“All my little plans and schemes,
lost like some forgotten dreams.
Seems that all I really was doing
was waitin’ for you.”
The Beatles – Real Love
I don’t think I could ever have imagined this day.
But still, here it is. Today, my first born, my daughter, my baby, turns eighteen.
Today, my little girl is an adult.
When did this happen? How did eighteen years go by so quickly?
I can still remember living in our two-bedroom apartment in a not-so-nice area of Oshawa and my wife telling me that, after months and months of trying, she was pregnant. I remember, I had just turned 30 only two days before, so I went around labelling this as “my last productive act of my 20s.” I remember telling those that I worked with that my wife and I were going to have a baby. I remember one of them coming back with the perfect response to the question of what a child of ours would be like. “Big feet and an attitude,” was the answer.
Eighteen years later, I can say they weren’t far off.
I remember all the walks down by the lake as the day came closer and closer. I can remember Karen having to swear off coffee, a substance she had been addicted to prior to the pregnancy. I remember her consuming uncountable tons of cucumbers in the months leading up to delivery. I can remember us going to buy a crib and Karen bemoaning the fact that she “didn’t look pregnant.” I can remember two weeks later, Karen upset at “how fat” she was getting.
I remember that last month, when Karen had a daily hankering for Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfaits. I remember hoping the baby would come before we gave the last of our money to DQ.
I remember packing her up and getting her up to the hospital early on a Saturday morning in June for her to be induced. Apparently our baby was quite comfortable where she was and didn’t necessarily feel like coming out into the world without a bit of a push.
I remember going through the entire Saturday, watching other couples come in–many from our Lamaze classes–have their babies and leave. And there we sat. I remember all the wonderful nurses at Oshawa General coming in and doing everything they could to make us comfortable. I remember them all looking at how Karen was carrying, at the fetal heart rate, at all these signs and telling us we were having a boy. Karen was pretty adamant that it was a girl. Nurses told us that, in ten, fifteen, twenty years of nursing, they’d never called it wrong.
I remember those nurses pulling a recliner out of their private area so I could stay in the room and try and sleep.
And I remember, finally, late on Sunday afternoon, almost exactly 36 hours after we arrived, watching the birth of my daughter.
Yes, all those nurses got it wrong. A girl. My little girl.
And that was the first of many times when she confounded everyone’s expectations.
I remember being shocked at how big she was. I remember them swaddling her up and laying her on Karen’s chest. I remember when Karen looked down and talked to her, our baby actually opened her eyes and tilted her head up to look at her mother. I remember being so…overwhelmed doesn’t cut it, it’s far too small a word for what I felt, but it will have to do…being so overwhelmed by this little living being that we had made. I remember Karen, dry and thirsty and only allowed ice chips, looking at me and saying in a dry whisper, “iiiiiiiiiccce, iiiiiiiiiice,” and me, goofy and stupid, saying, “yes, she does have beautiful eyes.”
I remember us looking at her and trying the name that we’d had for years on her. “Does she look like a Madison?” “Yes, she does, she really does.”
I remember in the weeks afterward, my life taking on a clarity of purpose that I’d never felt before. I remember being terrified of the responsibility of having this child, but also feeling so absolutely blessed and lucky to have been given this chance to do something right in my life.
I remember taking her to Niagara Falls when she was only weeks old and being told over and over again what a calm, placid baby she was. One waitress referred to her as a “restaurant baby” because she was so good.
I can remember Madison constantly surprising us with how neat she always was. With how sharp she seemed to be. With the depth of her thinking at an early age. I remember getting out of the car, preoccupied with something, and locking the door, only to have it shut on its own, with both the keys and my baby girl still inside. She was strapped into her car seat. It took twenty minutes for a tow truck with a slimjim to show up and get the car unlocked. I made funny faces through the back window at her to keep her occupied.
I remember her singing the Little Mermaid song, Part of Your World. And I remember especially the two lines
I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty
I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore
She’d always say that last word as “gah-more.”
I remember standing in a Home Depot and the last single ever released by the Beatles, Real Love coming on over the speakers and Madison, all of three years old, swaying along with the music, singing her little heart out.
In those middle years, I remember being proud of choices she made. Of how empathetic and ethical she was. I remember all those dance classes and sitting through two hours of dance recitals for five minutes of watching her dance. It was always worth it.
As she grew into her teens, she amazed us even more with the choices of friends she made, with her responsibility, with her dedication to her school work and to her goals. I remember her earning her Canada Cord from Girl Guides and what a proud moment that was for both her to receive it and her mother to award it to her. I remember her falling in love with THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK.
I remember talking to her in the car, her screwing up her courage to drop off her first resume at the library in Bowmanville. I remember how nervous she was, but that she had to be the one to do it. And she did. And we drove around most of Durham Region, hitting every library and her being so at ease with it by the end of it all.
I remember Karen and I prepping her for that first interview. I remember her telling me that she got the job.
I remember taking her out just a couple of years ago to start driving, finding an abandoned road and her first time behind the wheel. “Just take your foot off the brake, honey. See how the car will just roll forward?” “WAAAAAAAAAA!” “What? What’s wrong?” “We’re going so faaaaaast!”
I remember all those homework assignments. I remember talking to her about THE LOVELY BONES as she built her book report, teasing observations out of her. I remember all those times talking about different stories and plays and books and the wonderful conversations we had.
I remember last year, my first real taste of letting her go. Of holding up and being strong as she waited to get on the bus with all the other students, then, as the bus pulled away to take them to the airport and, ultimately, to Europe for almost two weeks, me breaking down.
I remember all of it.
And tonight, as I talked to her about going off to Ottawa to study Journalism at Carleton, I saw the dichotomy of my daughter. How, while she’s grown into a beautiful, intelligent, witty woman and a lovely person, she’s still tenuously hanging on to her childhood, wanting to be carefree and to just have fun. Apparently our baby is still quite comfortable where she is and doesn’t, at times, necessarily feel like going out into the world without a bit of a push.
She’s always made me proud, she’s always had her father wrapped around her finger. Yes, I’m aware enough to cop to that one.
But she’s also so much stronger that she knows. When I look at her, I see, not just the beautiful young woman she’s become, I see the potential in her for the future. I see in her the ability to make the world open up for her and for her to take it on and bend it to her will.
I remember the baby, I remember the toddler, I remember the girl, I remember the teenager. I see now the adult.
And, as much as it hurts to let you go, as much as it hurts to even type these words, I look forward to the future. To your future.
I love you baby girl.