Jane Paschal, the nearly grown-up little girl only her dad calls Rooty, is 16 years old.
Don't panic yet. Because of rules from the Georgia Department of Driver Services, Ellie won't be able to take her driver's license exam until next Friday. Until then, the parental grasp can continue to hang on, even though we already know the throat-knotting, palm-sweating feeling that will soon come from seeing yet another child drive away - undoubtedly gripping the steering wheel as tightly as her mother's worried hug.
Ellie certainly will feel a sense of freedom as she rolls away, especially without the constant advice and driving suggestions from her dad, or the "brake Brake BRAKE!" from her mom (said, semi-frantically through gritted teeth, while both her mom's feet press hard on imaginary pedals and her left arm flings across the driver's chest to non-verbally punctuate the urgency).
Kids might not understand it, but in addition to the parents' safety concerns of turning loose a new driver - concerns for that new driver's well-being, and fears on behalf of every other motorist and passenger on the road - moms and dads also fear the inevitable day of those brake lights dwindling in the distance as a metaphorical release of their secure parental hug.
License or no license, it's an undeniable fact of life. We can hold our children close, even squeeze them until they are uncomfortable, but we eventually have to loosen our grip and let them go.
The good news about that 16th birthday, or the 18th, or the 21st, is that the car that takes them away also usually brings them back. Being granted the use of a car doesn't include self-sufficiency; if anything, it actually increases dependence ("Dad, can I have some money for gas? Dad, does that noise mean my car needs an oil change?Dad, I think there's a mailbox stuck under my car....").
The bad news is that a teen's driver's license is an early sign that a day will soon come that the car it allows the teen to operate will eventually keep going, that the parental grip has been broken for good.
When that unwelcome day at last comes, all you can do is hope and pray she'll remember that tight squeeze at age 2 was meant to love and protect, not to hold down or suffocate.
Happy birthday, little Rooty.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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