Utter Joy

What else can you call it?

Hazel’s been lucky enough to have after-school care by Temescal Lake, a modest lake with a beach and trees all around. Her child care program meets in a raised meadow that overlooks the lake.

It’s right next to a freeway, but you can’t see the freeway; you can only hear it, and it kind of sounds like the ocean if you let it.

Oh, lovely getaway… what a place for pickup! Joyful in itself but that’s not what I was talking about.

It was this:

I caught the exact moment when my first grader, Hazel, then a faraway speck on the hill, noticed my presence on the meadow.

Spoiler Alert: It was dramatic. (In the true spirit of a 6-year old)

She flung off her backpack — nearly half her size — and threw her arms up.

Daddy! she screamed.

And ran full speed at me.

What else could I do but run at her?

So there we were, running across a meadow toward each other, which, as we all know, is like that beautiful last scene in a movie, where even the most cynical among us will watch ’til the end.

The expanse of meadow was big enough that I had time to think about what I was doing. I had time to see all the people on the edges, turning inward to see our finale taking place on center stage.

We don’t often ask for the roles we’re given, but what a wonderful thing when a good part falls in your lap.

Hazel! I screamed.

I stretched out my arms, picking up the pace, which made her increase her speed too, which, of course, made me scan the terrain in front of her for divets and rocks and doggie dookie.

A few more seconds, no tumbles or twisted ankles (Thank God!), and we were in each other’s arms, just like the movies. I picked her up by the armpits and swung her around, for me, for her, for the crowd, for Hollywood, for the lake.

(There wasn’t any applause, but the editors can add that in later, along with a rainbow and a briefcase and perhaps a backstory of me quitting my job.)

We hugged a little longer than usual, and she stayed up on my hip as we trudged back over the meadow to scoop up her backpack: a couple of rising stars clearing out our dressing room after a headlining performance. It was okay that no one asked for autographs.

We carried our glow well past curtain call, walking hand-in-hand back across the stage-meadow into the sounds of the ocean-freeway — me, secretly wishing to be typecast, she, already pitching the idea of mac-and-cheese and raspberry lemonade when we got home.

She can be relentless, making her case for a sugary dessert through the rearview mirror, hand gestures and all.

“What? You know it’s a good idea… you like ice cream… Why are you staring at me like that.”

It’s wonderful to run toward someone you love.