Your Kids Are Never Too Big For Hugs

Walter Rhein

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“Come on kids, it’s time for a ride in the Burley!”

“No!” they’d cry, “we’re too big for the Burley.”

“You’re not too big yet, c’mon we’re going.”

So they’d hem and they’d haw and they’d protest a little more as 6 and 4 year old girls do. But then they’d resign themselves eventually and set about preparing snacks for the journey.

“Can we bring snacks daddy?”

“Yes, but hurry.”

“Okay.”

Finally they’d be ready and they’d climb, caught in a pose with their adorable little legs half in and half out of the trailer as I stood there watching, smiling. At last, we’d be off.

We rode many trails back in those days, beautiful Wisconsin trails made from converted rail road beds. Some were paved, some were limestone. They all had a canopy of vegetation so you could watch the budding leaves, then full green foliage, then breathtaking autumn splendor.

We rode the Old Abe trail and the Gandy Dancer and the Red Cedar trail.

Vehicles weren’t allowed so the kids were safe and the trip was silent except for their tireless questions and frequent laughter.

“Look, a baby fox!”

A mother fox had made a den in the bank and we caught a glimpse of the pups. They looked at us confused, tilting their head like a dog would, until mom gave them a signal and they scurried under cover.

“Awww,” came the chorus from the girls.

Ten years later you still hear, “Remember the baby fox?”

We’d barely begun the ride when they opened their snack bag.

“Do you want some crackers?”

“Yes, do you want a juice box?”

“Of course.”

So refined and polite, they were like two elderly heiresses on a cruise.

The talking would slow as they ate, and the gentle rocking of the trailer would perform its magic. Soon they’d lean against each other, eyelids heavy and settle into a peaceful sleep.

And then it was quiet.

I rode with them because a father must stay fit to keep up with his girls. They need you, you must stay healthy. The Burley let me exercise and watch them and be with them. Even when they were asleep, it was a special time of togetherness.

The seasons would change and the temperature would change.

I had studded tires so we could ride in the winter. They sat toasty warm beneath a blanket like Laura Ingalls Wilder in a sleigh, except daddy was the horse.

The seasons would change and the girls got bigger.

The Burley began to disintegrate.

You often find a used kid trailer at a garage sale that’s in pristine condition. The item was purchased with the ambition of getting in shape, used once, and then put into storage.

Not mine.

I sat with 1 mm waxed thread repairing the fabric. I used glue and tape to mend a tear in the plastic window. By the time my children grew up, my kid trailer looked like a post-apocalyptic monster.

Finally the day came when I had to admit their protests were true.

“Daddy, we’re too big for the Burley.”

They were, they didn’t fit.

So we changed to hikes and other activities. The girls always together, supporting each other, always going a little farther away, more independent every day. Needing me less and less as it should be.

And then one day, strong and confident, they say, “Daddy, we’re too big for hugs.”

Because they get caught in this expectation of independence and put too much pressure on themselves. Their ambition is noble, but in this case it’s too much.

“No girls,” shaking my head and smiling, remembering all the miles and miles and seasons we’d traveled together. The years go past, and some things change, and now I can’t pull them behind me in a trailer anymore. But even in a world of constant evolution, some things remain eternal, “You’ll never be too big for daddy’s hugs.”

Today when I ride Wisconsin trails, I ride by myself. But every mile holds a memory that I shared with my baby girls.

And they’re with me.

They always will be.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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