The gymnastics coach instructed the gaggle of seven little girls to touch their elbows, their shoulders, their head and finally their patellas.


The coach was certain he had them all stumped.

While most of the girls stared at him, trying to determine if he was joking (which he often is), one had dutifully placed her hands on her knee caps.

The usually unflappable coach couldn't believe his eyes. What six-year-old knows what a patella was?

One that has looking at and reading "The Human Body" illustrated book since she was two, that's who.

It was a proud moment for mom and dad, who sat quietly in the corner of the gym with a big smiles on their faces.

Of course the very next moment, that same little girl was pulled out of line for not paying attention.

Sigh. And so it goes for parents who, more and more, live vicariously through their daughter's experiences.

Alia just turned six (her birthday was Tuesday), and what a study in contrasts she is. One minute she's studiously working on a SpongeBob Squarepants Lego set, the next she's running half-clothed through the backyard chasing after the dogs.

It's never a dull moment at the Graves house.

When Alia was born, I remember cradling her in my arms and vowing to do everything in my power to care for her, protect her and help her have the best life possible.

My wife would probably describe the scene differently. She'd say my newborn daughter looked into my eyes and thought "Ah hah! All I have to do is smile and this big, dumb guy will give me anything I want."

Which is true.

Since that day I've had an opportunity many men don't get andndash; to spend hours each day with my child. I'm been blessed to be working for a company that allows a certain amount of flexibility in scheduling. I've spent many a lunch breaks with my daughter playing with Legos and chasing dogs across the backyard.

My wife and I have also made sacrifices in order to allow mom to stay until Alia's entered kindergarten.

Of all the good things that one gets in life and never appreciates, the time up until Alia started school, I was smart enough to stop and savor.

Now, at the age of six, Alia couldn't be more wonderful. She's smart, inquisitive, loving, caring and affectionate. Most of all, she's happy.

It's at times like this when I am the study in contrasts. Part of me doesn't want her to grow up. Another part does, in part, because I want to see what she accomplishes in her life. I often stop and watch her, overcome with my love for her, as I often am, and wonder what she will be like when she's 15, 25 or 40 years old. Will she be a gymnast, a veterinarian, a Lego designer?

And while I'm happy to see her grow, it saddens me to see this special time in our lives slip away. I dread the day when I realize she's all grown up and I think "Where did the time go?"

If only I could somehow preserve the present and take it out once in a while andndash; to enjoy moments in time when my daughter is happily, proudly and completely our little girl.