Eighteen

Stars shining bright above you-

Night breezes seem to whisper “I love you”-

Birds singing in the sycamore tree

Dream a little Dream of me

Eighteen years ago on a cold Chicago morning, just after midnight, the Princess was born. We gave her one name that was all her own and one she shared with my Grandmother

That evening after everyone went home, Big Daddy and the Princess and I settled into two rocking chairs and in that moment, as we rocked together in silence and contentment, we became a family. The little girl that Big Daddy and I had talked about and dreamed about for what seemed like so long has finally been made real.

The Princess slept in the middle in my arms.  I couldn’t bare to be more than an arm’s length away from her.  Big Daddy and I would hover over her crib and wait for her to wake up.   I remember the miles we rocked in my rocking chair like it was yesterday.  I really do.   There were so many emotions pent up in that time.  Joy and fear and excitement and worry.  I stressed over milestones-rolling and smiling and talking and walking.  I had no idea that days would fly by so quickly.

Welcome to the blue house.

Hello to the small mouse.

Things to do. Fun for you.

In the house of blue.

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Big Daddy and I grew up along with the Princess, in a lot of ways. We were 23 and 24 when she was born and looking back over the years I can see how young we were.  How green we were.  How little we knew.   “Do you want to read this chapter about diapering?” “If I can build a server, I can diaper a baby”.

Of course, the chapter on diapers was the least of it all.   No parenting book can really prepare you.  It’s equal parts big and vast and exciting and huge mixed with tiny, mundane minutiae.

The Princess was the perfect baby.  I never had to child proof and I’m not kidding (but don’t be too jealous because Littlebit and Baby Bee were nothing like their cautious sister).  She would stay where I put her and wouldn’t touch what I told her not to touch. My aunt told me, when the Princess was a toddler, “Don’t have anymore.  You’ll never have another baby this good.”

She was right.

You find a pawprint

That’s the first clue.

You put in your notebook, ’cause they’re whose clues?

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The Princess was nearly two before she began to meaningfully talk.  She was just over one when she began to walk and like Big Daddy she didn’t take a few halting steps she waited until she could walk as far as she wanted and say as much as she wanted.

The Princess and I were isolated a lot when she was younger, both due to economics (we just couldn’t afford a second car) and anxiety (mine).  I made her the circle of my existence in a way her sisters never have been and she still is in a way the sisters won’t be.  The Princess is my ride or die bitch.  I learned to do everything with her and around her because I didn’t have other choices and wouldn’t have chosen differently anyhow.  It was never a problem to take the Princess along (or any of the girls, really).  She just fit into our lives the way she was meant to.  She was the kid that would pass out on a couch someplace if we stayed longer than she could stay awake.

We took her out to dinner and movies and shopping and everyplace because it was taking her vs not going.  We only had to leave someplace with her twice.   Once was our fault. W e were trying to have dinner with friends and had pushed it too late.  Once was her fault when she told Big Daddy that she’d be good at the bookstore if he bought her something.

I remember my Mom saying that babies are as portable as you make them and that’s been one of our mottos.  Our children must fit our family as our family fits our children.  The Princess loves to go and do and explore and see.  She’s happy packing into the car for a road trip and always has been.  She’s content watching the world go by her window.  She likes seeing new places as much as we do.  She’s adventurous like her Dad and a homebody like me.

So many things to do

Each day there’s something new

I’ll share them with you

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When the Princess was small our parenting was an experiment.  I remember watching her with intensity and wondering if I was screwing it all up.  Was I doing too much?  Too little?  Should every moment be filled with enriching activities?  Was it better to let her self entertain?  How much TV was too much?  Strict schedule? Loose schedule?  What if she grew up to be a brat?  A dishrag?  What if I didn’t like her?

WHAT IF SHE DIDN’T LIKE ME????

