Sunday, April 28, 2013

A grown-up daughter

“Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.”
― Anthony Brandt

A few days ago, my almost-13-year-old son walked away from me, his thin shoulders squared and his head held high, and headed into his very first interview to sell himself as a candidate to be a volunteer exhibit guide for the local science center.  With every step he took away from me, my mind flashed back to his first wail in the delivery room, his first words and steps, his first ride on the bus to kindergarten and then treated me to fast-forward fantasies of graduations, first jobs and first loves. 

My children are growing up. 

I say this with glee much of the time.  People say that it goes by so fast.  I feel like I have been a parent nigh on forever but I'm beginning to understand what they mean.  He will graduate from high school in five short years.  The panic is setting in:  Have I prepared him? Have I been a good parent?  Have I done enough?  Will he come back to visit me when all is said and done?

Yesterday, I spent the day with my father and his lovely wife.  (I loathe calling her stepmother because that word embodies the whole evil Cinderella thing....let's come up with a new word for her right about Other Mother?  Does that work?  Hmm...not really.  I called her Wonderful Wise Woman before...that seems to fit her pretty nicely.) They made the drive to see their grandson (a.k.a. Thing 2) play a little baseball.   They came over to the house where the On-Again Boyfriend put on his chef's hat and made a delicious lunch for everyone and we all spent the afternoon together.

Until yesterday, I had never really put myself into my father's shoes.  Yesterday, as I talked with him, I imagined that the pain of meeting a daughter, fully formed, must be significant.  Sure, he was able to skip all my ugly, pain-in-the-patootie teenaged years and he never had to deal with me learning to drive...but he also missed my first words and steps and my first day at kindergarten.  He never knew me when I was compact and curly-headed cute.  When he met me, it was like meeting someone new in the grocery store.  I came to him as a wife and mother with an entire life behind me in which he did not have a part.

That must hurt.

Before yesterday, I had always focused on MY experience in growing up without my "real" father.  I know how much I had wanted him in MY life but I had never stopped to consider how he, as a father, might feel in missing out on my childhood.  I know NOW that he thought of me as I was growing up...and that must have been difficult for him.   I am sorry for that.

As I get to know him, slowly and steadily, I feel more comfortable in his presence and I see that much of who I am comes genetically from him.  If you've been wondering about Nature vs. Nurture, wonder no further.  I am living proof that you can do WHATEVER you want with a child, but they will still become who they are meant to be.  I dare you to put my half-sister and I together and ever wonder again if Nature vs. Nurture holds any water because I have not yet met anyone more like me than she seems to be.

As we discussed yesterday, there is no room for regretting what cannot be.  None of us can turn back the hands of time and so we must use the best of the time we have now.  I can't speak for my father or for his wonderful wife but, for me, it feels like coming home.  I had told them yesterday that I have never been happier in my life than I am these days.  I don't know if they realize it...but a lot of that has to do with them.  Being accepted by a father, even when you are a grown-up daughter, is a pretty big deal.  So, in the words of John Mayer, fathers be good to your daughters...

So Thing 1 is growing up.  He's growing into a thoughtful, kind, logically-minded young man who will (hopefully) make a positive impact in his world.  I have hopes for him...but I know enough to give him room to build his own dreams for himself.  I am thankful for the opportunity to have raised him this far...and I'm glad he'll have the opportunity to know my father and his wife.  

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