“Do the reindeer live with daddy?” her little voice asked from the backseat.

Before I had a chance to pull the dagger from my heart, she hit me with another one.

“What if I’m superman and I fly to the sky and get daddy?”

I could see her face in the rear view mirror staring out the window and up to the sky. Her almond shaped eyes barely see out from under the stocking cap on her head, yet somehow she’s aware of something way beyond what I was prepared to answer.

She followed up with, “I just wish daddy could not live in the sky anymore and just come home,” then she asked me to find the straw she threw on the floor the day before.

In a season of magic and elves and believing, I find myself straddling a new line of grief. A sadness that doesn’t belong to me but to the tiny girl wearing the face of a father she doesn’t remember. Every memory she has of him, I’ve created.

“My daddy loves baseball,” she said as we passed a baseball diamond.

“My daddy would love this,” she beamed proudly as she held up a pine cone she painted yellow and blue.

Our daughter was three months old when we found out her dad’s cancer was back. The surgery had not given us the time we’d hoped for and now we heard the words “indefinitely” as doctors spouted out treatments plans and chemotherapy names.

That night we sat swallowed in our sadness and what our future would hold. “I don’t want to live until she’s four,” Joe said as his voice cracked.

“I can’t be here and then not be here for this little girl. I can’t do that to her.”  Even facing his own mortality at just 31 years old, Joe was ready to go if it meant keeping our daughter from pain.

Mira Joey, our “miracle”, she was 11 months old when he took his last breath. Now, I’m watching her grow and realizing the pain we thought we could protect her from has only just begun and there’s nothing I can do to protect her.

“Your eyes are watering?” she’ll ask as she catches me in a moment.

She knows how to comfort me and carries her beat up pink blanket and touches it to my face.

“Mommy is having a sad morning but I’ll be okay in just a minute,” I try and reassure her all while hoping I’m giving her permission to always show and talk about her feelings.

Mira will be 3 years old next month. Three years ago, I waddled onto an airplane with my freshly sliced up husband. I was full of baby and he was less full of cancer cells as well as missing several feet of his colon.

We did it. We made our way home to deliver the baby we prayed for.

Now that little baby is a little girl. I live every moment just hoping I’m not thoroughly screwing her up. Her dad is watching us from somewhere laughing. Maybe he even is with the reindeer?

I guess, there are no right or wrong answers. I don’t know exactly where her dad is but sometimes when I’m dancing with her in the living room I can almost see him standing there and exactly the way his head would be shaking to the music.

I tell Mira her dad is in the sky, he’s in her heart but I honestly don’t know if I’m saying the best thing. I tell my daughter a lot of things, like an elf is watching her and if she’s bad she’s not getting Christmas gifts.

We as parents just kinda say things sometimes? We do the best we can to create a little magic and a lot of memories. We cry sometimes and yell sometimes.

I send my toddler to time out and she peaks her head around the corner to say, “I’m sorry mommy, I’m sorry you yelled at me”.

I fall to the floor laughing and somehow know I’m doing it right and wrong and all at the same time.

It’s messy but it’s our little messy family of two.

We are tender hearts, a safe place to cry, and we’re going to keep learning how to miss someone together.