I don’t know if Big Daddy and I are good parents or if we just ended up with kids that meshed well with how we wanted to parent.  I don’t think I’ll ever know the answer to that.  I do know that I checked out “Parenting with Love and Logic” more than once. I do know that I spanked when the Princess was younger and I’m sorry for it and I decided I wouldn’t do it because I always felt worse than the Princess when it was done.

I learned never to threaten something I wasn’t going to do.

I learned that logical consequences for bad behavior made the best sense.

I learned that kids don’t always sleep through the night, but neither do adults so…

I learned that people can have a killer strong body clock and not care what time anyone went to bed.  They get up at seven, thankyouverymuch. (“Nine o’clock chop chop”, the Princess would sing on the weekends if she thought we over slept).

Dragon tales and the Water is Wide
Pirates sail and lost boys fly
Fish bite moonbeams every night
And I love you

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We asked a lot from the Princess.  We probably asked more of her than we should, sometimes.  We needed her to grow up quickly because of her peanut allergy.  We needed her to be informed and to ask questions and to question adults in ways that little kids normally don’t.

We asked her withstand Big Daddy’s business in 2004-2005.  We asked her to deal with my anxiety when it went off the rails in 2005-2006.  We asked her to manage becoming a Big Sister.  We asked her to face my mom dying with maturity and bravery.  She did.

A few years ago, in the midst of a family squabble that was so, so stupid, I realized the depth of the Princess’s loyalty to the five of us.  Of course, I always kind of knew, but it was one of those moments that made you feel awful and good in the same space.  LIke, when your kids would cry when you would leave them some where.  You’d feel awful that they were upset, but you had to admit that part of you was happy/flattered/relieved that they loved you so much they anticipated missing you or didn’t want to be without you.

Obtuse, rubber goose, green moose, guava juice,
Giant snake, birthday cake, large fries, chocolate shake

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The Princess has moved five times in 18 years.  She’s attended two preschools in two separate states and two kindergartens in two separate states.  First grade  in public school, second and third grade in catholic school (she can’t even say a hail mary at this point), fourth grade back to public school, fifth grade in a whole new state.

It was a LOT.

You always hope that the choices you are making for the best are really for the best, but like a lot of things, you just never know.  I still don’t know if moving to private school for those two years was the best thing.  I probably never will.  I know our decisions for it were solid, but that still doesn’t mean they were right.

The Princess always handles things.  She sucks it up and does it.  She’s so much more brave than I have ever been.  I’m sure she doesn’t feel that way, but it’s true.  She has this ability to put her head down and push forward that I just don’t have and that I wish I did.

While I don’t know if changing schools or moving or siblings or any of the millions of large and small decisions we have made over the course of her life are the absolute right decisions overall, I hope they’ve helped her to grow and learn and become better for them if they were the wrong ones.

Who would of thought that a girl like me
Would double as a superstar

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And now, we’re coming to the end of this chapter of the story.  Really, we’re closing the book to begin a new volume. The Princess is 18 today.  She graduates in less than four months.  All of the minutes and hours and days and weeks that make up her childhood have passed us by.

Every few months a blog post will make the rounds where young mothers get pissy when older mothers tell them to slow down and enjoy their babies because time goes so fast.  Yes, I remember well bottles and spit up and poop on your clothes.  I’ve stepped on leggos, found food smashed in places food should never be and fished sour sippie cups out from under the car seat.  I’ve referred fights.  I’ve watched the same Disney movie more than twice in one day.  I’ve called Big Daddy home from work because I couldn’t stand one more minute.  I yelled when I didn’t mean to.  I was short tempered.  I’ve been sleep deprived, sore, smelly and scared all in the same day.

But the truth is,  eighteen years feels like no time at all as the clock ticks over in the wee small hours and you remember that at that very moment everything about your life changed for the better forever.

