Everyone told me that I would see a significant change in my daughter, the always delightful Fangette, when she returned from college for Thanksgiving break. I didn’t believe them. I am that person who needs to see it, touch it, feel it for myself. And I have. She is (almost) a different person.
What can I say? I am a skeptic. Especially when it comes to parenting. I listen to the sage words of others, I just don’t necessarily believe what they’re saying. Even though history has proven them right. About (almost) everything.
Although I should certainly know better, I, too, waste my breath giving unsolicited advice which falls on the deaf ears of younger parents. I understand. They shake their heads in agreement, but their eyes tell another story. Their eyes say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ll just see about that!” Perhaps it’s just me? Maybe I just run with a crowd of polite cynics. I don’t think so, though.
Yesterday I was given the opportunity to impart some of the wisdom that I have gained in my eighteen years of parenting. I have managed to raise an intelligent, socially adept young woman. As if to prove my parenting prowess, my own progeny was sitting beside me carrying on an adult conversation with another human being. She had also successfully dress herself that morning.
I laughingly told my cousin (the mother of a pre-schooler and a toddler) who was chagrined at her younger child’s inability to identify certain letters, most colors, and stay within the lines as he decorated a Thanksgiving turkey (or, as he called it a “chicken” — I told him that he was just being silly, that every little schoolboy knows that chickens do NOT wear Pilgrim hats!) that she needn’t worry about this, that, or the other thing, that her child would put it all together at some point. Mine did. And, I pointed out, her older one, seemed just fine. I made a motion to indicate that my kid, no coloring genius herself, had, seemingly, turned out, in my humble opinion, more than fine. All evidence to the contrary, my cousin still seemed worried about the little guy.
I jokingly remarked that perhaps the little one just didn’t care. He’s got a sunny, vibrant personality. And, let me just add, he’s cute as a damn button. Those attributes ought to get him somewhere. So what if he can’t spell, discern purple from blue, or identify fowl? It’s likely, even if he never masters any of these skills, that he, too, will be just fine. It’s also probable that, when the spirit moves him or it matters to him, that he will demonstrate proficiency at these and other important tasks. Right now, though, he just wants to live in a world where The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are real. Me, too.
It was during my tete-a-tete with my cousin that I noticed that my father — a man who wouldn’t win any spelling competitions himself — was hanging around the perimeter of the conversation. He made a gesture. He was, I realized, pointing at his nose. What, I wondered, was he trying to convey to me? And then it hit me.
My daughter came home from college sporting a nose ring. What he was trying to tell me was that, perhaps, the mother of a nose-piercer shouldn’t be doling out any parenting advice. I just rolled my eyes at him and told him, none too quietly, that “tomorrow we’re all getting matching tattoos, Da”. I may have asked him if he wanted to join us. And then I laughed and gave him my best “West of Ireland sigh”. He may have thought me serious otherwise.
I tell you this story not to give the impression that my father is a humorless and intolerant curmudgeon, which he can be, but can’t we all? I tell you this story because it says a lot about how our relationship has evolved over the years. More to the point, it says a lot about how I have changed.
The fact that I laughed. The fact that I chose to interpret his gesture as a light ribbing, which I am fairly certain it was meant to be, instead of “fightin’ words”, speaks volumes about who I presently am.
Not so long ago I would have been angry with him. (And, probably, by extension, with the daughter.) I would have felt harshly criticized and, yes, judged. Now? Not so much. I honestly thought it was funny that he could get worked up over something as ridiculous as a tiny hoop earring in the nose of a college student.
Also, because my daughter is now 18 years old, I no longer feel responsible for what she pierces or tattoos. And, you wanna know what? I kind of like it. I was kidding when I told my father that we were getting tattoos, but I am toying with the idea of getting my eyebrow re-pierced. I let it close long ago. Maybe it’s time to rethink that.
Having my daughter home from college has been wonderful. A blessing. I missed her terribly. I will miss her when she leaves on Sunday. I do love the person who is emerging, though — nose ring and all. I am enjoying the new relationship that she and I seem to be forging. It’s freeing to break out of our old roles.
Snappy retorts to criticism and eyebrow piercings, aside, I’ve been rethinking a lot of things lately, most of them to do with my daughter. Mainly, what my ruminations have uncovered is that it is comforting to worry less about who she might become and concentrate, instead, on who she is today.
Getting to this place is a journey and one that we all must take ourselves. Some of us will arrive at our destination sooner, rather than later, but, like learning our colors or our alphabet, there’s no hard and fast timetable for it, really. Telling someone this, especially a newer parent, is an exercise in futility.
As far as I know my daughter has a handle on her colors and her alphabet; my cousin’s son will get there, too. We all learn the stuff we need to know eventually. Me? I’ve learned to laugh more and stress less. Mostly, though, I’ve learned that sometimes, as a parent, the nicest part of the job is when you can let go, sit back, and enjoy the becoming.