Here’s the dirty secret
she told me
when my daughter
turned one.

Parents say that all they want
is for their kids to be happy
and they do want that —
but first and foremost
they want them to be safe.

It is trained into you
when they are babies
and you go to their rooms
a dozen times each night
to be sure they’re still

It is beaten into you
when they are toddlers
and fling themselves
at every sharp object
left for a moment in reach
off every high surface
that they can climb
and you leap after
heart leaping
from your chest.

We never thought
we would be those parents
but it turns out to be inevitable
as death.

We lean in to catch at
falling, flailing limbs
and say someday
she should ride her bike
down wide, tree-lined streets.

We leave the city.
For this.

A great, green grassy park
at twilight
lit by many lampposts
framing a famous old house
turned museum.
Pleasant home.

We gave up our restaurants
for this
our crowded nightscape
drunken neighbors
and prostitutes on the corner.
Sometimes I miss those girls.

This is the ugly truth.
More than happiness,
yours or theirs,
you need them to be

We will have at least a decade here
amid the grass and trees and dogs and houses
to practice unlearning that lesson.

Because someday, safe will not be good enough.

Someday, we will need to let them
try to be happy
instead of safe.


Pleasant Home, Mills Park, 10/4/10