Birthday Baby

It is impossible to figure out where the time has gone. Somewhere between the blissful new baby infatuation, the clingy toddler, the determined child in the dance recital, the see my artwork in the school show, the watch my tennis match, and the help me move into my dorm room, something happened. My child grew up.

claireToday, my baby turns 21. And I know it has been said before by hundreds of thousands of parents, but I swear I do not know how these years have passed in the blink of an eye.

Here are a few things we know about this poised young woman who just a second ago was a colicky, non-stop, real life crybaby:

  • She is smart; not just book smart but really savvy. She has an excellent grasp of how things work, and the common sense know-how to make things happen.
  • She is funny; not in a rolling on the floor in laughter kind of way, but in a pun-making, witty, sharp as a tack way that makes you smile and sometimes roll your eyes.
  • She is academically well-rounded. She excels in writing, is a strong public speaker, has a sharp mind for history and politics, and is also pretty strong in math and physics.
  • She says exactly what she thinks. This is both a blessing and a curse, because not everyone is thick-skinned enough to take what she sometimes dishes out. Be warned: if you ask for her opinion you will always get it. Sometimes you will get it even without the ask.
  • She cares deeply about our planet, about people, about education, about equality for all people, and about peoples’ rights.
  • She believes deeply and spiritually in demonstrating her Christianity, which is also a commitment to humanity.
  • Even when she is flying under the radar she is fierce. She doesn’t always have to take charge, but if others aren’t pulling their weight she will do the work of six people just to make sure her name isn’t on something that doesn’t meet her Mt. Everest-height standards.
  • People notice her striking curly, auburn hair first, but it takes a little while before they see her inner beauty.
  • She is our youngest, and while she occasionally relishes the role of baby of the family, it has also made her a natural competitor in a take-no-prisoners kind of way.

And now she is turning 21 and is a full-fledged adult (except for returning home to live while she’s working during the summer, which is more than fine with us.)

Parents of infants and toddlers take note: CHILDHOOD IS SHORT! So when they want to sit in your lap while you read another story, let them. When they want you to push them on the swing set again, do it. When they want you to watch their soccer match, show up. When they sing or play in a concert, be in the audience. When they just need a hug, give it.

I will freely admit to having made some mistakes when our kids were young. Despite that, they seem to be turning out okay. Watching our daughters now in the bloom of adult-hood, it is a delight to see how self-confident and self-reliant they have become. So today, we no longer have “children,” just two wonderful, young adults.

Happy Birthday to our beautiful, caring, brilliant, big-little girl!


Make It Better

What do you do when your just barely 20 year old calls from college and says she is injured?  We try not to overreact, so here’s what we did.  We counseled her as best we could on the phone.  She texted and called periodically while negotiating through her university’s health care system.  She managed just fine.  Great, in fact!

She had injured her kneecap in a minor incident, but then exacerbated the injury during a workout.  This daughter is a bit of a gym rat, which makes me wonder if she actually is my daughter.  Then I recall the six months when she was a colicky infant and did nothing but cry, and the image of her at about age 4 that actually looks just like me at that age…so much so that her cousin/my nephew actually once mistook a picture of me for her.

We offered to drive there and help her out, but she declined.  She had it all under control.  It makes a parent very proud.  Proud, and dejected.  Because on some level we still want them to need us – just a little bit.  We still want to feel like maybe just a hug from a parent can help.  We still want the “kiss it and make it better” feeling.  That’s what WE want, not what SHE needs.

So when she called the next morning and asked if we could come and help her with her laundry, of course we did.

My brain heard her say something like, “I need to do laundry, and can’t haul all my stuff to the laundry room while I’m on crutches.  Would you mind coming to help?”

What my heart heard was, “I just want and need my mommy.”

Her first broken wrist - yes, it was the same wrist both times.

Her first broken wrist – yes, it was the same wrist both times.

We tossed off all of our other very minor plans for the day, boarded the dog, threw ourselves and a few things into the car, and took off on the 2 ½ hour drive.  We helped with the laundry, took her and a friend out for dinner, and then we drove home in the lousy visibility on the rainy highway arriving as the clock struck midnight and the rain started to turn to snow.  Tired, but feeling like we can still make some small contribution to her life aside from helping with exorbitant tuition bills.

When she broke her wrist in third grade, and then again in fourth grade (but that’s a different story), we were there to get her to the emergency room.  When she had a tennis injury, we took her to sports medicine.  When she had the flu and strep throat all at the same time, we took her to the pediatrician and made sure she got her prescriptions filled.  Now she is managing all of these things on her own.

It is more joyful than painful to watch our now young adult manage her own life – the good and the bad, the healthy and the broken.  It is a blessing to see her stand on her own two feet…once she’s off the crutches.

But it did feel good when both head and heart heard her say, “Sometimes, you just want your parents.  Thanks for coming.”

It turns out that once in a while just a hug from a parent can still help.  She is awesome!

