Parenting is not for the faint of heart. Babies don’t arrive with a user manual. Everything you do as a parent requires on-the-job training. Those blessed with wonderful role models to follow will find themselves speaking words they didn’t like hearing when they were children. Those who didn’t have great role models live in fear of becoming their parents. As a parent on the mature end of the spectrum, I realize Each significant stage in her life accelerated her more.
Events I felt unprepared for kept me humble and alert.
As soon as she could crawl, she headed off to stick a wet finger in an electrical socket. As soon as she could walk, she took off and dared us to catch her. Then there came roller skating on four wheels. When she finally mastered her two-wheeler, she demanded the training wheels come off. Faster and faster. Once, she tried to outrace me on her two-wheeler and screamed in shock when I caught her. Back then, I could keep pace with her.
When my 1-year-old daughter Jessica reached that greet-the-world stage, she enjoyed a trip to the grocery where she could shout “HI” to everyone we passed. Through the aisles, we traveled while kind strangers returned her greeting. I could tell from their reactions that these mothers and grandmothers had been through this before. Jessica was my only child, so it was new territory for me. I gave her a bottle, and she drank for a while. In the aisle with the paper goods, I stopped to find paper towels.
Jessica sat up in the cart and shouted “Hi” to the back of a gray-haired man.
The man did not respond. Jessica repeated it louder. As I tossed the paper towels into the cart, the man turned around.
He had a high collar with a microphone device hanging around his neck. He raised the device to his throat near his tracheotomy tube, then a deep vibrating robotic voice said, “Hello, little girl.”
Jessica’s eyes widened, and she held out her bottle.
“Any little girl who would give her bottle to a stranger can’t be all bad,” he rasped in his mechanical voice.
She stared and blinked.
The dear gentleman smiled and said, “Bye-bye.”
He had walked to the far end of the aisle when Jessica rose in the cart, grabbed her throat and growled, “BYE-BYE.”
The man turned, laughing silently then disappeared around the end of the aisle.
In another incident, my daughter, then six, pointed to the tattooed forearm of the giant man in front of us in line at McDonald’s, addressing him in her usual loud voice.
“Does your mom know you draw on your arm?”
His leather clothing squeaked as he turned and looked down.
I held my breath.
He answered in a gravelly voice, “Yeah. And she was really mad.”
Then there came roller skating on four wheels. When she finally mastered her two-wheeler, she demanded the training wheels come off. Faster and faster. Once, she tried to outrace me on her two-wheeler and screamed in shock when I caught her. Back then, I could.
Then in-line skating. She learned how to ski on water and snow, faster and faster leaving me behind.
Then there was the hockey game. My husband was supposed to go. Our daughter, at age nine, was excited about going to a grown-up match with him. An hour before the game, he called to tell me he’d been summoned to the emergency room to treat a dear friend of ours. I was the stand-in, the second choice, but she agreed to go. Having never been to a hockey game before, we were enjoying the game with confused interest as the padded men skated from one side of the rink to the other. They often slammed one another against the high Plexi-glass walls in their fight for the puck. It was a lively crowd.
The couple behind us appeared to be season ticket holders who enjoyed their beer. They wore the team colors from head to toe. They shouted advice to the players. Then my daughter started asking questions I couldn’t answer, so I suggested she watch and listen.
Later, she elbowed me. “Hey, mom. I know what they call that guy at the net.”
“He’s the pucker,” she shouted.
Beer sprayed on my back and neck. “Um, I don’t think so.”
“He is too. That man at the end of our row called him that.”
So long ago she was my little girl. Then life sped in fast-forward mode until she was driving my 4Runner on suddenly narrow streets. She skidded up to her first stop sign.
“Let’s try it slower next time.”
Punctuated with eye-rolling, she said, “Yeah, okay.”
At 15, my daughter was driving for the first time with her learner’s permit. No longer on the vacant roads of new housing developments, we were on the real streets with real traffic. I was calm. We had wonderful auto insurance. Memories raced by, leaving me in awe of the changes in my little girl. We were on the way to pick up her friend to spend the night. She searched for a different radio station while she strayed over the yellow line. We were alone on the road, but I needed to alert her.
“Look up at the road.”
She did and swerved back into the right lane. “Whoops.”
“If another car had been coming, you would have known it by the loud crunching sound of metal on metal.”
A dramatic sigh blew from her clenched teeth. “You’re making me nervous.”
“You’re scaring me. Is this your best driving?”
“Show me your best.”
“Can’t I listen to the radio?”
“Nooooooowa,” I mocked.
New speeds. New dangers. I was imagining her accelerating out of my sight when we reached her friend’s house. My baby was in high school, and too soon, she’d go off to college.
She turned off the car and handed me the keys.
“Do you want to drive home and show your friend how well you’re doing?”
“Sure. Just keep doing your best.”
“Thanks, mom.” She kissed me on the cheek and hopped out of the car. It was the first spontaneous act of kindness from her in weeks. I nearly cried.
Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart; that’s for sure. I could only hope my car and my heart would hold up for the next few years. That night I could hardly hear the roar of the engine over the pounding of my heart. Parenting is the most challenging job in the world because you have to teach your beloved child how to live without you.
Cherish the ride. Eventually you might get to watch when it’s your child’s turn to be a parent. It’s worth the wait.