My older daughter is away at college, so for the first time in her life, my younger daughter has me and her father to herself.
Well, only sort of the first time in her life.
When Sammi was born, a series of strange goings-on in her chest (trachea, voice box, lungs, esophagus) found her alone with us a lot — in hospitals, doctors’ offices, therapy practices, and in the car en route to and from all of these places. There was a lot of buckling her backwards into her car seat, for YEARS, tiny as she was, and driving her to this medical appointment and that one. We listened to a lot of Lori Berkner music when she was tiny, then recordings of Helen Lester’s book ME FIRST and Dr. Seuss’s THE LORAX and several other books that I could have recited for you at the time but now are just blips of memory, the oatmeal-colored cassette tapes rattling around in the tape deck of our manual-transmission Honda Accord.
We sat in all those appointments with a diaper bag — and then a tote bag — of coloring books and picture books and small toys, playing “I Spy” and running our index fingers over crowded pages in search of Waldo. We talked with her, distractedly, one of us sometimes jotting down notes and reminders of what we wanted to ask the doctor or what instructions we needed to get from the nurse. We were with her — we were ALWAYS with her — but sometimes I look back on those years and think that we were with her body but not really with HER.
During the third year of Sammi’s medical drama, I mentioned to a good friend that I was making an effort to spend some one-on-one time with Sammi’s big sister, Ronni. She was seven, and I was worried that she would think we weren’t concerned with what she needed because we were so focused on Sammi’s medical needs. I told my friend I was thinking of taking Ronni for her first manicure, just the two of us.
“Do you ever do anything alone with Sammi?” my friend asked me.
I rolled my eyes. “All the time,” I said. “We’re constantly alone with her in all these appointments.”
“But,” my friend asked, “what about NOT at a doctor’s appointment?”
I shrugged. “Not really,” I admitted. “But I don’t think she cares.”
It turned out, many years later, that the person suffering from not having carefree, social time with Sammi was not Sammi but me. My whole relationship with her had become medical drama and food and fear and stress. Sure, we had a lot of time together, but none of it was quality. All of it was steeped in anxiety. By the time she was well, I barely knew her despite all the time we’d spent together. It took a long time to lighten my anxiety about her health before I could see through it to the bright little soul beneath.
And now, in the second month of having her all to ourselves here, I can say without question that this is quality time.
At fifteen years old, she is self-sufficient to a large degree, able to get her own food and get herself logged into online school and make her own plans with friends and look up from her phone every so often to ask if I need help making dinner. She can make grilled cheese and pancakes and pasta. She can do laundry, wash dishes, and do her own research to find out how to participate in voter outreach if she wants.
Best of all, she’s one of the finest conversationists I’ve ever met. She’s hilariously funny, insightful, and introspective. She has depth. And after all the years of medical torture and misdiagnosis and trauma, she’s not bitter; she has an empathy far beyond her years. I love living with her. I had no idea it would be this easy and this much fun.
I’ve often joked that when I see my husband across a room at a party, I always have a jolt of pride and surprise; that cute boy is MY HUSBAND! The best part about having older children is realizing the same thing is true about them; my older daughter has long captivated me in crowded spaces, seeing her across an auditorium or in our synagogue’s sanctuary and making me think wow, that exquisite creature came from me! And now, the sight that makes me smile the most often in the midst of this strange and sobering year is Sammi, coming down the stairs in the morning or coming up from her basement “school” room or walking up the porch stairs after a walk with her friends: that sweet young woman is my DAUGHTER! and she lives HERE! and we’ll be hanging out together tonight!
How lucky am I!!?
Of course she makes me smile. We put the time into it.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post with the prompt and question: “What are you smiling at?” hosted by Mardra Sikora. We can all use a smile, so jump in and share. Let’s smile together.