It was a beautiful fall evening on the Island and I was taking an after-dinner stroll with my children. My six-year-old son, Hardy, crashed about in the woods. My daughter, Pickle, not her real name but definitely her given name, walked a few yards in front of me.

Pickle is two and a half and becoming now a small creature of the world rather than just something of my own. She walked in front of me, not even looking back to see if I were following. I felt a tug at my heart.

My daughter seems a mystery to me. I understand that deep down the same is true of my son; do we ever really know anyone, ourselves included? And yet I do know more about the workings of a young boy, having actually been one so long ago.

I watched Pickle moving forward out into the world, at this moment a mere 10 paces in front of me, but in the blink of time she will travel so much further away from me.

I turned to look out at the woods. The sun hovered just above the tree line spreading dappled light, like twinkling stars, among the leaves, which were burnt orange and red in some places. I breathed deeply, then turned back to watch my daughter again.

She had stopped walking and was looking at me.

“Dada,” she said. “Will you keep me safe?”

There are times when life feels as if it is hurtling along. Some sort of high speed motor attached to each moment until days rush by in a blur. Everything becomes gray with speed as I go about the business of living.

And then there are other moments so heavy with meaning the earth feels paused on its axis. This was one of those moments.

There was no immediate worry. No approaching car nor overeager dog. And yet she felt the need to check in with me using words so loaded my knees buckled. I ran to her, scooped her up in my arms and kissed her face.

“Yes, yes,” I said. “I will always keep you safe.”

Pickle smiled, asked to be let down, then ran down the road again. Within just a few steps she tripped on a root, fell to the ground and scraped her knee.

I carried Pickle into the house and ministered to her cut. I wiped it clean, applied some ice and ointment then made the small drops of blood disappear behind a Hello Kitty band-aid.

Hardy had joined us inside. At first he seemed merely insensitive to Pickle’s injury, going on about a squirrel he had seen in the woods while Pickle sniffled on the couch. Then he became annoying, asking me repeatedly for a cup of water.

“Can’t you see I’m busy,” I shouted, losing my temper.

He began to cry and I chose to ignore him. For a while I continued to help Pickle, drying the tears from her eyes and wrapping her in a cozy blanket. Then I looked over at my son sitting alone on the stairs, weeping softly to himself.

Pickle’s words played out again, this time in my head. “Dada, will you keep me safe?”

I looked at her. How quickly I had failed to keep her safe from even the most trivial of accidents the world was waiting to spring upon her. Then I looked back at my son. Was I keeping him safe now, letting him cry alone on the stairs? To be a parent is to live, it seems, as if rushed continuously from the blind side.

I went to my son, lifted him off the stairs and brought him over to the couch. Then I sat between my children and hugged them tightly, determined to keep them both safe, if only for one fleeting and fragile moment.