This post is for Phoebe who, after all, gives”Wonderwall.” its best cover to date.
Once, when my older daughter was a toddler, “my little fruit bat,” as I called her, was eating bing cherries and I could see the pits collecting in her generous cheeks. “Spit them out,” I cautioned. She focused her gaze a few inches above my head and made an effortful, audible gulp, disposing handily of a cache of about fifteen pits. She affected an expression of insouciance; just below the surface was the glee she took in flouting my good counsel. Huh, I thought, I’m in for it.
And then the thought came: good for her.
On her sixth birthday, I asked her what she wished for and she said, “Just to be a great girl.” She’s now on her way to being 17, and wishing made it so; she is a great girl. I get complimented on her and in return, I tell the truth, “I just gave her room to grow.” She was going to do what she was going to do. From the first moment in the hospital when she looked at me like, “Try to keep up,” I’ve been trying, but it’s not easy.
In elementary school she told the principal that he should support a series of “Lunchtime Entertainments.” She kicked this off with an a capella version of “Sister Golden Hair Surprise” in front of a noisy, smelly cafeteria packed with kids. That’s not an easy song to sing. And she wasn’t a showy kid with a big personality. She was introverted, and prone to some nervous spells when called on to perform. How an eleven year could send her sweet, untrained voice out across a mob of Go-GURT chugging kids at a school where she wasn’t even particularly happy, I don’t know.
Watching my daughter grow into young womanhood so focused, imaginative and bold, has made me wonder how my life would have been different if I had taken, Dare Greatly, as my motto, or Live Out Loud? Or just Be a Great Girl? But you know, it feels late to change. I am so caught up in observing the unfolding wonder of my daughters’ lives, (and in driving them all over creation) that it’s exhausting to imagine doing much with mine except laundry, or making vague threats about dressing down the boys who come around.
Ah the boys…they have been polite and genuine so far. I can’t complain save this: why do they wear so much cologne? When I first realized how lovely and electric she was going to be, I assumed I would have to patrol the perimeter of my property with a gun, muttering into a walkie talkie. But I forgot that her self-assurance and ebullience would – so far – scare away jerks. All her male friends are kind and funny and sadly, not scared of me. So if I am not her defender, what am I?
She’s two years away from college, busy with school and theater and the ferocious pace of socializing. For me, it’s all bittersweet. I sometimes wish we were embroidering together side by side while listening to a podcast. But I don’t embroider. She does of course; she taught herself one free Saturday. But then I also think, “Yes. Go live it.”
Her high school years have been tough ones for me. I often feel like I am swimming upstream; maybe she feels that way too. And we’re in two different rivers, so it’s impossible to help each other. It has taken me by disappointed surprise that the person I taught to talk can sometimes be so hard to talk with.
We don’t share too many interests, (she started baking and now she’s better than me but I tell myself, through my tears, that it’s better if our offspring surpass us) but we both like a hike. In early July we climbed Mt Ellinor and were met by the same adorable, woolly herd of goats that thwarted our climb last year. I gave her my standard advice when faced with wild animals, or just anything unpredictable, really, “Look down.” I could tell she thought my advice was weird and uninspired. Maybe, but neither of us got gored by a horn.
But then a dog barked, sparking a mini stampede of bewildered goats. As the shaggy creatures galloped by, I shoved her behind me because she’s supposed to be here when I’m gone. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, and I am supposed to do everything in my power to ensure it. And that power is so limited, so feeble compared to everything and everyone who could hurt her. But I knew once she was born that I would now be walking through the world without skin, and everyday with her would be sparkling joy and looming catastrophe. And so…much…laundry.
But I did give her room to grow, and I gave her sage advice about cherry pits that she ignored. Hey, I didn’t take my mother’s advice either: “Learn to cook meat. Men love meat.” She was right, but I had to chart my own course.
The other day we hiked again, swam in our favorite lake, visited the High Steel Bridge together for the first and last terrifying time, ate ice cream. and then landed at our other favorite lake. We agreed it was a perfect day – the best day. We even had watermelon. I have decided to always remember it. And I will also always remember the look on her face when she swallowed those pits. It hurt a little, I think, but no one said being your own woman wouldn’t come at a price. It’s not always easy to be her mom, and it hurts a little too, but it’s humbling and inspiring, and great.