This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!

For months after I sold the house, it remained inside a large plastic bag in the loft. One of my daughter’s toys. The pieces were disorganized, and I was not certain that we had them all.

One day I began to organize the loft. Christmas was on the horizon, and our artificial tree was in the corner behind too many items for it to be accessible for the holidays. I got to work. My five-year-old daughter was with me.

“Daddy!”

“Yes, sweety?”

“Is that the pirate train?”

“I think so. Let me check.”

It was.

“Can we build it again?”

“I don’t know, honey. But we can try.”

“Oh Daddy, please let’s do that right now!”

“Maybe once we get the loft better organized. Okay?”

“Okay.”

The toy was a plastic pirate ship. A train track circled around it. As the train made its way up towards the mast, it reached a smooth part of the track where it would invert on its rapid descent down. Katie loved it. We had kept it outside on the covered portion of our pool deck, since it took up so much space in our small home.

Now that home was gone, one of many casualties of the divorce I had filed for nearly two years before.

Losing your first and only home feels like parting with one of your internal organs. A part of your life is over, and it isn’t coming back. And just like the body that must live and go on post-operation, you have to thrive once more though it may not immediately apparent how to do so.

I pondered the pirate train and its current state of affairs. I knew we had to be missing a few pieces. I didn’t see the train itself anywhere, just the caboose that attached to it, and while I may possess certain talents building things without a clear plan isn’t one of them. I saw all these obstacles before we started, but I didn’t want to disappoint my daughter. We spread the pieces out on the living room floor.

“Alright, sweetheart. Let’s see. I think this is the mast.”

“What does that mean?”

“The part that goes on top. Here.”

I fixed the mast to the topmost portion of the pirate ship.

“Daddy, look. The track goes together here.”

My champion puzzle-maker was right.

“Katie, that’s really smart. Good job. Let’s see how to do the rest of it.”

We set up the rest of the track. There were a few long plastic arms that didn’t seem to fit anywhere.

“What about these, Katie?”

“I don’t know, Daddy.”

“Me either. Let’s think about it.”

We both looked at the half-completed structure in silence. Then I had an idea.

“Look, Katie. This one goes here.”

“You’re right, Daddy.”

Then one of the arms connected and made a support for the other.

“That’s it, Daddy!”

As I enjoyed our success building together, I felt a tinge of sadness. I knew we couldn’t completely rebuild her toy. It wasn’t that it was broken, precisely. It was incomplete and destined to remain so. That’s why the pirate train could never be put together again.

Realizing that the same thing had happened to our family, a shudder went through me. I couldn’t put our home or my marriage back together, either. It didn’t matter what I did. I didn’t have all the pieces. Our old life was gone and more for my daughter than myself, I grieved. I was the one who filed for divorce and I still believe that I had to do it, that there was no other choice. But that didn’t make it easier.

Perhaps the hardest thing about being a divorced parent are the moments that you feel real, powerful grief when your child is present with you and you cannot show it. It takes every ounce of restraint you possess.

Sometimes, if we can learn from their unique form of wisdom our children lead the way. This was my daughter Katie. Her attitude was constructive. Absolutely, she wanted to build the entire train. She regretted that we couldn’t do so. But she has enjoyed playing with the mostly-finished structure for weeks. She didn’t regret, she just moved forward. She epitomized determination.

I may be a dummy, but watching her I knew she was showing me exactly how to move on and that I had the internal resources to do it.

“Besides, Daddy, maybe Santa will bring me something better for Christmas.”

“He just might, Katie. Christmas is only a couple of months away.”

Hope for the future that has every reason to be better than the past, no matter what is behind you. That’s what my daughter taught me. I hope I can teach her half as much.