My daughter informed me of something tonight that I’d never really thought about.
She told me that I, and my wife when she was alive, both gave her something very meaningful: an opinion.
Now, that may seem a bit odd or even slightly self-aggrandizing, but it’s not. You see, we never inflicted an opinion on our daughter and I, for one, never forced mine on her unless it was for her own good. It’s pretty interesting to think about, Abbi, even as a 3 or 4-year-old kid, wouldn’t accept that she couldn’t be part of “adult conversation.” Part of that was bad. When her mother, who loved to express opinions about others sometimes (sometimes, not always, she wasn’t a bad person don’t get that opinion) she didn’t want Abbi around to then repeat that opinion.
But what we did do, something that was honestly second nature to us, was let her have one. Well, not just have an opinion, we let her express it . . . and accepted her opinion as worthwhile.
Kids, you see, are smarter than we give them credit. You can tell me I’m wrong all you want, but the reality is you’d be wrong yourself. Abbi grew up to be smart, certain, confident, and willing to stand by her morals, her opinions, her thoughts and her values regardless of the situation. Tonight, she informed me that our raising her to believe that her opinion counted – because it did – helped her to become what she is today.
Is she finished growing? No, she’s not. Will she change later? Yes.
But at her core, the days of my reading aloud to her, using a different voice for every character of the book Drummer Hoff and memorizing How the Grinch Stole Christmas were all big parts of her upbringing. They allowed her to see it was okay to act like someone else or have fun with material in front of you. You can make a fort and say “hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat” with full authority and verve.
When Abbi auditioned for her college drama department she told them how her father would read books with a different voice for each character. She said how she knew the Grinch by heart and could read the Drummer Hoff book by heart before she could read because how we spent so much time on each page. When they said she was a “born actor” she informed them she was born, she just was encouraged and allowed to do what she loved. To me, they’re the same thing, but not everyone encourages that feeling.
Abbi is now all but grown up. I really can’t say I’d be able to do a better job with her today than I did. Most of what I did raising that little girl was instinct, imprinted in my DNA by two wonderful parents of my own.
Still . . . you wonder when you let them go, as I prep for morning when I put her on a plane, alone, to visit her grandparents in Nebraska, whether you’ve done a good job or not. Today, just for a few hours, she informed me herself that we had.
Graduations. That’s right, I said graduations, plural.
My two daughters, one 18, one 13, had graduations on the same day. One was 8th grade, the other was high school. Where the 8th grade seemed to have a ceremony that rivaled some of the weddings I’ve attended, my oldest seemed to get a bit short shrift in the process.
The reason for this is the fact that we couldn’t have people come over to celebrate her graduation before the ceremony because her sister had an 8th grade graduation that was nearly as long as a high school one. A salutatorian; a valedictorian; awards; honors; the longest of the process was the fact there was a full Catholic mass before it all. I had relatives inform me their college graduations weren’t as elaborate.
But no . . . as Hannah, my 13-year-old’s graduation ended, we had to race to the house. My late wife’s mother, who is quite ill, wanted desperately to attend both graduations. Unfortunately, her health and condition are so frail that one was all we knew we could muster for her, and since her daughter now cares for her, it was likely all she could muster, too. I sent them to the house prior to the ceremony ending so that Abbi, my 18-year-old, could get pictures in her robe and hat with her grandma.
These are the decisions, steps, and consequences you have to face in these situations.
I had to tell my middle daughter, as well as the parents around me, that while I was very proud of Hannah and the fact she’d accomplished moving to high school . . . it really was just her 8th grade graduation. That wasn’t easy for some to hear, including Hannah.
But I look at what her sister endured as well. I moved Abbi to another school 2 years into high school. New school, new friends, new classes, new way of doing things, and a co-ed environment for the first time in her hormonal teenage years. Not just a move to a new school, either, but a huge new school. Hard as it was, she managed to get through without killing anyone or me. That seemed a major accomplishment to me.
So you prep…I got stuff for sandwiches. I got beer, wine, pop, and a nice cake. All of it . . . in the hopes that the day wasn’t too insane. The reality was, if I hadn’t prepared for it all we’d have had a house full of people and no food or place for them to sit. In the end, though, it was in the low 90s for temperature. I had to sit with Hannah and her brother in the heat. Apparently parents, in an effort to get seats, started camping at the gate to the stadium in the morning before they opened. We couldn’t have done that, we had an 8th grade graduation to attend. In the end, I had 3 open seats. Hannah, Sam (one of the 10-year-old twins) and I sat and I had to send Abbi’s grandparents and Noah (the other twin) home. There was no place for them to sit.
