Alexis slid off Cheyenne’s back and watched as Tony carefully lowered himself off the back of her mother’s tall mare. “Thanks for riding with me. I was afraid I couldn’t go when daddy got that phone call and was on the phone for so long.”
“You are welcome, Brattella. Don’t forget to give that pony a good brushing. You gave her a hard ride today,” said Tony, as he led the mare away to tend to her before turning her out to the pasture, and finishing his morning chores that were interrupted by Alexis’ dilemma.
Back in the barn, Alexis knew her father was watching her as she brushed her pony, but she pretended not to notice him. She knew that he was just going through one of his fits of sadness that she was getting older. Alexis’ parents bothered her by wanting to keep her from growing up. She didn’t understand why they fought it. She thought it was fun. As she brushed the pony’s satin coat, she thought back to when she finally got her mother to stop dressing her like a baby. Soon she would be going to school. She knew things would change a lot when she headed of to school. When her older friends started school they no longer came to visit since they didn’t want to play with the little kids, who weren’t in school. In Alexis’ mind once she made it into school, she would get all her old friends back, not thinking about the younger children she would leave behind when she went to school. She wouldn’t be around the farm when one of the younger children’s mothers decided to leave them with Eileen to watch, while running errands. Alexis would also not have the opportunity to play with other children when her parents went visiting during the day.
There was a big social divide between preschool and grammar school, which would repeat itself over and over again, as she moved up in school, being left behind and leaving others behind several times before leaving Misty and leaving everyone behind. At not quite five-years-old, Alexis was obsessed with what she thought was her parents’ desire to keep her a child.
Rather than worrying about Alexis growing up as he watched her groom her pony, Kelly was worried about the world Alexis would face as an adult. He just finished reading The Feminine Mystique. When the volume arrived in the mail, sent by an old colleague in New York, Kelly expected to be able to write a scathing review. When finished reading the book he made a rare long distance call to compare impressions, rather than sending a long letter, which was the normal way he responded to his colleague. Both men were suitably impressed with the book. Both men were raising young daughters, and were worried about what the world had in store for them.
Looking back over his mother’s life, he knew he was wrong about her reasons to never remarrying. The devotion, he thought she held to his Da’s memories, was more likely Louise clinging to her freedom. That she loved being free from his father’s domination of her life. He thought about the little community of widows, golfing and playing tennis down in Florida, which was his mother’s world now, knowing that if his Da was still around his mother would be in Misty cooking, cleaning and looking after his father. He realized that when the women lived in Misty, Betty-Sue Pitts was known as Mrs. John Pitts, and only her closest friends would have even known she had her own first name. His mother, and all her friends reclaimed their first names when they started their new lives. Betty-Sue even stopped using the Mrs. before her name and opted for the name of B. S. Pitts with a merry twinkle in her wicked eyes when she introduced herself to people.
Watching his little girl, with her whole life stretching out in front of her, he never wanted Alexis to wake up one day, look at a husband she once thought she loved and think, “Is this all there is?” He wanted her to enjoy all stages of her life as much as his mother was enjoying her remaining ones.
Kelly was still deep in thought when he heard Alexis say, “There Old Girl! That should make you feel better. Thank you for taking me for such a neat ride today. You get some rest now, and when it is cooler I will let you out for some grass,” said Alexis as she patted the arch of the pony’s neck “Oh, Daddy, I didn’t know you were there.”
“Hi honey, how was your ride. Did you like riding out with Tony today? I am sorry I couldn’t come with you,” said Kelly, smiling at the stem of hay Alexis held between her lips in imitation of Tony.
“Oh it was nice daddy. I kept Cheyenne reined in a bit, since Tony doesn’t ride so well,” said Alexis, trying to sound very grown up, by indicating that she was keeping an eye on Tony and not the other way around.
“Alexis I’ve been thinking. You are going to be five on your next birthday. I think it is about time that you started riding out on your own,” said Kelly, deciding that yes, it was the right time to be giving her more freedom to bolster her self-confidence before going to school next year.
“Oh, Daddy, really?” asked Alexis, forgetting her gripe that her parents wanted to keep her a baby forever, and dumped some oats in the pony’s feed bucket with a little more energy than called for.
“Yep, really,” said Kelly, “by the way, what does a young lady who has everything want for her birthday. I am afraid that I can’t top last year,” said Kelly, remembering the day Alexis stopped wearing little girl dresses with bonnets, and realizing that he and his wife seemed to have started a tradition of marking Alexis’ birthdays with growing up milestones.
“Daddy, I want you to take the bars off my windows. I feel like a bird in a gilded cage,” said Alexis dramatically, tossing her arms wide, causing the pony to draw back for a moment, before returning to munching her oats.
“That is easy enough. So long as you promise not to jump out testing homemade parachutes,” said Kelly, laughing referring to one of Alexis’ friends who broke his leg trying such a stunt.
“Of course not Daddy, I would jump from the top of the barn!” said Alexis, giving her father a broad wink.
“You scamp! Let’s get into the house and see what is for lunch,” said Kelly, swatting his old straw hat at Alexis’ worn blue jeans, and reminding himself to talk to Tony about not teaching his girl things like that knowing wink.
That night as they were getting ready for bed, Kelly said to his wife, “Sweetheart, I hope you don’t get mad at me. I know I should have talked it over with you, but it sort of slipped out when I was talking to Alexis after her ride this morning. I would have talked to you about it earlier, but this is the first time today we have been together without Alexis.”
“My goodness, Kelly what have you done? Promised Alexis that she can run off with the circus?” asked Genevieve, sure that whatever it was, it couldn’t be as bad as Kelly was making it out to be.
“Well, I told Alexis that after her next birthday she could start riding out alone,” said Kelly, and waited for the feared response.
“Oh, is that all? Well, it is time we let her. She is as safe on that pony as anywhere. It isn’t like it is the city we are letting her loose in. Just make sure that you make up one of your contracts with her first,” said Genevieve, referring to Kelly’s habit of drawing up contracts in writing with his daughter.
“I know you laugh at my contracts, but you have to admit that they impress on Alexis exactly what is expected of her. You know when you tell her something it takes five or ten times for it to sink it. When she reads over the contract, signs it, and takes her copy, she never forgets,” said Kelly, not caring what other parents might think of his unusual parenting methods.
“Oh, I agree they work well. That is why I am telling you to use one in this case,” said Genevieve rather sharply.
“There is one other thing …” started Kelly.
“Oh, dear, I guess this is the one you are really worried about?” questioned Genevieve.
“Yes, I asked Alexis what she wanted for her birthday, and she said that she wants the bars taken off her windows,” said Kelly, shortly.
“Kelly, you know that dream I have, over and over again, of Alexis falling!” Genevieve cried out, in response.
“Dear, it is just a dream. You need to get over this fear of yours. Those dreams started in New York, when we lived so high off the street, after that child fell from the floor above us. It was a tragic thing, but Alexis is a responsible child. We have to trust her. Of course there will be times in her life when she falls, but we can’t keep her from falling. Nor should we. She will have to learn life’s hard lessons herself,” said Kelly, looking at his wife’s stricken face, knowing that he must fight for Alexis’ freedom at this moment or Genevieve’s fears could hobble their child, not letting her become the person Kelly was sure she was destined to become.