Junior Museum

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Over the weekend Julia attended a birthday party of one of her best friends last year at school. A dear girl who was a rock to Julia after she returned to school and treated her with kindness and love. In fact she told Julia and others that her daddy could not come to Doughnuts for Dads, which occurred about a month after Wesley’s passing, despite the fact that she has a father who is not only living, but was planning to attend! She did not want Julia to feel like the odd kid out, the only 3 year old eating a doughnut without her daddy by her side. My father had planned to go to this cute little event and he did, but this sweet hearted little pal kept insisting that “Julia’s Papa will be my special date too” We have had play dates a few times in the past year but sadly for us she went to another school this year and our visits have been infrequent. But on Saturday we saw this sweet girl and watched her blow out the candles on her birthday cake at the Tallahassee Museum.

For any of us who grew up in Tallahassee, this museum of Florida nature and history will always be “The Junior Museum;” a place of elementary school field trips and seeing wild animals in natural habitats. I loved it as a child and it still fascinates me to see the antique caboose that you can explore, the grey foxes perched in trees looking at the passing families and historical houses that are a glimpse into how my great-grandparents might have grown up in their youth in the rural Panhandle of Florida.

As I walked with Julia looking for deer and skunks hidden among palmetto fronds I reflected on the last time I had attended a birthday party at the Junior Museum.

Two weeks after Wesley died we went the birthday party of a dear friend of mine’s little boy. He was turning two and although I was still reeling from my loss I was determined to go because my friend, his mother, has been a huge support for me. The party was Curious George themed and it was apropos for the cute little boy whose birth we were celebrating…a darling little monkey who will have the prefix of “baby” by Julia probably until he is in high school. I myself was in a fog; completely shattered having just lost Wesley and every young father I saw scooping up their children in their arms was like a knife in the gut. As they nuzzled their young ones I was faced over and over with the reality that I would never again see Wesley grab Julia and smother her in hugs as kisses as they both giggled with glee. I felt panicky and despite trying to smile and create a sense of normalcy and fun for Julia I was inwardly screaming at the top of my lungs. Thank God for my dear dear friend who understood when I rushed up to her, plate of cake in my hand and said, “I need to go home. Now.” Quickly choking back tears as I grabbed Julia and ran as fast as I could to the car before dissolving into shuddering sobs. It was in my mind a failed attempt at social interaction and at that moment I thought that perhaps living in a cloistered widows colony was not such a far fetched idea.

But I tell that hard and painful story of a year ago to contrast with last weekends experience. Same place, almost a year later and while I still cringe to see fathers and daughters, husbands and wives and the happy familial bonds, I can find comfort in what we had for many years instead of cursing the years we have lost. I did not run away this time from the party, we stayed and I thought of how much Wesley would have liked this family whose daughters birth we were celebrating. He would have loved the whole thing.

Julia and I had fun, actual fun, at the party last week. I chatted casually about extra curricular activities like tee ball and ballet, laughed over the similarity of 4 year old daughters who refuse to wear anything but dresses and answered the oft asked question of “How are you and Julia doing?” that merits a reply other than, “Fine.” I said, “Just putting one foot in front of the other…” which we are doing even when the bridge we cross seems shaky.

As we headed away from the party to tee ball practice I scooped Julia into my arms as we crossed the parking lot, her wispy blonde hair tickling my nose and whispered in her ear, “Daddy would have loved this day” and she smiled, her dark brown Wesley eyes merry with glee.

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