The Long Wait

Children love to play and enjoy treats, and few occasions provide better opportunities for them to do both than birthday parties.

There is also no mythical creature known to help children revel in friends and fun more than El Papa. According to legend, he is little and round and brown, like a potato, with dark eyes and beard. He wears white overalls and a round hat. He has a huge grin.

Autumn claimed to be one of the few who could see El Papa, and he liked to visit her once in a while. Because he was immortal, El Papa had all the time in the world. To him there was never need to rush or hurry. He only wanted to make the most of any moment, and he encouraged others to value time the same way he did. He gave great advice.

“Can’t we get there any faster?” Autumn said.

“I’m driving as fast as I can,” her father said.

Finally, Autumn arrived at the home of the birthday girl, Juanita. It was a hot sunny afternoon. Autumn handed Juanita a birthday present, and Juanita handed Autumn a popsicle.

“Daddy, may I eat the popsicle?” Autumn said.

Although Marshall preferred his daughter didn’t eat sweets, he agreed.

“Go ahead,” he said. “Hopefully you’ll burn off the sugar.”

Autumn ate the popsicle, and then she ran wild with her friends in a bouncy house. Marshall joined some parents on the front porch, and they watched their children play.

As time passed, more guests and treats arrived. Juanita’s family rolled a cotton candy maker onto the driveway, and the children lined up for the pink, fluffy sweet.

“Daddy, may I eat some cotton candy?” Autumn said.

Although Marshall preferred his daughter didn’t eat sweets, he agreed.

“Go ahead,” he said. “Hopefully you’ll burn off the sugar.”

Autumn ate the cotton candy, and then she ran wild with her friends in the bouncy house.

As time passed, the sun crossed the sky and was preparing to set. The party was scheduled to end, yet it seemed to be just beginning. More guests, and treats, arrived.

The atmosphere became so festive it was easy for Autumn to get carried away. She slipped by her father with a bottle of fruit punch in her hands without even asking if she could drink it.

Marshall snagged the fruit punch and replaced it with water.

“This will keep you hydrated,” he said.

Autumn was too excited to complain.

Marshall was not. He and some parents on the porch began glancing back and forth at their children and watches.

“It’s close to Autumn’s bedtime,” Marshall said. “We might have to skip out, before the cake.”

“Same with us,” another father said. “This party seems like it could go all night. We have to be up early in the morning.”

Marshall crept next to Autumn and whispered in her ear.

“Sweetheart,” he said, “I think we ought to leave soon. You need to get to bed.”

But Marshall’s voice, it seemed, was not the only one whispering in her ear.

“Not yet, Daddy,” Autumn said. “I’m still having fun!”

At that moment, a lady wearing a pink dress and golden crown appeared. The children gathered around her in a circle. The lady began making balloon dolls and swords, doling them out slowly to good girls and boys.

“I want a balloon!” Autumn said.

“Of course you do,” Marshall said, rolling his eyes.

The moment to escape had passed.

Autumn joined the circle and waited patiently with the other children.

Marshall returned to the porch and also waited. And waited. And waited. A half hour later, he and Autumn continued to wait for her to get a balloon.

Marshall crept beside his daughter and whispered in her ear.

“Sweetheart,” he said, “You have been very patient, but the balloon lady is taking a long time. Wouldn’t you rather play with your friends?”

“She’s not a balloon lady, she’s a princess!” Autumn said. “And I do want to wait, I do!”

Autumn was tired and cranky. Marshall realized the sweets and the heat finally were getting to her. He reached for Autumn’s arm, to usher her toward his car, when he heard a voice inside his head.

Give her a chance,” it said. “The only one in a hurry is you!”

So, Marshall returned to the porch and waited. And waited. And waited. An hour later, he and Autumn continued to wait for her to get a balloon.

Marshall crept beside his daughter and whispered in her ear.

“Sweetheart, you have been very, very patient, but the balloon lady – sorry, princess — is taking a really long time. Wouldn’t you rather play with your friends?”

Autumn glanced away from her father. She was so absorbed in thought it seemed like his must not have been the only advice she was considering.

Marshall watched his daughter’s eyes drift toward a group of friends. They were playing in the bouncy house. Some had balloons, but some did not, and those who did not, did not seem to mind. They were too busy having fun to worry about what they didn’t have.

“Okay, Daddy,” Autumn said.

She stood and broke away from the circle. She ran wild and free, once again, immersed in her time with her friends.

Long after sunset, a lone white balloon shaped like a sombrero slipped through the princess’ hands. It floated across the yard and onto Autumn’s lap as she flopped out of the bouncy house.

Many guests, Marshall included, seemed surprised. Some clapped.

But not Autumn. It was as if she expected it. She took a bow and donned her white balloon sombrero.

There was a round of laughter.

Marshall crept beside his daughter and whispered in her ear.

“Does this mean we can go now?” he said.

“What about the birthday cake?” she said.

“Fine, we’ll stay for cake.”

Autumn stared into her father’s eyes; they reflected her fatigue.

“That’s okay, Daddy,” she said. “We can go. I’m feeling … tired.”

Autumn reached up for her father. He lifted her into his arms and carried her away.

“Thanks for being so patient with me today,” she said, whispering in his ear. “I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too, sweetheart,” he said.

Marshall was so touched, his eyes welled up with tears. Autumn had a magical way of knowing just what he needed to hear.

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