I watched her hovering near the back door. Snowballs were flying fast and furious and she was clearly torn between staying away, where it was safe, and throwing herself into the fray.
With a final longing look at the warmth and safety of the kitchen she leaned forward and scooped up a handful of snow. She threw it blindly at her little brother and dashed towards the swingset.
“This is home base!” She called as her hand connected with the swing. “You can’t get me here!”
She was now closer to the action, but her declaration had once again set her safely away from the thick of it. The smile pasted on her face as she ran faded and was once again replaced with longing. But this time she didn’t let go of the swing, didn’t put herself in the middle again. She was safe. Alone, isolated, but safe.
I watched her sadly. She so wanted to be in there having fun with everyone throwing snow around, laughing hysterically as it dripped down their backs into their pants. I wanted to go over and encourage her, tell her it would be ok to relinquish control for a moment, to let herself go.
Instead I lifted my camera to my eye and snapped a picture of her sad face.
C came into blurry focus in the viewfinder just as I was about to take another, snow filled mitten raised, aiming directly at me.
“No! Not me! I have the camera!”
Her face fell for a moment, then she shrugged and turned, pelting her uncle in the back.
I smiled and raised the camera to my face again. Snow and laughter whirled around me and I looked longingly at the powder at my feet. Maybe I could find a safe spot to put down the camera and join in the fun… But every surface glistened with wet snow.
Suddenly it occurred to me that I was drawn to my niece’s plight because it was the same as mine. I knew how she felt because it was how I felt – wanting to be in the middle of the fun, not knowing how to bridge the gap between the fringe and the inner circle. Wanting to play, not wanting to get wet and messy.
Snow swirled around my island of safety. With an expensive camera in hand no one would dare pelt me with a snowball. I was not languishing by the house or near the swing set, but I was no less holding back than the child I framed in the shot. Just as the shutter closed she let go of the swing with a shriek and threw herself into the snowball fight with complete abandon. Her giggles filled the yard, joining her cousin and parent’s giggles.
I just took another picture.