As our daughter learned to express herself, family life became far more harmonious. H and I were learning to understand our baby. She seemed to be starting to see us as fellow living creatures, not simply as a means to answering her needs. Nearly every day with my baby brought a novel development: a new sound or expression, a new use of her little fingers, arms or legs, an interest in a previously ignored toy. During those first years, when age is measured in weeks and months, things change mighty fast. My husband envied the hours I spent with our daughter while he was at the office. He hated knowing that he might miss some crucial milestone: a first step, a first word. I no longer felt lost and alone on the front lines of parenting during the day. Instead, I considered it a pleasure and a privilege to be a so-called stay-at-home mother. Had it been necessary for me to leave our daughter in the care of professionals, no matter the quality of their credentials, I would have felt bereft. I was glad that despite many years of higher education, I had managed to avoid a career.
One thing became clear as our new family was getting acquainted: our daughter was no one’s clone. She was her own person, with very particular likes and dislikes, intensely experienced, perhaps even more intensely expressed. Her personality seemed to be already formed; she wasn’t a blank canvas awaiting artful parental manipulation.
Maybe my ego is outsized, but it took me several years to grasp that my daughter wouldn’t eventually, gradually, take on most of my interests. It wasn’t simply a matter of time; not all my passions would become her passions. Those early visits to DC museums didn’t seem to ignite a love of art, but I hoped the embers were slow-burning. Despite the pictures I encouraged her to draw for the near-constant stream of homemade cards we sent to friends and family, she won’t be painting any murals with me. She expressed mild interest in my doll house when it anchored the alcove in the upstairs room of my parents’ house. But once we brought it to Virginia, it lost its allure. Still, it remained in the back of my mind that one day we’d repaint the siding together, replace the yellowed wallpaper, make tiny fruit, vegetables and baked goods from bread dough clay for it. As for the dolls from my childhood packed away at my parents’ house, what to do with them now? They’re no longer in danger of being too enthusiastically handled by a younger version of a daughter that no longer exists. And my answer to many of life’s problems, a brisk walk (with the dog, if possible), holds little appeal for her.
When visiting her grandparents, D showed occasional interest in some of my beloved old toys.
I guess I’ve slowly realized how little I care that my daughter doesn’t share all of my interests. We have plenty in common. I don’t mourn a second me that never was. Thank goodness my husband supplied half her DNA. Our daughter is thoughtful, funny, kind, and compassionate, and she continues to be the original she was created to be.
She’s the ideal link between my husband and me. The three of us are better together than any two of us. We’re compatible. Complementary. Some of her most keenly felt interests she shares with my husband, such as their love of adventurous sports. They’re ski buddies. When they put on wet suits to ride the Cape Cod waves at dawn, I’m happy to stay in the cottage. She may even yet become his windsurfing partner. But she enjoys slowing down sometimes, and that’s when she and I are at our best together. I love unhurried summer breakfasts on the screened porch, when we talk (just as my mother and I have always done) about anything and everything: books, TV, movies, history, or life in general. And we laugh a lot; we have similar sense of humor.
Some of our daughter’s talents are uniquely her own. In recent years she’s concentrated on her singing, and this spring she earned a lead role in her high school musical. My husband and I were about as overcome with parental pride and emotion as it’s possible to be when we saw her up on stage killing it as Olive in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. That her character has absentee parents made watching her performance all the more poignant. During the I Love You Song, as she harmonizes beautifully with her imagined Mom and Dad, wishing they were really with her as she competes in the bee, H and I both wanted to yell out: We’re here! Right here on the front row! And we do love you so much! Just as Olive’s mother says, We love everything about you, dear!
Onstage in Putnam, as Olive
We do. And we’re so glad our daughter is her own strong young woman. I often marvel at how grown up she looks. Yet, when I try, I can always see in her the baby that confounded and amazed me, as well as the little girl just finding her own footing. It’s a joy to love her and be her Mama during every stage of her life. But it’s scary, too. Before long her journey is likely to take her away from us.
Our daughter never has to imagine, as Olive does, that her parents are present and devoted. We’re here. Cheering for her. Right on the front row. We hope she’ll let us stay there.