Maggie is fairly cautious by nature while Elena was a daredevil. Maggie likes to know that she can do something before trying it in front of others. It's hard to get her to try something new in public. I've been trying to get her to play softball but her mind is made up and so she won't.
When we would take her to an amusement park with rides, it was hard to get her to ride anything other than the bench on the merry-go-round. Over time she moved to stationary horses and then to horses that would go up and down. Elena would be half her height and age and be on a horse going up and down while Maggie rode the bench.
One thing I love and admire the most about Maggie is that this never bothered her in any way. She took her own time to come off the bench and try other rides. Every once in a while Elena would tease Maggie a little and Maggie never took the bait.
But Elena would be having so much fun in some activity that Maggie would often join in. Elena would flip herself over with abandon on the rings that hang from the swing set so soon Maggie was looking to do tricks herself. Maggie never participated unless she wanted to. She was content to egg Elena on if the activity seemed too risky.
A couple of years ago we were on vacation in New Hampshire and we went on ride after ride together. We rode the flume where we took a casual ride in the water then up a ramp and then sped down the water slide to the bottom where the water came up over the side and soaked us. Two years earlier we'd been in line for a more dramatic version of that ride.
Maggie had decided, while looking at the people ahead of us on the ride, that she didn't really want to go on it. There was no way Elena could be talked out of going. So Kim took Maggie out of line and they waited for Elena and me to finish. The ride had made my heart skip a beat but Elena wanted to ride again.
But there in New Hampshire it was a different Maggie. She wanted to ride the rides that made me nervous. We went up in the crazy barn. A rectangular platform where a couple dozen of us sat strapped in. It raised up on a crane and spun and tipped until I thought I was going to be sick. Maggie enjoyed meeting the challenge of the ride and enjoyed it. Elena reveled in it. She whooped and held her hands in the air and kept asking "isn't this fun daddy?"
In one of our first trips to the Wisconsin Dells for a reunion with the Shen sisters we tried to get Maggie to go down the big water slide. This was a pretty tame water park and even the big slide wasn't that big, but Maggie had decided it was too big for her. I was in the pool with her at one point and one of the other parents called my name and pointed. Somehow Elena had gotten out of the baby pool without us noticing and had climbed the stairs to the big slide. Not even two years old she raised her hands in the air and gave a happy squeal as she came down the slide. One of the other dads was there to catch her as she came out the bottom.
For the next few years, Maggie and Elena couldn't wait to go down the big slide at each of the parks we stayed at. I would usually ride down with Elena and lift her up at the bottom or I'd be waiting at the bottom to pull her to safety after she landed and bobbed back up to the top in her life jacket. Once Maggie was comfortable, she would go down the slide with her other Shen sisters over and over again.
This year was different. We were in Wisconsin on Elena's birthday just a week after her funeral. It was like spending a weekend with our extended family. These girls we had known since we first saw them in China eight and a half years earlier. Their parents were fellow travelers in so many ways. This was our family that we saw once a year in the Dells like other family members that we saw once a year at Thanksgiving.
There was a giant hole for me and Kim. A fresh wound. So many things that Elena would have loved doing. So many things she would have done. We felt her absence and our Shen family helped us through this first weekend away. We had planned to celebrate her birthday there. We had planned so much that didn't actually come to pass.
But for me, the hardest moment was the glimpse of Maggie's future that we got there. She wouldn't go down the big slide. I know. It's no big deal. She went down slides that were bigger than the ones she was reluctant to go down years ago. But she wouldn't go down the big one. Not with me. Not by herself. Not with Kim. Not with any of the Shen sisters who offered.
I know that she is a strong person who knows what she wants to do. I know that there's nothing special about someone who will go down a waterslide and nothing lacking in someone who won't. But it seemed to be a metaphor. Elena played many roles in all of our lives but I worry about the loss of that role in Maggie's life. I worry that she won't keep trying new things without Elena pushing and pulling.