Eighteen years ago today, at this time, in fact, I was doubled over with my forehead on the back of the couch wondering why in the HELL my obstetrician hadn’t yet called back. I had come home from the hospital the night before, shamefaced, because my labor had not progressed past two centimeters. I am almost convinced that there is some sort of scan in the automatic doors of a hospital that “restart” your labor to zero unless it is fully into the third stage. Contractions, that had been goind strong and progressing all day had stopped the second we got there, of course. My husband had spent the evening watching UNC and Duke on the tiny television in the corner of the room as the two teams battled through not one, not two, but three overtimes. UNC won the ACC Championship that year. It must have been a sign of good things to come.
Turns out the reason the doctor never called me back since I’d woken up at five in the morning, labor pains and contractions back in full-force, was because I had left my work number as my call back instead of my home number. I didn’t have a cell phone then. Yeah, well, labor and pain does strange things to my brain, what can I say?
A full eight hours from then, at three-thirty in the afternoon Lucy was finally born. We had gotten back to the hospital around eight in the morning and the triage nurse was actually going to send me home again (although, I was planning on sending her home as well – with a broken nose), when my doctor, chuckling about the phone number thing told the harridan, “I think she’s been through enough, let’s have this baby.”
For some reason, I guess because she was my first, I remember Lucy’s birth clearer than any of the others. I remember the faces of the nurses, I remember the walking of the neighborhood. I remember bringing her home, introducing her to the cat. We took tons of pictures then, had them developed, put them in books. I never really did that with any of my other kids, and before you ask, no. I was a terrible record keeper. I think I made it through Lucy’s six-week checkup in the baby book. No one else even had a baby book, much less a record of their first haircut, their first lost tooth, or meticulous measurements of height. I prefer to think of it as me living in the moment, not missing a minute of our time together, but realistically? I was just tired. New mom and all that, times seven.
After Lucy was born, we moved around a lot. Tennessee to Idaho (yes, Idaho) to Washington, DC to Virginia back to Atlanta. By that time, we’d had Emma, and then Abby, etc. etc. Lucy was always my guinea pig, my attempt at great parenting. Sometimes I did really well. Forrest and I taught her to read. I homeschooled her. She learned how to write, how to do advanced math through a program called Singapore Math. I encouraged her book writing, and by the time she was in second grade, she had created elaborate stories complete with pictures. We went to the library sometimes to do her schooling, both to get out of the house and to foster that “smell of books.” Anyone who loves to read knows what I mean by that.
It worked. She was doing absolutely amazing, but somewhere in the second semester of her first grade year, when we were homeschooling with a vengeance, playing soccer with the homeschool league, attending small gatherings with other people in our community, and trading days with my next door neighbor so that we each had a day to ourselves, I realized she needed more. She was so anxious to please, and be right that she wouldn’t answer questions without glancing at me, gauging my reactions first. So much of her self-worth was wrapped up in my affirmation.
I needed to let her go.
After some soul searching, we put her in school. A great school. She was accepted into the gifted program, she had friends, she excelled. We had more kids, her teachers loved her, we moved and she started over at a new school. Found more friends, had more siblings. Somewhere between baby number four and baby number five, Lucy found her place. The oldest. The one. The quiet leader of our brood. Her sisters looked up to her with adoration. She was beautiful, with long, rich brown hair and cornflower blue eyes. She was quiet, achieving. And stern. She gave her sisters standards.
And then … the teenaged years hit. We had some rocky times, her reaching and growing moments. She got and got taken away, a cell phone, she moved to the basement, she tried out new words. She was grounded once for a month for speaking to me in a way that was unacceptable. (I really think she thought we wouldn’t see that through. That Dad or I would cave, but no … we stuck it out as hard as it was.) Ever since that time, I’m thinking she was 14? 15? She has done well again. Oh, there are moments of course, but all I ever have to do is remind her that she is not an island, that her decisions to act or react cause ripples through the entire family. She typically shapes up quickly or at the very least takes herself away so that she can regroup.
Now, she’s eighteen, and she’s leaving in about five months. Oh, I know she’ll be back every now and then, but from here on, her visits will be just that … visits. Time spent with us until she needs to leave again to go back to school, or her life … or her family. As I look back, there are things I wish I would have done differently, things I learned from her, things I learned because of her, ways I failed and ways I succeeded. On the whole though, I am absolutely the luckiest mom in the world. If I have taught her anything, it is (I hope!) to stop and think before you speak, words are very powerful, they cannot be unsaid or unsent. To look at things logically, to solve problems instead of wallow in them, to allow yourself about two minutes to freak out about something and then? Move on. Fix it or leave it behind. I hope that she can use these skills to forage herself a path. She has a very clear idea (right now, at least) of what she wants from life, who she wants to be. I hope that she will always come to me and ask. Or come to Dad. Or go to Nina or Grandma, Mimi or Grandpa. I’ve always tried to teach my kids that the smartest people in the world are those that realize they don’t know everything. Those are the people that surround themselves with those people who do have the answers. We ask, we think, we analyze, and then we act.
Lucy, my love, I am prouder of you than words can even express. You are now officially an adult in the eyes of the world. My prayers and love will always surround you and I hope you will never forget to ask questions. To question bullshit. To think logically. To draw your own conclusions. And to read between the lines. Reading is your favorite thing, after all.