Here’s where I look at the next steps. Abbi is really one of the most amazing young women I know – and it’s not simply because she’s my daughter. At her graduation everybody seemed to get a speech. Some were decent. One was fantastic. Most the speeches by the graduating kids, though, went along the lines of “remember that time, when we were at the volleyball game and (insert name here) told everyone he was (insert crazy antic here)?!” I wanted to get up and shout “NO! Because 99% of us either didn’t go to the volleyball game or hang out with 18-year-olds!”
See, my daughter’s already looking to college. She’s a little sad because she’s leaving home, and in the last two years we’ve become an even stronger family. Doesn’t matter that the family is one short of what it was two years ago. Maybe it’s because she wasn’t part of the 4-year-transition into adulthood many of them were. Maybe it’s because she’s not from California. Or maybe, just maybe, she’s seeing this for what it is: not a reason to look back with sadness but forward with anticipation.
So many wanted to re-live events that only a handful of people experienced anyway. But the ones who look to what’s coming; the ones who want to learn about things, not just memorize them or read them are the ones who are soaring to the front of the line. Abbi’s already thinking about the next step.
And to get there, we have all that stuff to deal with, too. No, I’m not as sad as some think I should be. Part of that is because Abbi’s here for a couple more months. Part of that, too, is that there’s still so much to do. We have to have towels, mirror, sheets, pillows, laundry baskets, books, computer, and such. She’s already looked at and filled out the housing information for her school. We’ve looked at whether she’ll need a car.
This weekend I also looked at the holidays she’ll be able to come home.
You have to understand, graduation was more than looking at what happened and shouting, screaming, and wailing “oh, it’s all gone!” I feel like we’re doing too much of that too early, anyway. Hannah’s getting the message that 8th grade – which to a person in my family and sphere of influence none of the people around me even remember 8th grade or if they got a graduation – is the same caliber of transition as high school to college. It’s not. Hannah is still the hormonal, grumpy, tomboyish 13-year-old that she’ll be in two months. I have to set her up for high school, too, but this isn’t the next major step for her.
Hannah has me here to help her and to catch her when she falls. For her older sister, though, it’s different. Abbi’s literally 1 year younger than I was when I met my wife. That both excites and scares me. I met and married too young, I think, even though I was happy for the most part.
Hannah gets her father’s arms to hold and catch her, immediately, when things go wrong for the next four years. She may not want them, but they’ll be here anyway. Just because she will. Abbi will always have me . . . but she’ll be living on her own, more or less, from August onward, and that’s a major transition.
The bright side is, having seen what’s happened and how she’s dealt with these last two years . . . she’s ready for the next step. That eases the blow of watching her grow up so quickly.
I only vaguely remember my high school graduation. Not that it wasn’t eventful or fun or filled with family. It was all those things. But it was now so long ago that I barely remember much about it. Sure, I know who the valedictorian and salutatorian for our class were. Couldn’t really tell you what either of them said for speeches – not that their speeches weren’t memorable, I’m sure they were. I just know that since it’s been twenty-five years now the data banks in my head have purged that information long ago in the hopes of making room for more personal information.
The one thing I hadn’t remembered, either, was how much has to be done in order to get to graduation. I thank the heavens above that my graduation was on a Sunday – usually Mother’s Day. Family can attend that way. The day is centered around it, sure, and my Mom didn’t get a Mother’s Day, but still…it was a weekend. My two daughters, on the other hand, graduate on a Friday. This Friday. Add to that the fact that Hannah’s middle school graduation is at three in the afternoon and I am burning vacation days I need for summer and for taking my high-school graduate, Abbi to college in August.
But the necessities: there’s a cake. There’s food for the guests. There’s fire wood for the outside fire pit in case a lot of people show up or just want to go outside. There’s pop…there’s beer and wine…there’s food. Fruit plates and sandwich trays . . . all of that have to be completed.
That’s just for the day of.
Then there’s the whole cleaning the house thing. That would be a much easier accomplishment if the four people in said house actually helped to clean up the house. Instead what I found when I got home was a pile of clothes on my bed – the same bed I’m trying to strip and clean so my parents can sleep there. I still cannot get into Hannah’s (my 13-year-old) room due to the crap she’s scattered everywhere. That I need to do tomorrow so I can put the bunk bed back on the top of her bed set so Abbi has a place to sleep.
Then there’s the cleaning.
