The Child

January 11, 2010

K mentions almost daily how sad she will be to see our elder daughter move to San Antonio. She won’t have any friends or family there to lean on. I haven’t given it a second thought, until K mentioned that our younger daughter, who is 21, will be alone at home during those times when K and I go out of town. Then I started to feel sad. My poor H.

I have never tried to be a fair parent. S gets certain privileges because she is the older than her sister, and H gets certain privileges because she’s the sweet, adorable, cutie-pie baby of the family.

As S and I were discussing her wedding and the reception, I gave her dozens of tips on how we could pull off a respectably nice wedding on next to no money.

“It doesn’t have to be a big princess wedding,” I told her. “We can save that for H.”

Being a parent never appealed to me. In fact, I hoped more than anything that I was sterile. No such luck. After we were married, K and I practiced birth control for one year then decided to fire live rounds. She was 32. She wanted 4 children. Time and her age were against us. We figured it might take a year for her to get pregnant. We were wrong. The first time without birth control was a charm.

We learned that K was pregnant while we were visiting my mother in California. We were at an amusement park just outside of San Jose. K was a little worried. She was a day or two late for her period. Her boobs were swelling. Her form-fitting shirt, which fit perfectly days before, would barely close. The buttons were sweating under the strain of keeping too little fabric over too much body.

“I think K is pregnant,” I told my mother.

“Well, you knew what you could have done about it,” my mother said.

Our visit ended and we left San Jose for Utah. By the time we reached Reno, K had the passenger seat fully reclined in an attempt to suppress the nausea. Every one hundred miles or so I would ask her if she felt any better. She finally said yes nine months later at 5 in the morning in the delivery room.

We didn’t have the luxury of a sonogram or the psychic abilities of a wise old gypsy, so the gender of the baby was a complete surprise. Besides me and K and the baby, there was a team of doctors and nurses in the room on stand-by because of some evidence the baby might encounter some complications. We had all of those experts in the room, but I, of course, was the first to speak when the baby finally came into full view. “It’s a boy!” I shouted.

Thus began my stint of being wrong about my daughter on so many more occasions.

Once the experts determined that she was completely fine, they sped her off to the nursery for a battery of tests—normal stuff for a newborn. I followed. A nurse was filling out a card scoring her on reflex, coloring, etc. She wrote down a “9” next to one of the categories.

“How many possible?” I asked.

“10,” she said.

Well, we’ll have to improve on that, I thought.

Dance lessons, swim team, piano lessons, academics—throughout the years I thought the same thing: we’ll have to improve on that.

From the minute my daughter was born, I had only one wish for her: that she put herself through medical school working as a runway model.

We enrolled her in her first dance class when she was 4. She hung on the ballet bars the whole time, her feet rarely touching the ground. Forty feet away the other girls and the instructor leapt and twirled in unison.  My daughter never once joined them. After 8 years in piano lessons, I watched proudly as she played her recital piece in front of a large audience.  My guess is she was 13 or 14 years old. At that same recital I later watched in horror as a 7 year old boy sat at the piano and played that same piece. He had been taking lessons for a year. My daughter continued piano lessons for 2 or 3 more years. She continued to play that piece each subsequent recital.

The swim team was no different. Year after year I went to her meets. It was always the same. While the other swimmers took their mark on the block, my daughter took the opportunity to dance and shake her hips, turning two or three times on the block while waving her arms. Eventually, she would crouch down like the other swimmers. Instead of looking at the water, she would look at the other swimmers. She, and the rest of us, would then watch the other swimmers dive into the pool. Eventually, she would follow. Her proudest moment and greatest triumph was a first place ribbon in a free-style race. The little down-syndrome girl who was competing against my daughter came in second.

I remember once picking her up from elementary school. I came at the tail end of a volleyball match among the 5th graders and got to see her play. She looked really nervous and jittery. She kept clapping her hands and saying, “C’mon, we can do this! We can do this!” When the ball was served, she took every opportunity to run where the ball wasn’t. If the opposing team hit it to the right, she ran to the left and vice versa. 