And when your baby is tiny and nursing all the time and you’re up to your ears in dirty diapers and burp rags it will seem like eons will have to pass before you’ll have one breath of freedom or one bathroom trip to yourself or one shower on your own time, but I promise you, one day you’ll get a breath of freedom and then two and then three and then before you know it you have hours or days or weeks of it and it didn’t take an eon.

It only took a few years.

You’re better than the best
I’m lucky just to linger in your light
Cooler then the flip side of my pillow, that’s right

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When the Princess was small, every year on her birthday as the clock ticked over to the fifth I would wander into her room and look at her and cry.  I would give myself that time to mourn the year that had just past.  Goodbye one and bottles and diapers and swaddles.  Goodbye two and toddling and those cute little overalls.  Goodbye three and the first year of preschool and the first steps of independence.  Goodbye four and turning the book case into a doll house.  Goodbye five and learning how to ride a bike.

Sometimes parenting feels like a long line of goodbyes to things you aren’t ready to let go of yet, but parents don’t get to decide, really, when things fade away.  The Princess was making her decisions then.  She decided on her first day of Preschool to surge forward to her table and not turn back.  She’s making her decisions now.  We guide.  We help.  We hold her hand until she decides to pull away.  That’s our job.  We run behind the bike until she gains her own balance because even though I’d live every day we’ve ever had together over, I was always supposed to let go of her bike.

But, I can’t help running along behind it.  Just in case.

That’s my daughter in the water
Everything she knows, I taught her
Everything she knows
Everything I say, she takes to heart
Everything she takes, she takes apart
That’s my daughter in the water
Every time she fell, I caught her
Every time she fell

In the lake.

I am thankful for the snow that fell on the night you were born.

I am thankful that you waited long enough for Gran to make it.

I am thankful she was there to see you be born.

I am thankful for the rocking chairs that made us a family.

I am thankful for you sleeping in the middle.

I am thankful for your first smiles, laughs, rolls, creeps, crawls and words.

I am thankful that you loved our apartment so much that you cried when we left it.

I am thankful you got to spend years in the little white house.

I am thankful for our time together before your sisters came along.

I am thankful for Bear and Blue and Dora and Calliou and every princess movie.

I am thankful that you loved school and couldn’t wait to go.

I am thankful that you handled every move and every change with as much courage as you could find.

I am thankful for the years you got with Gran.  No one else got them and I’m so glad she had a chance with you.

I am thankful for your company.

I am thankful that I had you as a beacon when I needed to pull myself together.

I am thankful for words like “driend” and “doohead” and “temperper”

I am thankful for the accidental astronaut you drew in the closet.

I am thankful for the incredible kindness and devotion you showed Kevin, Josie, Zoey, Chloe and Joey.

I am thankful for how responsible and trustworthy you are.

I am thankful that I haven’t had to question your motives or friends and that I can trust you to follow your arrow.

I am thankful that Littlebit and Baby Bee have you to look up to.

I am thankful for the compassion and devotion you show to people who need you.

I am thankful that you give your money to homeless people, even though I know you have it earmarked for something special for yourself.

I am thankful that you are passionate and interested and involved.

I am thankful that you see injustice and want to right wrongs.

One day you’re gonna want to go
I hope we taught you everything you need to know

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In May of 1999 your Dad and I stood in the kitchen in the house I grew up in and watched the test turn pink.  We had an “oh, shit” moment, but neither of us could wait to meet you.  We wondered what you’d be like and who you’d look like.  There has never been a moment that you’ve disappointed us.  You were everything we could have ever dreamed of and more.  You are beautiful, kind, funny, smart, thoughtful, trustworthy, responsible, capable and loyal.  How many parents can say that?

The curtain is closing on this act.  The curtain will rise on the next. It’s your turn to write the scenes, direct the players and choose the soundtrack, but don’t worry.  Your Dad and I will always be in the audience.

We’re your biggest fans.

The house lights are coming up.  Blow us all away.

Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you
Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you
But in your dreams whatever they be
Dream a little dream of me

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