Driver’s Seat

With both daughters off again on their own life journeys, the past few weeks have left me emotional and philosophical.  Coupled with some real world car trouble, it’s no wonder I have been in a bit of a funk.  The metaphor has not been lost:  a broken down car at the same time that life seems to have stalled.

Clutch failure on a manual transmission renders the vehicle immovable and the driver helpless.  I hate that feeling more than anything – helplessness.  It may be the greatest irony of all that driving has always given me a feeling of independence.  In my car, behind the wheel, I have control and can go where I like when I choose.  That is really one of the joys of driving; a feeling that you as the driver are in charge.  Who doesn’t like to be in control?  Don’t we really want to steer in our own direction?  I hate it when the detours of life disrupt my route, and these most recent weeks have caused me to hit some roadblocks.

Thankfully, I have had a vehicle to drive while my car awaits ordered parts and ultimate repair.  It’s a nice little car that belongs to our daughter.  We plan to sell it for her since her year abroad means she’ll need the money more than the car.  But it isn’t sold yet, so I’m driving it.  My first order of business was to clean it up.  It wasn’t horrible, but as a busy college student she never spent much time cleaning it.   So a little carpet cleaner on the upholstery and floor mats, a dust-free dashboard, and shiny windows have made a huge difference.  I am not a neat freak in the housekeeping department, but I do love a clean car.

In my car, and in my life, I like to see where I’m going.  I like a certain sense of order no matter what direction I’m headed.  That may be the real problem right now.  I seem to have found some potholes that have required swerving.  I need to get back on the road, but which one?  I do not want to be that driver who fails to signal turns or is consistently in the wrong lane.  Still a mom, but without kids, this autumn trip finds me on strange roads with no map or GPS; struggling to plan my route.

My kids college logos are the ONLY stickers ever allowed on my car.

My kids college logos are the ONLY stickers ever allowed on my car.

Like a car that’s lost its clutch, I can’t seem to get it in gear.  I really thought that by now I would have at least been up to speed on some things.  Since this is my second fall with no kids at home, and since I am armed with a list of projects, I thought this would have been prime time to set the cruise control and start racking up some productive miles.  That has not been the case.  Some days it’s hard to get out of the driveway.

In a few more days I hope to be back in my own driver’s seat.  It is very shallow, but I love my car.  It’s a fun little micro-van with a zoom-zoom engine, super tight turning radius, and hugs the road nicely when driving.  Even faced with a major repair bill, I still look forward to getting back into that vehicle.  Then, maybe I can really get on with the journey.  It is time to shift into high gear and hear that little engine hum.

Now if I could just figure out where I’m going….

Such Sweet Sorrow

Parting is.

We took our eldest to the airport, seeing her off on a 3,500 mile journey as she prepares to begin a twelve month Master’s degree program in London.  We expect her to make a brief trip home at Christmas.  But we have learned that the person who leaves is never quite the same as the person who comes back.

We loved her before she was born.  We were thrilled to have our first baby – a perfect little girl.  hbw toddlerShe grew into a precocious toddler who learned to speak at an early age and who charmed family and friends with her sweet smile and friendly nature.  Always at ease around people, she had to wear a harness and leash in malls so she wouldn’t walk off with someone else.  On her first day of preschool at age three she pronounced it fun, but quickly added she couldn’t understand why “some kids cried.”  Imagine our surprise at kindergarten open house when she introduced us to almost everyone in the building:  other pupils, several teachers, and some of the office staff.  In middle school she joined the band and then told us about it afterwards.  When she started college 250 miles from home I wept as we drove away.  She shed a few tears, but was quickly about the business of building new friendships and making her own life in a new city.

Now, our family home is simply a repository for her; a wayside stop.  We are the temporary keepers of her possessions while she goes off to explore her new and much larger world.

To say we are incredibly proud of this young woman is an understatement.  She is smart, caring, and outgoing.  She has a history of working hard at the things she loves best.  Often, she has achieved a level of excellence far beyond our expectations.   She is brave and strong.

Helping our girls grow into poised, productive, young women has been a labor of enormous love.  hbw wvuWe tried so hard to have the right conversations about the right topics at the right times.  We tried to balance structure and silliness to provide both stability and outlets for creativity.  They earned the freedom to make their own choices and chase their own dreams.  And so they chase…

From birth your child is never really “yours.”  You set many examples (for better or worse) and you learn from each other – parents and child.  But each one is born with an individual personality and immediately begins the process of learning to leave.  First they learn to walk and talk and then they make airline reservations.  Maybe not quite that quickly, but it seems like it.

We hugged and cried at the airport.

Sorrow at this parting?  Certainly.  Because we will miss her.

Sweet?  Very.  Because growing up and out is her birthright.  This is part of the evolving parent-child relationship and the fulfillment of what we, and she, have worked for over the past 22 years.  She is no longer our precocious toddler.  This is her time to fly.