About four years ago, my daughter, Quetzal, asked me if I would build her a swing. The old kind, she said, a tire swing. So I found a tire, a length of rope, a few clamps, and one afternoon hung a swing from a tree just outside our kitchen door. When I finished, I called her over, and she climbed onto the tire and tried to start it going. But she couldn’t move it. So I tried. Like this, I said, pushing and pulling on the rope. But already I knew it would never work. The tire was too heavy. And that’s when I realized I had made a swing for both of us–for Quetzal to ride, for me to push.
A father/daughter can do a lot of swinging in four years, and Quetzal and I did just that. It became a daily event, a ritual. She would ask to swing first thing in the morning, and she would ask again though out the day. We swung in the rain, in the cold, and countless times when the days were perfect. And almost always Quetzal would sing, her head thrown back, hair flowing, her feet reaching skyward:
Got a rabbit in a log
But I ain’t got my dog,
How will I get him I know;
I’ll get me a briar and I’ll twist it in his hair,
That’s how I’ll get him I know.
And in between songs she would taunt the dogs, or call to the sheep, or point at Jupiter, or hoot-hoot with the owls. Plus, we had a two-part move we often tried, a “flying ham and cheese” we called it. It worked like this: Quetzal would tuck her chin tight to her chest and hold on extra tight; and I would spin the tire like a whirly bird and push it as high as I could. The fun, of course, was the dizziness. That and not falling off, which, as Quetzal once explained to me, was just another way to saying hold on.
But here’s the thing: Quetzal and I are no longer swinging. This occurred to me just a few days ago. I was in the garden at the time, and thinking about it, I instinctively turned and looked across the distance to the empty swing. How was it that we had stopping swinging? And when? Had Quetzal thought about it? Did she care?
Quetzal was away with friends at the time (she’s ten now), but as soon as she returned, I asked her if she wanted to swing. “We haven’t been swinging in forever,” I said. But she didn’t answer. So I asked again. “Well, I guess not,” she said, looking away. Her voice was low and unsure, and I could tell she didn’t want to say no. But then she was off and running, and I was there with an armful of celery and something like sadness, or the smallest pinch of heartache. But also, I’ve come to understand in retrospect, with something like happiness. Because as I say, Quetzal is ten now and thriving. She lives with eyes wide open. Hers is a dance that’s all but too big for the room.