Growing Up in Hot Lava

There are moments when I look at my six-year-old daughter and get a glimpse of how she’ll look when she’s older. Whether it’s a smile, the way the sun hits her, or something she says, there comes a feeling of “Wow, you’re growing up right in front of my face.”

And as much as I want that to happen at its own pace, there are times I reach into my mental DeLorean and go back to some things from when she was a child. I’ll see books from even six months ago that are no longer relevant to her, or a toy or game she used to play with that is now getting dusty.

Every day during my commute I am reminded of when she and I used to ride the ferry into Seattle daily. Throughout the commuter boat and the respective terminals and docks are yellow “caution” lines for people to be wary of one thing or another – a gate comes down here, there’s a ramp or a step there, this is the orange line that you can’t take a beer past.

Now that I’m doing my commute solo, I still vividly recall us playing the hot lava game. All yellow and orange lines were hot lava. You step on one of those and – boom! – your foot has been melted off. We would giddily yell to each other “Hot lava!” as we hopped over the lines, or worse “You stepped in the hot lava!” and one of us would re-enact the pain of losing a piece of your body in liquid hot magma.

Live look at my morning commute.

If anyone watches me walk around the ferry or the terminals nowadays they may think why does this guy shuffle step, or change his pace at the most random times? If only they knew that I still play the hot lava game, but just with myself. It’s kind of a tribute I pay to the everyday hot lava challenge my daughter and I battled each weekday.

It’s also me, as a parent, hanging on to the simplest little pleasures of fatherhood so that I can hit 88 mph in that mental DeLorean and be reminded of a good memory.

My daughter is getting to the age where I am more trusting of her crossing a parking lot without holding a hand, or being counted on to stay close to us when crossing a street versus the previously mandatory rule of gripping a parent’s hand anytime we were remotely near a moving vehicle (and by “remotely near” I think we were overly cautious with our estimates – 200 yards or so seems right).

That simple, literal “letting go” by not holding hands every time is a result of her growing up, and better understanding the world. But it has also resulted in the lack of playing the hot lava game. A true cause and effect if there ever was one. It’s not as easy to pull her back ever so slightly to make her step in the lava so we can laugh, or jump over a sizeable yellow speed bump together.

So, in my mind, the hot lava game was laid to rest – except for my own little hot lava challenge I take on my commute. Until the other day when we were crossing the grocery store parking lot, and it happened to be extra busy so we were holding hands. We walked through a caution zone, multiple yellow lines alerting pedestrians of a crosswalk, and it felt as if we were walking at our regular pace.

Dad! she squealed, You just stepped in the hot lava!

For the rest of our store adventure, the hot lava game was back on. It was like we were transported back a year or more, and my heart was happy. I realize it’s not going to happen every time, and soon enough I’ll even mention playing the game to her and will be met with a Pshaw – Dad! That game is for little babies!

But I’ll remember the game, and how we played. They may just be yellow caution lines to you, but it will always be hot lava to me.

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