Thursday, January 05, 2006

Rites of Passage

My daughter—the little girl whom I just taught to walk and talk—turned sixteen yesterday. I’m still reeling. Yes, I know she’s five inches taller than I am, and has been for about three years, but I’m vertically challenged so that’s insignificant. Yes, she’s discussing what colleges to apply to, and I’m thrilled that one of them is my own alma mater. Yes, she notices cute boys now and even comments on them when her father isn’t listening. But how did this happen so fast and without my noticing the passage of time?

Of course, she’s become a charming, funny, lovely young woman who warms the cockles of her mother’s heart by reading voraciously and getting straight A pluses in all her creative writing courses. Her talent on the trumpet far surpasses mine on the flute when I was her age. Amazingly, she’s also a skilled basketball player, genes she clearly got entirely from her father. I suppose all this developed right before my eyes but it seemed gradual until yesterday when it hit me over the head that she wasn’t just growing up…she had grown up!

Granted there’s a way to go before she’s an independent adult. We still have the nail-biting task of teaching her to drive. Slogging through those college applications won’t be easy. And explaining how to balance a checking account? I shudder to contemplate it. She and numbers do not mix well.

But sixteen is a biggie. She has firmly crossed the boundary of childhood, never to return. The tears welling up in my eyes come from a wrenching combination of pride and regret. I’m proud of what she’s become, and the fact that I helped her get there, but I’m sorry that I’m going to lose her to the outside world sooner than I want to.

Parents always tell you to enjoy every minute with your children, and this was one piece of advice I did my best to follow. But enjoying the minutes doesn’t slow them down, and the rites of passage come upon us before we’re entirely ready for them.

My solution is to take pictures: lots of them. I try to put them in albums every year (I’m up to 2004 now—yippee!). When I need to turn back the clock, I go through my old photographs. That way I can recapture the moments leading up to this latest shock of recognition that time has passed too swiftly for me to keep up with it. As soon as I finish writing this, I’m getting out my daughter’s baby album.

How do you handle the big events in life that you aren’t quite prepared for?

10 comments:

Terry Z McDermid said...

I can understand what you're going through, Nancy. My first baby leaves for college this fall -- it really hit me when I bought him a Far Side calendar for Christmas and realized he would be reading/filling in the dates for the latter part of the year somewhere out of our household. Remembering funny stories, just spending as much time as possible with him is helping some. And at least with all the new-fangled technology out there, we can keep connected pretty easily.

I also try to write down what I feel and figure somewhere down the road, I'll be able to use these feelings of separation in a story or two!

Nancy Morse said...

I haven't figured this one out yet, but I think you handle the stuff you're not prepared for by learning from the last thing you handled that you weren't prepared for. It's all one great big learning experience, and hopefully, if she ever comes home with a guy who has tattoos from head to toe, dressed in black leather and chains, with piercings in every conceivable spot on his body, and exclaims, "But mom, I love him," you'll know how to handle that one, too.

Bonnie Edwards said...

Nancy,
Whoo boy! Good question. You hang on for dear life, then when it's time, you let them go and deal with it.

One thing my dh does which is way cool: He places old photos of the kids in odd places. The car visor, so that when you pull it down, there they are at 4 & 6 at a theme park. Or, they'll appear at 10 & 12 at the beach, the picture propped in the bathroom mirror. He changes pictures & locations willy nilly so it always brings a smile to see them.

You can be in the middle of a rotten day, open a drawer and laugh out loud at the memories.

And yeah, the man's a keeper. (g)

Nancy Herkness said...

OMG, Terry, hearing that your son is leaving for college in the fall sent cold chills up my spine! I'm in total denial that the same thing will be happening to me in two and a half years. I'm wishing you all the luck in the world on dealing with THAT rite of passage.

Nancy, your image of the tatooed boyfriend gave me a good laugh. I suppose that would be better than if my daughter came home with tatoos all over her OWN body....

Your husband sounds marvelous, Bonnie. Definitely a keeper! I love the idea that you never know where you're going to see the old photos or what age the kids will be in them. I don't think my husband even knows where I keep the pix.

Thanks for all your support! It helps to know that I'm not alone!

Bonnie Edwards said...

Nancy,
No reason you can't do it for him!

Terry Z McDermid said...

I love the idea of pictures in odd places. I keep several of my boys from various ages in my classroom -- it was the same room they had as kindergarten students (I was not their teacher or teaching then, just fortunate to later replace their teacher). When they make the required visit to my room during finals week, my students are always amazed at how big they are (now both 6') and it helps me keep connected to those little boys that still lurk within those big bodies.

And I'm working on holding on for dear life with my almost-college son -- we do seem to be in a whirlwind right now!

Nancy Herkness said...

Bonnie, you're right--and I'd probably enjoy picking out the pictures as much as he'd enjoy finding them.

That's so neat that you teach in the room where your children went to Kindergarten, Terry. Talk about things coming full circle! It's comforting to think that those little boys DO still lurk in those six-foot bodies.

gailbarrett said...

It is always the hardest with the first child. I have two sons and I cried for all my first son's big events: when he got on the bus the first day of kindergarten, when he graduated from high school, when we dropped him off at college. By the time the second son did those things, he'd worn us out so much that there were no tears, just relief (LOL). And the learning to drive thing -- oh god. I was teaching at my second son's high school at the time so we usually drove back and forth together. When he got his permit and started driving us, I arrived at work shaking every day, a total nervous wreck. My suggestion is to let your husband do the driving instruction. It will cut down on your gray hairs.

Nancy Herkness said...

Gail, I think you're absolutely right about letting someone else teach my daughter to drive. I took her driving in the bank parking lot one day and after fifteen minutes I was putting on the imaginary brake with a vengeance. Luckily, there's a highly recommended driving school in our area...

Allison Brennan said...

16! I don't even want to think about it. My oldest is turning 12 next week, and the way I mentally prepare for it (and all her birthdays) is to (when people ask) say that she's "almost 12." I've been doing it for about four months. Then, at the end of next summer, I'll be saying she's "almost 13." Otherwise I think it will be harder to deal with on her birthday.

I don't think we're ever quite prepared for the big moments. I cried the first day of kindergarden with my first, but with my son I cried when I took him to preschool for the first time. He looked so mature.

Tears are cathartic.

16. Wow. All I can say, I'm glad I have time to prepare. Maybe if I start saying she's "almost" 16 . . . in just four years. Three years. Two years . . .