How could I know from the moment of my daughter's birth that I would enter life's most intriguing classroom? Did I know then that I would eventually become her admiring student? Did I know through our cavalcade together, we would love and hate, laugh and cry, fail and succeed? Did I know I would learn life's finest lessons as she sat at my feet?
As I contemplate Amber's twenty-first birthday, both a smile and tears highlight my face. As she moves through the stages of independence, my paradoxical emotions erupt. Similar to the process when she learned to swing by herself at the playground, I felt exhilarated for her accomplishment but sad that I was no longer of use in the role of the swinger. As her teacher, I read book after book to her and one day when she learned to read for herself, the roles reversed and she read to me.
Helping Amber through the grieving process after the death of her pets was a foreshadow to comforting her when her paternal grandmother and grandfather died of cancer. I talked matter-of-factly about the afterlife while she appropriately expressed loss. I discovered that shared tears in silence are sometimes more soothing than spoken words or religious explanations.
As I poured my values, my opinions, my attitudes into my child's adsorbent brain, little did I know that I was reproducing myself. As I observed her vivacity for life, her trusting innocence, and her respect for self, little did I know she was recreating me. As I molded and shaped the clay of her essence, I became malleable. As she modeled the parts of me that were both good and not so good, I learned about the unconditional love of a child for an imperfect mother. Through the years, as her childhood admiration for me turned into adolescent contempt, I learned about the unconditional love that a mother has for an imperfect child.
Acknowledging my flaws and accepting hers, made human frailty understandable. During this interim, my overt role as her teacher quickly diminished, but covertly, my influence remained soundless but steadfast.
As her need for a separate identity turned into her quest for freedom, my need for security turned into my quest for faith. The young disciple taught the mentor to trust God and let go. I learned to trust in the process and found the process to be equally as critical as the product. How you find your destination is as meaningful as the arrival.
When Amber turned eighteen, her obstinacy interestingly turned into conformity. Her sarcasm turned into humor. Frozen words thawed. My demands turned into compromise. Prodigal peacefulness returned to our home.
At age nineteen when my daughter went off to college, I became her pedagogue again. The apprentice, eager to know more about passage, looked to me for some of the answers. As I peered into her youthful kaleidoscope of existence I learned more about grace and developed increased tolerance for diversity and differences.
The milestones of her development have taught me to be more flexible, more forgiving, less judgmental, less pessimistic. While traveling the path to search for self, a comfortable place in her was found.
Nevertheless, my road of regret is full of both irrational and rational confessions of mistakes, contradictions, and inadequacies; not being more tolerant of teenage tantrums and growing pains; spending more time on the job then with family and friends; and wasting time on vanity. The awesome power of said and unsaid words is overwhelming.
As my only daughter turns twenty-one and I turn forty-four, the mirror image of change is astounding. As I sit at her feet, my daughter, my student, my teacherhas become myself.
Melissa writes about the God and human connection and condition.