My threat to Hannah, my middle, has been that if she couldn’t clean up her bathroom and I mean really clean it, I’m cutting off her hair. Instead, I spent more than a half hour just cleaning the toilet. That’s right. The toilet.
Now, I get the fact that her two brothers share the bathroom with her. I also get that little boys aren’t always the best at aiming for the bowl when they should.
But the boys don’t have certain other bodily fluids that seem to coat the underside of the toilet lid, either. (That’s right, I went there. I could have been far more graphic, so deal with it!) I also found her hair . . . tons and tons of it . . . on the floor, pasted to the toilet, in the tub, clogging the drain, and just everywhere. She cleaned off her hair brush and threw the hairball on the floor next to the tub. (Why she would do that instead of near the mirror in the other room is beyond me.) I found panty liner wrappers on the floor . . . 6 inches away from the waste basket.
So I cleaned, for an hour, the bathroom there because it was late and I needed it clean for my parents coming in. I came downstairs and there are pans from dinner . . . everywhere. Never mind that the dishwasher was already dirty. Abbi used a cooler for some pot luck in her school and left it . . . open and drying . . . on the kitchen table.
So yeah . . . I’m burned out, exhausted, living on caffeine, and just plain aggravated at the four knuckleheads that live in my home.
Then I look at the next few months: bed sheets, towels, mirror, books, computer, clothes, laundry basket, dorm costs, food costs . . . and the overwhelming sensation takes over again.
So I look to my two and say “get graduating already,” and realize that the work’s far from over even after that.
Then I go back upstairs and get out the vacuum, because I’m not even at Friday yet . . . and I still can’t get the sheets off my bed.
I hate that I used that title, it’s my least-favorite Beatles song, but it’s apt. So be it.
But the reality is it’s true, Life Goes on, folks.
I bring this up mainly because of a conversation I’ve had on more than one occasion with more than one person about the next couple weeks in my life. The big event? Graduation(s). Yes…the parenthetical “s” is a plural. On the same day, in stellar pre-planning by my daughter’s middle school, both my 13-year-old and my 18-year-old graduate their respective schools in the coming couple weeks. As a matter of fact, our church had a baccalaureate mass for the high school graduates today.
But the question that comes very often is whether I’m taking it really hard that Abbi, my oldest, is leaving by August to go to school in another state. It’s not an uncommon question nor is it an inappropriate one. If you’d asked me three years ago about my oldest leaving I’d probably have taken it very hard.
But today, two years after a major loss in our family, I don’t see it as a loss. I know that seems strange, like I don’t see myself becoming a parent with the nest starting to empty. The reality is, though, I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s not a loss, it just isn’t. I see this – on both fronts, from Hannah and Abbi – as a success story. It’s a success of the highest nature, as a matter of fact.
Let’s start with Hannah. Last year she barely passed the 7th grade. This year . . . she was failing one of her classes. She was still dealing with changing responsibilities and surging hormones then the fact that she was being treated by a number of people as an adult because she’s so tall. I remind myself, quite often, that she’s still a kid, just 13. Even though she is 5 feet 8 inches tall. But now she’s reaching the point of graduation and she’s passing – with room to spare! That’s a success. Yes, she could easily have been re-taking the 8th grade the way the year started. Sure, she’s uncertain and moving to a new school, but that’s life. We move, change, all that happens during our lifetime.
Abbi . . . a totally different kind of change. Two years ago, Abbi was on a path set by her mother. She was going to go into a medical field. She was going to make money, consequences and emotions be damned, because that’s the measure of success her mother instilled in her. Not to criticize her mother completely, but that was the mentality her mother had. Happiness can come from other fronts, you need to work at something that has high return, no wait. Abbi, however, has always been my most dramatic, most vocal, most fun and quirky of the kids. We all have our own little thoughts and quirks. She’s young, elastic, and can bounce back if things don’t work out. Moving her out of her private school (mostly because we couldn’t afford it) was a big cause of pushing her to make her own decisions. She’s doing something artistic and creative, which her mother loved, but wouldn’t have wanted because it didn’t pay well.
But we always think things through, and much like my parents with me, there’s a philosophy that you should do what makes you happy. Success is measured in your own terms, not monetary, not societal, none of that. Without happiness, the money is a drain, not a draw.
So no . . . I don’t feel saddened or depressed. I’m happy and feel that the coming date is a measure of our success over the last couple years. The intervening years to come will see love, success, possibly marriage and maybe children for my kids. Through all of those they’ll have me there for whatever they need.