Within Arm’s Reach

by Patrick and J.L. Hempfing

Jessie, my ten-year-old daughter, is changing.  The physical changes are obvious.  A few weeks ago, she wore a pair of her mom’s shoes to church.  She’s going to be tall like her daddy.  Last summer when I raised her bicycle seat, the pole that holds the seat pulled out of its tube.  I can’t raise it any higher. 

Jessie now owns her own makeup bag, filled with blushes, mascara, lip sticks and glosses, and whatever else ladies use to beautify themselves.  She’s using makeup more often, too.  Jessie also grew out her bangs.  Her new hairstyle took time to grow on me, but I’ve adjusted.  Here’s one thing I haven’t adjusted well to – the freedom she now seeks. 

I started to see the signs when Jessie was in second grade.  “Friend time” became more exciting than “Dad time.”  I knew the day would come, too, when she would no longer want me to walk her to her classroom, one of my favorite daily activities.  I made it through second grade, but when she became a third-grader, Jessie asked me to drop her off at the entrance to the school building each morning.  I miss second grade.

Okay, I’ve heard all the stories about the teen years.  But this is only the tween years.  What gives?

The last time I took Jessie to our church’s fall festival, she quickly met up with a friend and they ran off to visit the different booths stationed all around the parking lot.  I didn’t mind being in the background to watch them have fun, but then it was time for the hay wagon ride.  “Dad, may I take the ride with just Alice?”  My mouth said “Okay,” but my heart said “Nooooooooooo!”  Later, on the drive home, Jessie requested, “Dad, can you just drop me off at the festival next year and let me play with my friends?  You can talk with the other parents.” 

What?  Now I can’t even watch?

Yes, Jessie is growing up quickly.  I realize that many “letting go” days are in my future, but I’m going to do my share of “holding on” whether Jessie likes it or not. For example, each Sunday morning, I drop Jessie off in front of our church for Sunday school.  She rushes up a flight of stairs to her classroom while I park the car.  In recent weeks, before she gets out of the car, she’s started saying, “Daddy, you don’t have to check on me.”  Sometimes she repeats this statement, even though she knows Dad isn’t going to listen.  After I park the car, I quietly walk past her classroom to make sure she’s safe.  Okay, maybe I’m a bit overprotective, but I’d rather err on the side of caution. 

I realize I can’t always keep her within arm’s reach, but how much freedom should I give her?  


It’s time for Jessie’s point of view. 

Jessie, Age 10

Good Grief!  I’m ten years old.  I should be able to do some things without my father behind me “fending off boys with his imaginary golf club.”  I should be allowed to walk upstairs to the Sunday school classroom of our small-town church.  Next thing you know, he’ll be bringing a bow and arrow to my school dance.  I need my freedom.  I’m growing up, and I think he’s starting to understand.


A few months ago when she was still 9 years old, Jessie suggested we take one of her 12-year-old friends on vacation with us.  She said, “The two of us would make one adult, 12 + 9 = 21.”  Clever, but there’s no way I’m going to give Jessie and any combination of her friends the freedom of a 21-year-old woman.  And for the record, I have a complete set of golf clubs, and they are real.

But whether Jessie is within arm’s reach or just outside of it, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me. 

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.  Enjoy the last few weeks of summer!  When school resumes, if you still walk your child to the classroom, hold hands and enjoy every step.

Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting, and auditing before he became a father at age 44.  He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad, and writer.  Follow Patrick at http://patrickhempfing.com.  J. L. Hempfing, now 13, began writing with her dad in kindergarten.  Her current hobbies include reading, writing, playing clarinet and alto saxophone, and dancing.

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