Today my daughter’s senior photo proofs arrived. This is my baby – the youngest of my three daughters, now a high school senior.
She looks grown up and so mature. She is 18, after all. But in my mind, she’s still the baby I never imagined I’d have; the one that surprised us both.
I remember so well my first child – a longed for daughter, who arrived perfectly formed and wonderful. I cried every time I looked at her for weeks – until sleep deprivation took over and I began walking around in that zombie-like trance.
Somewhere about week four I caught a glimpse of her in my arms as I walked past the hallway mirror. I remember stopping – startled – at how very tiny she looked. In my mind, she was gargantuan. Not that she was an extremely large baby; just that the space she consumed in my life was enormous. This one tiny little being had taken over every waking moment, and many sleeping ones, as well.
I learned to balance her needs and my own in the weeks and months that followed. When a second daughter joined us through the blessings of blending my little family and my husband’s, the balancing act was tricky, but not impossible.
And then little daughter number three arrived. Suddenly the balance was completely and totally off. I had three people to help with this new little one, including the middle daughter who (at age 4) picked up her 3 day old baby sister and carried her half way down the stairs, holding her firmly by the neck. Rather than shriek “STOP” like I wanted to, I calmly, patiently told her to “Sit Down Now” and rushed to rescue the baby from her well-meaning, but exceedingly clumsy arms.
All of that is so clear in my mind. Now, we’re going through college applications and the anxious waiting for the top choice college to respond – for the third time around.
Last night at dinner with friends who are the parents of our daughter’s best friend since childhood – a treasured only child – we laughed as we talked about the difference between raising an only child and a third child. The dad reminded me of a comment I had made once when he worried about leaving the girls home alone for an afternoon. Apparently I said something like, “I worried about it too, with the first daughter.” The implication was clear – with a third daughter, we worry a whole lot less about those sorts of things.
We talked about their daughter’s introduction to things like building a My Space page – which she did at our house, with my full knowledge and approval. Of course I didn’t know – honestly – that her parents had forbidden this, trying desperately to protect their daughter from the dangers of the internet.
That resulted in her being banned from our house for a month, but also, apparently, provided her with great college-application essay material.
They joked about the benefits of having back-ups in case something happens to one child; I shared with them my friend Sara’s comments to anyone who worries about one of her twin boys’ safety: “Don’t worry – I’ve got a spare!”
In reality, I have treasured every moment with this one; the youngest of my daughters. She was the one who burst into tears first when we all bravely drove away leaving my eldest daughter at her new college dorm.
She was also the one who stayed right by my side the night my father was killed in a horrific auto accident.
She is, of the three, closest to me in temperament and style, even sharing my clothes and color choices – something the other two would be mortified to do.
Now that she’s just moments away from leaving home and taking on her adult role, I must admit I’m petrified.
I could push away all those “empty nest” anxieties before – I still had a little one at home. I could identify with women a full decade younger than me who also had young children, rather than the “grandmas” my own age.
So what might the future hold? Will I finally let my hair go grey, or start thinking of myself as an old woman?
I look at my own mother – a woman who once held the standard for me of ideal womanhood – and I feel a certain fear of the future.
I don’t want the wrinkles and the slowing of pace.
I don’t want the change in perspective from global to village; the narrowing of thoughts, values and beliefs.
What I want is to find my own way to embrace this next phase in life – to find previously hidden pockets of time to read, to paint, to write. To travel with just an hour’s preparation, rather than a week’s. To relax, and enjoy the companionship of a husband who is – still – my best friend and lover.
To feel confident enough in my life’s direction that I can share my youngest daughter’s joy in leaving home.
To celebrate – not mourn – another milestone in the passing of time.