Today, my first baby turns 17.
It seems impossible; everyone says that.
When my kids were little and older moms would tell me, with tears shining in their eyes, to, “Enjoy every second, because it goes by so fast!” I wanted to reach over and grab them by the neck and shake them!
Afternoons seemed an eternity some days. How could anyone possibly enjoy every second of temper tantrums, diaper blow outs, baby puke matted in your long hair at the end of the day, red pop barfed all over the inside of the mini-van, toys ankle deep through three rooms of the house, pennies swallowed, one shoe eaten by the mysterious shoe monster five seconds before you had to be out the door, all night cry fests (the kids and mine!) and day, after day, after day, after day, of peanut butter sandwiches because they are, evidently, the food of the gods… at least to little people. I wanted to scream at them, “How ’bout you come clean my house, cook a meal and wrangle the kid who’s driving me crazy so I CAN enjoy a minute with the one who’s not!!”
I understand now.
I didn’t want to go to the hospital the night that Hannah was born, because I’d gone two night previously and they’d sent me home. That was embarrassing. I was sure they’d do it again. Tony practically shoved my contracting self into the car at four in the morning. So began the long journey of parenthood, nine days before my 22nd birthday.
My Dad said it was “smart” of us to have a girl first, that it would pay off in the long run. He was right, as usual.
Hannah was born with a full head of black hair that stuck out in every direction. She spent about twelve straight years in pig tails and braids. Being the adventure chick that she is, she sometimes delivered them to me at the end of a day caked in pine sap and leaf fragments. Last night, over her birthday pavlova, she melted the end of one in a candle not quite blown out.
She read early, and has had a book within arm’s length at all times since she turned three.
She wrote early, and has chronicled her life every night at bed time since she could form letters reasonably.
She is a girlie girl in some ways: she likes dresses, and fairies and she bakes beautifully.
But that’s not in conflict with her fiery desire to beat the boys at every game. If blood is likely, so much the better. She is the best sword fighter in her friend set. She climbs every tree within reach. She takes great pride in being able to grab her twin cousin by the ear the leg and turn him on his head, even though he’s got several inches of height on her. She’s a girl not to be out done. She’s a conqueror.
She is music.
I say she is music instead of she likes music because without music I think she might dry up like a leaf and cease to exist. Right now she is sitting beside me in the front of the van, earphones in (because she’s sensitive to my headache) bopping away, tapping her fingers along to the beat. When there is no organized music, she hears the world singing to her, and she points it out to the rest of us… “Listen, Mom,” she whispered one evening as we were walking through Wellington, “The city is singing to us, do you hear it?” Sure enough… the stiletto beat of shoes on sidewalks, over-layed with bird song, the growl of engines, the hum of fans, the snatches of vocalization. She hears what other do not. She plays music, but only because it is in her and must leak out somewhere, and so it leaks out through her fingers and her bow and her voice. She is music.
Hard workers are valued in our family. Everyone works and we begin as babies. Hannah works cheerfully. She always has. She was quite sure, when she was two, that laundry swapping was an impossibility without her direct assistance. She quite lost her cool if someone else was caught carrying a bathroom trash can when she was three. When she was about six, she shut off my vacuum to ask, in complete seriousness, how I had ever been able to care for Daddy by myself, without her here to help me work! She asks me, every day, how she can help. If I don’t have an answer, she creates her own. When I am gone for a few days or a few weeks, she’s completely capable of running the entire house and entire family. Once and a while she burns dinner, the boys crow over that, but she never burns the baking!
She is free.
Hannah is free, in her heart and her mind in ways that very few people of any age are. She’s applied herself diligently to every task before her, from her school work, to her music, to character development, and as a result she knows herself to be creative, capable and strong. She could pack her backpack and walk away from us today and I have complete confidence that she would do great things with her life. She understands how to dream, how to work, how to live creatively and with purpose, how to not give a rats-posterior about peer pressure, and how to cultivate happiness for herself.
She is a dare devil, and an artist, and liver of life with wild abandon. She eats live termites, deep friend chicken heads and snake head soup. She leaps off of cliffs, and climbs to the top of impossibly high trees to see the world from the top. She paints, and draws, and writes about worlds, real and imagined.
She is a lover: of her brothers and a kaleidoscope of friends and family around the world. Her best friends are sprinkled across three continents and it doesn’t matter a bit. This morning the first report I got from her was what her soul-buddy Will gave her for her birthday: a surprise he’s still working on, and the movie “Groundhog Day” as a digital download. Apparently there’s an inside joke there. She’s even a lover of her parents, which not every 17 year old is. She not only says the words, she knows full well how to put boots to them, even on the hard days.
Some people say that she is “just like me,” but she’s not really. We have some things in common: we think alike, we’re both fierce fighters, we share a love of the classics, we both must write to breathe, but she is, without question, her own person, and not at all like me. She’s exactly like herself.
Today, she turns seventeen.
We sang to her this morning. She is decked out in new, elfie clothing that we secretly bought for her at a farmer’s market, the lovely silver ear cuff her aunt made for her and mailed from far away, and proudly wearing the earrings and necklace set that her youngest brothers chose for her: paua shell, of course. She’s chatting with her Dad as we roll down the road, listening to her tunes, flipping through an Australian cooking magazine. I’m sitting with my daughter, but I’m also sitting with my friend. Funny how that happens.
Which reminds me… I need to enjoy every second… because it goes by fast!
And one to grow on…