Wise. Honest. Compassionate.
The assignment I have been dreading and anticipating for 17 years has arrived. It is time to help my first-born get ready to leave home. To begin the college exploration process, the high school guidance counselor helpfully sent home a precise and systematic worksheet to distill the overwhelming and very emotional task into one page: Choose 3 adjectives to describe your child.
Just three? My daughter is the most amazing creature ever. I cannot narrow her down into three adjectives. She is beautiful, funny, creative, ambitious, curious, elegant, honest, meticulous, compassionate, disciplined, hard-working, eager-to-achieve, eager-to-please, smarter than smart, the life of the party, athletic, graceful, strong, willful, compliant, adaptive, loving, stylish, curious, culturally in-the-know, fast, careful, controlled, trusting, a rule-follower, capable, independent, determined, generous, mature, friendly, modest, empathetic, vibrant, serious, silly, spirited, grounded, loyal, wise. An artist. A teacher. A leader. Just three?
What stories will make her stand out to the college admissions committees?
Should I tell them about the day I took off from work to take her for her driving road test? She was excited about making the leap into driving. I was less so, but excited on her behalf. I mainly wanted it to be over to get to our mother-daughter day. Lunch and Christmas shopping. She failed the test, perhaps the first test she has ever failed. Crying…she sat in the passenger seat and I took back the driver’s seat cursing at the situation, in pain at her pain. There was no way this was going to be a good day. Shopping would not be girly. Lunch would not be delicious. Giving up, we transitioned into running errands. Running to the bank that afternoon, I left her in the car texting. When I returned, she looked at me with tears steaming down her face. A gunman has massacred 26 people, most of them children. The raw emotion of shock, fear, disbelief, exhaustion was up front and center. I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t let myself feel it. My deepest, most unspeakable fear – to lose a child. These poor people. I am too controlling and distant from my emotions. She is my guide to how to feel.
Should I tell them about her participation in the peer mentoring program at school? How the kids adore her because she looks them in the eye and treats them like one of the regular kids, like a friend? The regular kids didn’t know what to say or how to behave. One day, she was taking the bus home and she sat down next to one of the girls she mentors. The girl was so pleased she gave Kiera a kiss and confided that she considers my daughter a friend. And my daughter IS a friend to her. There is no status stratification in her mind. Anyone who is genuine, nice, and funny can be my daughter’s friend. When the kids she babysits want to sit and talk instead of go to bed so she can get her homework done, she sits and talks. I was not that kind of babysitter. I wanted those kids to go to bed so I could get my homework done. No wonder she is asked back to babysit. I was not asked back. She is my guide to how to be a friend.
Should I tell them I am so glad she doesn’t have a boyfriend yet? Unlike me at her age, she is not trying to find validation of her worth by the number of boys who like her. She has a range of friendships from different aspects of her life. Smart, funny, loyal friends. Beautiful girls in all shapes and sizes, with all different personalities and temperaments, all contributing to the social support that embraces my daughter and keeps her grounded, more grounded than I was, more grounded than I am. She is my guide to how to be a confident girl, a confident woman.
Should I tell them about her brilliant business idea? Not only is she academically gifted, but she is culturally astute. Not only does she have my husband’s math and science brain, but she is creative, stylish, and savvy. Too bad she is a rule-follower spending all her time getting A’s. She doesn’t have time to execute her business idea(s). How do I tell her that A’s don’t make you happy, that A’s don’t guarantee success in life or money in the bank? How do I encourage her to break the rules and take some risks when I am her role-model, a model of over-achieving obedience? Be brave, beautiful girl, follow your path. No one is more capable than you.
Should I tell them that she took on a job as greeter and administrator at our yoga studio to make money to pay for her school trip to Spain? So determined she was to finance some of the trip to take the burden off of us and to show solidarity with her friends who are less affluent. And now, she has insinuated herself into the life of the yoga studio. The teachers count on her to get the computer system straight. The students see her smiling, gracious demeanor and share how they are doing with her. And when they see me, they tell me what I already know…”Your daughter is just wonderful.”
Should I tell them about all the reality tv that she watches and how I don’t understand this? I hate tv. Well, I did like our evenings watching What Not to Wear and Project Runway. And I do think she could be the lead critic on Fashion Police. And she has converted me to a diehard Ellen fan. I suppose it is comparable to my hours reading novels as a girl – a window into other people and how they live. She is different than me – as it should be.
Should I tell them about what a great tennis player she is but that she hates competing? How my husband’s passion for tennis meant she has been playing tennis since she was 5. Tennis is in her body but she has stage fright in a tournament. She sprained her ankle playing a tournament and was sidelined for 6 months. Coincidence? Or is that how she communicates that she is done with tournaments. Or needs to re-approach tennis in a way that works for her. Time to build her own life and not live her parents’ dreams.
Should I tell them that when I found out I was pregnant with a girl, 17 ½ years ago, I prayed to raise a girl who was happy and confident – comfortable in her own skin. That would mean raising a girl who listened to her body, respected her body, admired her body, trusted her body, her Self. I prayed that I would love her the best that I am able. I prayed that I would enjoy every minute I had with her. When I found out I was pregnant, I couldn’t stand the thought of her leaving home 18 years later. Here it is. The Moment. It is her time. Heart in my throat, how can I hold her close while giving her the freedom to be a grown-up, at home – practicing before she has to do it for real? How best to love and support her through this thrilling transition? Somehow, we will find a college that is right for her. She will be ready. I will try to be ready. To let her go. To dream her dreams and live her life. She is Wise. Honest. Compassionate. Born with a soul older than mine. She is my guide to how to live.