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Before Dementia: Part 2 – Our daughter starts school

Every schoolday Robert took our daughter, Madison (Maddie), to Kindergarten on the back of his bike on his way to work. He’d don a reflective vest, they’d helmet up, and off they’d go. She was so little perched up there, just 4 ½ years old. The San Francisco marine layer, a sleepy, whitewashed fog, blanketed their route. Most days, a fine, ocean mist covered them by the time they reached the school.

Sometimes we sacrifice our work as parents for our careers, and we accept this surrender without thinking about it. At social gatherings, we ask people we meet “What do you do?” Never “Tell me about your family.” I want to honor who Robert has been as a parent with this (admittedly inadequate) handful of stories.

A fierce little girl

Unflappable Maddie was a fierce protector of fairness and justice. If she found a bully on the jungle gym, jumping the line to swing from the monkey bars in the wrong direction, she would stand them down, hands on hips, her face a pouty “dare me” threat to report the offender.

But she wasn’t that way about everything. In particular, she had a low tolerance for certain types of sensory input. Maddie preferred to wear the same, soft, worn leggings every day. Robert made sure they were washed and always in good repair. On the noisy neighborhood playground, Maddie was reserved. She watched other kids for 20 minutes before deciding if she’d like to join the chaos. Robert jumped into the fray hooting and hollering to demonstrate the fun that could be had. He swung (badly) from the jungle gym until Maddie was compelled to “correct” him by joining in.

Hovering for safety

Maddie took a bus to after-school care following her half-day Kindergarten. Her elementary school did not offer onsite after-school care. For the first few weeks of school, Robert left work at lunch and biked the 26 blocks to her school. Once there, he hid behind the bushes at the school bus stop, a friendly tangle in the shadows. He made sure she got on the bus and then he biked the 26 blocks back to work. He let down his vigilance after two weeks of unseen supervision, only when he was sure Maddie was firmly enmeshed in her new routine.

When Maddie started school I was working toward my Bachelor’s degree and found myself in the computer lab at all hours. Robert picked her up from after-school care. He made dinner, he readied her for bed. His job was his daughter, his work was incidental.

Bands of pirates

One afternoon, I came home to find the two of them in the backyard. Robert lay on the musty ground, a marooned ship, dashed upon the bricks of the garden path. As our neighbors’ houses bounced shadows on the battlefield, Maddie, the ship’s captain, directed a naval infantry to wrest back control of the ship from marauding pirates.

Her infantry? A brigade of fat, soft-bodied, undulating snails. One by one, Maddie plucked over thirty of these garden pests from the yard and placed them up and down Robert’s “ship body.” They fought for control of the deck. A fierce battle ensued. Robert whooped and wailed as the snails slowly took control of his embattled torso and arms leaving great trails of snail slime in their wake.

A dad first

Robert has been a wonderful parent. He treasured and respected our children at every stage of their lives from the terrible twos to the fearsome teenage years. He served as their guide, their playmate, and their keeper. The love in his heart has been extraordinary and unconditional. He never voiced a moment of disappointment in them.

Robert created such a safe, loving, joyful world for our kids that what they have wanted most of all in their adult lives is to be parents themselves.

This is the man we are losing.

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