erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

Most responsible adults don’t suggest playing on the ice.  And for good reason.  For one thing, people die from it!  Someone could fall through and become a human version of an “Otter Pop.”

In fact, playing in general can be dangerous.  People get in accidents riding bikes, get hit in the face playing baseball, and break legs climbing trees.

And don’t forget; playing also distracts us from adult responsibilities.  There are dishes to be done, emails to read, garages to clean, and in my case, essays to grade.

The reasons NOT to play are endless.

Many of those reasons float around me like the cold waters of a lake, like I’ve broken through that thin ice of childlikeness and can’t find my way back to the surface.  I’m freezing into the adult version of myself, desperate to enjoy life beyond the adult to-do lists.

Enter stage left—little 8-year-old Grace.

Grace was adopted from China.  She zips around her house like a lightning bug at twilight, bringing a brightness with her smile and her cheerful voice.

Her mom and dad are in our Bible study, and one particular week, life came down hard on them.  That’s when I asked if Grace could spend the day with my daughter and I.

A few days later, she was in the backseat of my car, sitting next to my daughter, Joy.

Her pink backpack rested in her lap, and Joy asked a question.

“Hey Grace, you wanna play on the ice behind our house?”

She giggled at the thought of it, nodding her head.  It seemed safe enough, even for a responsible adult like myself.  After all, this wasn’t some deep lake.  We were talking about Cottonwood Creek, with a maximum depth of maybe two feet.

No problem.

The rest of the ride home, her happy voice filled the car with conversation about stuffed animals and, believe it or not, her brother’s Forensic Science class.

We pulled into the driveway and immediately started preparing for our ice adventure.

Grace’s new shoes weren’t going to work.  The cold water and mud would ruin them. Inspired by an idea, I ran upstairs and got my wife’s smallest pair of hiking boots.

“Oh Grace!” I shouted as I came down the stairs, “Let’s try these.” I held up the giant (to her) hiking boots and smiled.

“What?!” she yelled, laughing.

We left her regular shoes on her feet and slid them into the boots, tying the laces as tight as we could.  Stepping back for a minute, we watched her stand up.

“Those are big feet you got there,” I said, smiling.

“Yeah, huge feet!” she said, smiling back.

Taking her first steps, she looked like a waddling duck, and all three of us doubled over with laughter.  Grace’s giggle was infectious, and we couldn’t stop.

Eventually, we recovered, draped a hoody over her coat and walked out the door.

The snow on the ice twinkled like crystal in the afternoon sun.  We ran across the frozen creek, stopping mid-run to slide as far as we could.

“Look over here!” someone would yell, and the other two would run to see the frozen waterfall or gurgling bubbles moving under the surface.

One thin sheet of ice barely hung over the water’s edge.

“Grace, come over here,” I said, holding out my arms.  She slid her way over to me, and I lifted her as high as I could.

“Are you ready?” I asked, holding her in the air.

“Yes?” she said questioningly, and I brought her down, sending her giant boots like a hammer crashing against the ice.

Pieces broke off, and we cheered, watching the broken ice float down the creek.

“Do it again,” she said.  And I did, breaking more ice—every crackle and crunch bringing more cheers and laughter.

Then, my 14-year-old daughter asked a question.

“Daddy,” she said. I paused to catch my breath, meeting her eyes with mine.  “Can you do that with me?”

The question stirred something deep inside me.

Joy was still my little girl!

Buried under piles of adult responsibilities, I’d forgotten that Joy and I once did this too, and tears came to my eyes.

“Of course, Joy” I said, and I wrapped my arms around her waist, hoisting her as high as my arms could lift her.

“Are you ready?” I asked, and when she said “yes”, I brought her feet crashing down on the ice.

We destroyed it!

“Awesome!” Grace shouted, and we all laughed.  We played for another hour, our voices echoing off the ice and rocks around us.  Every spin, every butt scoot, every slide—we did it all together.

The sun started to set, and Grace had to go.  We piled into the car and started talking about songs.

“Can I play one on your phone?”  she asked.

She navigated my I-tunes account like an electronic wizard, and suddenly, we were listening to Miguel, from the Disney movie Coco, strum his guitar.  When the chorus came, Grace and Joy began to sing, and eventually. . . like a toddler taking his first steps. . . I joined them.

“I’ll count it as a blessing,” we shouted with the music, “that I’m only un poco looooocooooo!”  We laughed as we sang, and when one song finished, Grace played another.

The drumbeat for I Just Can’t Wait to Be King started to play, and I turned up the volume until the car shook.  Then came Maui singing You’re Welcome and Pumba singing Hacuna Matata.  With each song, our voices got louder and louder, and my heart let go.  I let go of the to-do lists, the worries, and the excuses to keep it cool.

Like the welcoming spring sunshine, the songs and laughter started to melt the frozen adult version of me, and instead of two kids in the car, there were three.

Joy and I may have helped Grace have some fun, but I got much more than that.  I was changed!  Without even realizing it, that little 7-year-old girl had given us a gift.  She helped Joy and I find a tenderness we hadn’t known for a while and gave us the freedom to live, to be kids again.  And all it took was doing something most responsible adults wouldn’t think to recommend—spending a cool winter afternoon playing on the ice.

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