I never gave up hope. After much pleading, I finally gave into my daughters and bought them a trampoline. Month after month, year after year, I indulged her: “Watch me, dad, watch me!” She performed the same trick every time. She would get a tiny bit of elevation in a standing position, drop to a sitting position, then land in a standing position, and finish off the trick by pulling a wedgie.

In the classroom, S was, let’s say, casual about learning.  Her best subject was Friends, her favorite grade was “B”. I tried everything I could to make her smart. I read to her every day until she was 12. I played educational games with her. I even hired a math tutor. I was involved in PTA, attended every parent-teacher conference and chaperoned on field trips. She just wasn’t interested. In fact, when she was about 16 she said, “Do you know why I hate to read? Because you read to us ALLL the time.” Still, I never gave up.

When S was a senior in high school, she called me at work with some exciting news. “Dad, I made the honor roll! Can you believe it?” No, I couldn’t. Finally. Somehow I had gotten through, so I thought. She then explained: “You know, I decided that I didn’t care anymore. I was sick of trying. I figured, school, who needs it. And now I’m on the honor roll. I can’t believe it!” My daughter, the genius.

Instead of an Einstein or an Olympian, I got a daughter who is funny. She’s witty and quick with the comebacks.

When she was 3, I fondly remember the time she came at me with an ax that she had found in her grandfather’s garage. I was videotaping my kids for the first time and had the camera pointed at my younger daughter. Behind my back, S was planning a sneak attack. I turned just in time to move out of the way. I caught the whole thing on tape—maniacal laughter and all. Another time, when S was 7, I was driving the family to who knows where when S reached from behind and covered my eyes. I was doing 50 mph. She was laughing pretty hard, which got me laughing. I was having so much fun it didn’t occur to me to ask S to remove her hands. K didn’t feel the same. Instead of laughing, K felt more like freaking out and lecturing.  Right around that same time, S left me a voicemail at work. She said, “Hi, Dad, how are you …(long pause)…Nothing much…(short pause)…school was good, are you having fun at work……Mom?…..yeah, she’s here… you want to talk to her?” The next voice I hear is my wife: “Hello?” Then, in the background, I hear peals of laughter coming from S.

I remember her doing or saying something funny almost daily. She is clever and quick, her stories humorous and graceful. Her quips were priceless; I didn’t think I could ever forget them. Boy, was I wrong.

All I’m left with are general impressions. One thing I do remember was her incredible ability to impersonate voices. From a very early age she could imitate voices with uncanny accuracy. I thought she was brilliant, and I wanted our friends and extended family members to think so too. Every chance I got I put her on display. Eventually she refused to perform saying, “I’m not your circus monkey.”

When she was really little, her favorite toy was string. From about age 2 to 5, she tied knots around the handle above the window in the back seat of the car. She often made these elaborate webs in her bedroom that stretched from the doorknob to the dresser to the bed frame to the closet to the doorknob to the rocking chair to the bed frame ad infinitum. She outgrew string and embraced bags as her new favorite toy. Not collector bags. Any bags, as long as they came from a grocery or department store. Bags of bags. They were all precious to her, even the ones from Albertsons.

Among her grandparents, she is best known for using big words from an early age. I wasn’t all that impressed with her vocabulary because whatever big words she was saying, she wasn’t saying them in French, which I had hoped would be her native language. Nevertheless, I do remember one occasion where S wanted to come into our room and sleep with us. She was 2 years old. Our door was closed, which meant we needed some privacy. We told her that it wasn’t a good time, but she persisted. Her begging turned to bargaining, and she said, “Can I come in after your performance?” Oh, that cute remark made the rounds at work.

2 Responses to “The Child”

  1. K said

    More, more, more!!!!!

  2. Devri Daybell said

    So great. Brad and I laughed to tears.

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