I wrote this column 11 years ago, almost to the day. How our lives have changed since we escorted our daughter Ellen off to Columbus to attend the Aveda Institute. Spoiler Alert: she stuck it out on her own. In the ensuing years we have welcomed not only her husband Jared , but they have brought something to the entire family that we all adore, their son Teddy.
Janury 28, 2007
Our middle daughter inherited some of my qualities. That can be a blessing or a curse. It was one of the many thoughts that were running through my mind as I drove behind her little gray car. Her dad was at the wheel of a rental truck leading the parade, she was in the middle and I brought up the rear. As we pulled out of the driveway early last Sunday morning, this symbolism – Tim on one side, me on the other, brought the sting of unexpected tears to my eyes. After one semester at a nearby college, she changed career paths and is moving away – off to life alone in a big city. Even when her big sister moved to Chicago, she didn’t go alone; she went with a bunch of friends.
Experts have long cautioned parents not to compare children, but heck, that’s half the fun, isn’t it? I think what they mean is that one child shouldn’t be held up to another. We don’t do that; not enough to cause any complexes anyway. I believe we appreciate each daughter for her uniqueness and what she brings into this noisy mix that is our family.
Each child took her first steps differently. The oldest didn’t attempt it until she could smoothly walk across the room without falling down. A typical first child, she was cautious and possessed an easily bruised ego. She didn’t like to make mistakes. She tended to quietly watch from the sidelines, studying how it was done and in a sense, practicing where no one could see her until she had it right.
The youngest took a few steps, couldn’t figure out what the hoopla was all about and reverted to being carried around for a couple more months. She has always appreciated order and we wouldn’t have been shocked to find she’d stashed a planner in her diaper bag.
Like her older sister, middle kid started walking on her first birthday, but unlike her sibling, she hit the ground running. It didn’t matter how many times she tumbled or if other people saw her fall. She possessed one of her mother’s characteristics: don’t ask any questions, leap before you look, and hope somebody has an extra Band-Aid.
Many times we saw our little girls approach new situations much the way they did walking. As they matured, however, they developed new skills, new talents and proficiencies.
Still I worried as we drove south.
In some ways, middle kid was prepared as she could possibly be, after all we were hauling just about everything she owned. She had a new toaster and a coffee maker and her aunt’s old sofa and chair for which I’d made cute new ruffled pillows. She had a fuzzy pink bath mat and matching shower curtain. She had new pink dishes and even a pink frying pan. Her favorite stuffed frogs were bouncing along in the seat beside me.
But was she taking what she really needed? Would the combination of inherited and learned traits give her the strength and smarts to forge her own way? Had we taught her enough or protected her too much?
Then I worried she would be too homesick to stick it out. She is a real homebody. This was the kid who got so homesick at her first sleepover, an entire two miles away, she had to come home. Homesickness has been a real concern during all the planning and packing and preparing. At her age I struggled with homesickness, too. It often kept me from going new places and trying new things. Eventually, whereever I was with Tim and my own family became home.
After wearing out homesickness, I stirred up other issues. She is too trusting, I fretted. Does she realize not everyone is as open as she is? What will she do when she goofs, as she surely will? We all do. She’ll turn the wrong way down one-way streets. She’ll get a parking ticket. She’ll miss her exit ramp. We forgot to teach her how to change a flat tire – heck, I can’t change a flat tire. She’ll forget to charge her cell phone. She will let the milk go bad. She’ll forget to lock her door. Will she clean the bathtub – ever? What if she burns popcorn in the microwave and the sprinkler system goes off?
She’ll dye her hair purple or green. She is going to cosmetology school, after all.
We pulled up to a stoplight and catching my eye in her rearview mirror, she waved and grinned. She is my child, but she isn’t a child anymore, I thought. I also realized watching children fledge is one thing that hasn’t gotten easier with experience.