I can't say exactly when it started, but from the time Samantha was little I have had this thing that I do with my kids. During the short window of opportunity when they are standing far enough away from me to get a running start but close enough to make eye contact and sense the invitation, I throw my arms out wide and they know exactly what to do. They run toward me, jump into my arms when they get close enough, and then we turn a circle or two before I let them down.
Tonight Samantha was walking a friend home, but it was getting dark outside and so I waited for her in the driveway to return. I stood at the edge, observing an ant colony and pulling at a few stray weeds when I looked up and saw her coming back. She was wearing a dress that we just bought today, and I took note of the fact that this new outfit was a little different. It was the kind of dress that an older kid would wear - no bows, no cutsie fabrics, no Disney characters, nothing to suggest that she was doing anything but growing up and starting those very early stages of choosing her own personal style. She got closer, and reached the point where normally I would have spread my arms.
But I looked at her tall frame, her maturing face, and her resolute pace and decided that she had probably outgrown that little tradition. So I just stood and waited, watching for her to get close enough for me to turn my back on the heat of the outdoors and head back inside to my home where I keep it at a nice, refrigerator-like temperature. But before taking my first step I glanced back one more time, and instead of opening my arms, she opened hers and began to run. Surprised at her initiative I reciprocated, and before I knew it we were turning circles. "I love you mom," she said before putting her down. "I love you too," I returned. You have no idea.