Ups and downs, ins and outs, curve balls and random collisions. Who said Life was going to be easy? As I sort it out, here's a collection of my essays, newspaper columns and mental meanderings about family, friendship, ecology, politics and a world that goes bump in its fright.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Our Baby Daughters Do Grow Up

Speaking of letting go, this is the column I wrote when Ariel got her driver's license. As you can see, detaching is an ongoing process:

Sixteen years ago I sat on a hospital bed holding in my arms the most perfect baby girl in the universe. I was filled with awe, speechless with wonder over what I had done to earn such bounty. I got to be this miraculous creature's mother.
What blessing, what honor.
Now, she's standing before me, proudly holding a laminated card with her photo and the words "driver's license" on the upper right-hand corner. The braces came off her teeth a few weeks ago. She glances down to talk to me when we're standing face to face.
The signs are everywhere: My little baby daughter isn't such a baby anymore.
The blessing and honor multiply.
I know this is anathema, this bone-rattling affection I have for my teenager. In our society, "teen" has become synonymous with "problem." I'd change this situation overnight if only I could, because it is such a treacherous falsehood. My teenager is wonderful; yours probably is, too.
This child has always instructed me. She still does. She came into this world with such a quiet serenity and easy dignity. At the time of her birth, those were not adjectives I could readily apply to myself. But this quiet, smooth child came from me. If deep calm was her birthright, perhaps somewhere in me was its source. Over the years, with her as a guide, I've found it.
She instructs me in other ways as well. In a recent spat with one of her teachers, I heard both sides of the story and it seemed to me she was being unreasonable. Serenity or no, she was being obstinate, unpleasant and rude.
We hassled back and forth about the situation for a day or so and I simply couldn't imagine why she was being such a stinker about it all. Why couldn't she just capitulate to what the teacher was asking and be done with it?
Then I actually listened to her again. And, although she wasn't articulating it directly, this is what I heard: Her sense of fair play was being transgressed and she was willing to fail the course rather than give in.
Hmm. Right or wrong, that kind of ethical stand requires some sturdy stuff. I wish I had more of it. I wish most of us did.
"You know, Snooks," I said, "When your sense of justice is violated, you turn into a tiger." She smiled and ducked her head. I'd nailed it.
"I love that you're strong-minded and spirited," I continued. "I just hope you'll learn to pick your battles. You're the only one who knows, really, if this one's worth fighting for. Do what you think best β€” you'll do it anyway β€” but try to have some sympathy for your teacher."
I try not to influence my children's career choices too much, believing that only they really know what will make them happy for a lifetime. But I do hope when my daughter gets older, she'll use that ardent commitment to fairness to go after the bad guys. Her clarity and passion could move mountains.
At any rate, this situation is typical of the arrangement we seem to have worked out over the years. She teaches me strength; I teach her compassion. She teaches me to focus; I teach her about the bigger picture. She's taught me to be serious; I've instructed her in the ways of silliness.
We never sat down and signed any contracts, but on some level a pact keeps getting made between us. I have a hunch it's a healthier bargain than many parents and children develop together β€” certainly healthier than the one I had worked out with my own mom and dad.
More often it seems the transactions are thus: The child is disruptive; the parent, long-suffering. The child gets to be a pain in the neck; the parent gets to be right about how rotten children are. The child is kept helpless and weak; the parent gets to be strong and omniscient. It’s a lousy bargain for each.
From the very beginning with both my children I've felt as though I've been given temporary custody of angels. That might sound sloppy and sentimental. So shoot me: I've been an indulgent mother.
The balancing act is to indulge and permit in all the right places, and to come down like a ton of bricks when the situation requires.
So she's asking for my car keys and wants to drive out of my life. She stands in front of me saying, "Just for 30 minutes," and from somewhere behind me I hear voices whispering, "Let go; let go. This is what it's all been leading up to."
I fork over the keys and try to remember to breathe as I watch her go.


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