My baby girl’s gone

My daughter has moved out and is now on her own.  I know I’m one of millions of parents experiencing this right now, but I feel like I’m the only one.  It’s a bittersweet time for me.

I’ve talked about this in previous blogs, I know, but really this is one of the bigger events in my life (and one of the biggest in hers).  My daughter, my baby girl, is now on the path to being a responsible adult.

Over the years, I’ve watched her as she took her first, tentative steps, then learned to walk, then found that yellow brick road that turned into the information highway.  And now she takes a different road – the path of independence.

It’s hard for a parent to relinquish the reins of responsibility to someone you’ve looked after for so many years.  Part of me wants to wave to her and wish her good luck, trusting in all she’s learned, in all we’ve tried to teach and instill in her, but a bigger part of me wants to enfold her in my arms and hold on to her forever.  That’s the part that wonders how I’ll go on without her.  Yes, there’s still one more at home, three years away from his own journey, and somehow I think (but I don’t really believe) that I’ll be more prepared for it next time.

It’s a tough time to be a parent.  I don’t like this part at all, no matter how much I understand it’s a necessary part of life.

I’ve caught myself, over the past couple of months giving her words of wisdom.  Sometimes I think it was my last-ditch attempts to fill in any knowledge gaps that may be there, but more often it just seemed to come up naturally because of the new situations she was finding herself in.  What have I been telling her?

Go with your gut.  Having said that, I do feel the need to qualify it.  My daughter’s always shown extraordinary skill in making the right decisions.  She’s usually been able to objectively see the consequences of her actions.  I know many others don’t do that well in the decision-making department, but she’s been very good.  So I have no concerns with telling her to listen to her gut.  It’s never really lead her astray yet.

It’s okay to fail sometimes.  Nothing worth having comes easy and sometimes it doesn’t come at all.  But it doesn’t mean you ever give up trying.  When you fail, look at what happened, figure out what you did wrong, and try not to repeat it.  It doesn’t mean you won’t screw it up some other way next time, but that’s okay too.  As long as you learn from your mistakes, you’ll do fine.

Don’t ever settle.  Whether it’s a relationship or a job or anything, don’t settle.  Go for what you want or what you need.  Of course, you have to know your limitations so you don’t live above your means, so you don’t get yourself in over your head.  The thing to remember is: Good is the enemy of great.  That is, if you settle for good, you’ll never get to great.

Life isn’t like high school…thank God.  You’ve seen them, the cool ones, the superstars of high school, the ones everyone admired, either secretly or openly.  And while many will go on to successful lives, many others will soon realize they peaked at 17.  High school is a fishbowl.  Life is an ocean.  Trust me, you want to live in the ocean.

Not everyone will live up to your standards.  This was a hard lesson for me to learn, and it took someone else telling me.  I can still remember my director telling me that I had high standards for myself and that I tended to impart those same high standards on others, expecting them to perform at the level I wanted them to, instead of the level they wanted to.  She told me I “Tobinized” them.  It was a completely accurate observation and one I’ve never forgotten, though I’m still quilty of doing it quite often.  It’s a hard thing to look at someone else and realize they are quite happy to be mediocre.  It’s even harder to accept it.  But you have to.  Just like you have to accept that there are others you look at you and believe you are settling for mediocrity as well when compared to them.

Don’t sell your dreams for small desires.  Very much in line with the last one, and completely stolen from a lyric from Rush’s Subdivisions.

Some will sell their dreams for small desires
Or lose the race to rats
Get caught in ticking traps
And start to dream of somewhere
To relax their restless flight

I don’t ever want my kids to wonder “what if?”  I want them to grab life in both hands and wrestle every last drop of satisfaction from it.  I don’t want to see them doing what I see some of their friends doing.  Having dreams and ambitions that get smaller and smaller over time until they’re just  a shadow of their former glory.  Again, I’ve seen my daughter set goals and achieve them, never settling for less.  I hope that never changes.

If you’re comfortable, you’re not learning.  A big one for me.  Everyone seems to strive to reach a point where they are comfortable, where everything just moves along at a nice, even pace.  If that’s the case, then there is no challenge, no learning happening.  And if that’s the case, it’s time to move on, because if you’re not learning, you’re not growing.  And if you’re not growing, you’re already dying.

No one has all the answers.  Not God, not Buddha.  Not Deepak Chopra, not Oprah.  Not Dr. Phil, not Charlie Sheen.  Not Bob Marley, not John Lennon.  Not you and not me.  You can learn a little from anyone, be it something that’s important to remember, or something that you don’t ever want to experience again.  No one gave me the instruction manual when it came to raising kids, but we did the best we could.  But we made a ton of mistakes along the way, and will continue to do so.  We as parents don’t know everything.  But I’ll give you all I know.

Sometimes you just have to learn it the hard way.  God knows I have.  And with every generation, there’s the burning need to figure out their own answers, rather than draw on the experience of those who came before.  While it can result in a lot more wasted time, sometimes it’s the best learning.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

When you’re young, you know it all and have all the answers (or a goodly portion of them), but as you get older, you understand how much you really don’t know.  That’s called maturity.  It can take a long time to get there.  Some never make it.  Stay away from them.

You’ll say you won’t do as your parents did, then you’ll end up doing it anyway.  Why?  Because we don’t have that instruction manual, and because sometimes it’s just the best way.  And I know, I know you often don’t understand why we did some of the things we did, or said the things we said, or made the decisions we made.  But someday, when you have kids of you’re own, I hope you’ll look back with a little more understanding.  And you’ll know we did it out of wanting to do right by you and we did it out of love.

Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be.  You never eat a full meal all in one bite.  You cut it up and break it down into small, chewable chunks.  Do that for anything that seems overwhelming to you.  And don’t make them into even bigger issues by getting freaked out, because then you have to not only deal with the issue, but also with the freak-out.

Don’t let others get to you.  If you do, then you’ve given them the power.  You should always have the power over yourself, not someone else.

Do your best to be as honest as you can be.  You may not be able to be honest in everything, but strive for it as often as you can.  It makes things so much less complicated.

And so, my daughter starts out on the path that will allow her to determine her own future.  We’ve done what we can and now we’ll cut most of the strings.  Not all of them, never all of them.  But as we hugged her goodbye this afternoon, I was fine, completely fine, until she pulled back and looked at me with that sweet, beautiful face and those innocent yet knowing eyes.  And that’s when I felt a lot of those strings breaking.  And some of my heart with them.  That’s when I started to cry.  Didn’t want to do it in front of her, couldn’t help myself.

Okay, enough of the maudlin!

Madison, we’ll always be there for you.  If nothing else, know that we’re incredibly proud of you, we’re in awe of what you’ve accomplished so far, and that, above all else, we love you more than anything.

And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make.

And baby?  I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Because you’re gonna do great.

I love you, baby girl.

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