She sits sullen and suspicious. A pretty young woman who looks unhappy. Disapproving. Disdainful.
He tends to her–half-puppy, half-man. He cuts through the fog of his hangover, working for the first crack of a smile from his lovely wife. It is a familiar dance.
The baby knows about this dance. On this day, Daddy is the go-to guy, the funny one. Mommy is sad and tired and not nearly as loving as usual. Dad is the greatest.
The young mother is angered by the small girl’s admiration for her father. After all, it was she who went home early with the child. It was she who sat alone after their baby went to sleep and wondered what he was up to, and with whom (she tried not to think about the 20-year-old mini-skirts who were doing shooters at the bar when she left). She also got up twice in the night; once for a wet diaper, once for a nightmare. She then stirred when he stumbled into the bed at 3 am, and again, most painfully this time, when their daughter woke up at 6:30. She seethed as she peeled herself from the mattress to get up. He was passed out solid, snoring and leaking booze from his pores–stinking up their room with his irresponsibility (ever so briefly she had wanted to beat him up in his sleep).
Now, three hours later, he is the shiny hero in the local diner–random customers and the baby are charmed. She is the drag. She is not convinced.
He perseveres. He gets up to ask for the honey that she prefers in her coffee, he responds to the child as soon as she fusses, he cuts the girl’s pancake into tiny bite-sized pieces so she will not be overwhelmed or choke. He leans in to his wife and daughter, his family, sitting at the ready on the edge of his seat, having eyes only for them, and their needs and with each step of the dance he communicates a message: I am here. Let me in. You matter. I love you. No matter what I did last night, feel me now. I am here. You matter most. I love you. Take me in. Forgive me. He works hard. He dares and says something funny. The corners of her lips curl and she makes eye contact with him for the first time today. The tide is turning. He feels relief. She has returned to him. They are safe.