Thursday, August 26, 2010

the first girl

heidi and newborn julia

The first baby girl was Heidi.

She was born a couple hours after everyone went home from Dan's fourth birthday party.

She was the smallest of all our babies, a little tiny jaundiced peanut.

But she grew.

I wrote this back when she finished high school--

"My oldest daughter, Heidi, and I have been touring colleges this summer, looking ahead to life beyond her last year of high school. I did this with her older brothers when they were her age, and here I am again, playing mentor, trying to do what's best for Heidi, and wrassling my maternal soul into submission tot he facts. These children grow up. That was the plan the whole time. Dang it anyway, I didn't expect good things to make me feel so sad. Bad things, that I would understand. But good things?

We drove for miles through the countryside, past hilly farm fields spread out in shades of green, to Gustavus Adolphus, the college a friend jokingly calls "Lutheran Princeton." It's not that way, but it's a school we admire, for the significance of the ethnic heritage of our family and for the fine education it could provide.

Here, just as at all the colleges we toured, we were led around by sweet, sincere young people, with intelligence and potential radiating from their faces and hearts. Through one empty building after another, some cool as cellars, others as stuffy and hot as tool sheds in the sun, we followed our guides, listening to the benefits of being a student at that particular school. We listened to fatherly middle-aged men talk about financial aid and student loans. We ate cookies and drank punch. I can't believe she's this grown up.

When Heidi, the smallest of all our babies, came slipping, soaking wet and crying, into her father's hands, I could not have imagined the woman she'd become or what raising her would mean to me. We were giddy delighted to have a daughter, but really, we were clueless. If I could, I would rewind time and go back tot he summer of 1984 when we were anticipating her birth, and live her childhood all over again.

Our tiny daughter grew to be tall, with gold curls and her father's broad shoulders. She has long, muscular legs, runs cross-country, throws discus, plays flute, polishes her toenails purple and has a fuzzy pink steering wheel cover in her car. Heidi is elegant and dignified, a combination of regal feminine beauty, silly girlhood, and sheer physical power that takes my breath away.

Everywhere she goes, things are smoothed. Dirty dishes disappear; towels go onto the racks, arguing stops: things get done. Little Jay muttered to my mother, while he was searching for something he'd lost, "Ooooh, Mother and Heidi can always find things." I know how he feels. I have been saying that when Heidi goes away to college, I don't know if I can live here anymore either! I'm joking, but not entirely.

Yesterday between colleges, Heidi and I stood in line at a lunch counter, and the clerk was grumbling to the customer ahead of us about how awful daughters are. "I have fours sons and one daughter, and I'm telling you, I would take four more sons before another girl. She has been just awful..."

I glanced up at Heidi, who seemed oblivious to them, and then kept my eyes fastened on my shoes, thinking, "Never, never, never never." I've noticed things about some ages the kids go through, like how twelve year olds are bigger than I am, but don't realize it and continue to do flips on the couch same as always, only suddenly feet are in the lamps and magazines flying from the coffee table.

Thirteen year olds get so moody. Sixteen year olds tend to be secretive. But these are all phases the kids go through, stages of development, not the kids themselves! I wonder why the clerk talked like this about her girl?

I know most of you have daughters, daughters as beautiful as my Heidi. I love the pictures you've sent. I also see other mothers' daughters waiting on me at the store, guarding swimmers at the pool, singing in the school choir, competing in the track meets... Maybe we can resolve to remember to appreciate them--our own and other women's daughters too--just in case we have been forgetting to as they grew. These young women and our lives together are absolutely a gift."

Last fall she was married, and the latest chapter is this:

She and Joe are having their own baby next spring.

Happy Golden Birthday, Baby Girl. The whole family is better because of you. love, Mom and Dad

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