August 12, 2015
(If we live with an open and grateful attitude, every day will bring a gift. This is one of 365 gifts during the year I turned 70.)
|A smile on the outside reflects a smile inside as well.|
I was not around for our oldest daughter’s birth, but my husband was. I first met her when she was 8 ½ and I was dating her father. As the relationship between us grew and we had a new baby daughter Lauren, David told me that he wanted his other daughter, Jennifer, to come live with us when she turned 13 or 14. She was living with her mother in Florida. “No!” I said.
“I want her to come live with us right now.” As an educator, I was aware of the difference a few years could make. I knew the transition back to Maryland with a new stepmother and half-sister would be difficult at any age but I was sure it would be most difficult later. At that time, I would rather cope with a 9-year-old little girl than a 14-year-old teenager.
So, within a year, I became a mother to two girls— an infant and a 9-year-old. Transitions are difficult for everyone and this one was rough for me. In a relatively short time, I went from a single, carefree woman to a mother with two children with very different needs and demands—and a husband who worked nights. I had to shake myself up and rearrange what had once been self-centered priorities.
This transition was difficult too for Jennifer as a young child who came from one rather unstructured environment to one that had bedtimes, rules and family responsibilities. Jennifer was a beautiful little girl with a mind of her own. On her first day in her new school here as a fifth grader, she stood at the bus stop with the other children, stamped her foot horse-style and neighed. She also informed those around her that she was an atheist. Fearful that peer problems as a newcomer atheist horse might make her transition especially challenging, I shared my concern with her. However, she responded, “I’d rather be a horse and have no friends than have lots of friends but can’t be a horse.” Powerful words for a young child. And a reminder to me of the importance of being true to yourself.
After one especially difficult night after dinner when child play turned into an attack, I did something that was totally unpremeditated but was appropriate at that moment—I slapped her once on her bottom and sent her to her room. After an hour passed, I went to her room, hugged her, explained why her behavior had upset me, said I was sorry, and then talked about family relationships. After that conversation, she stopped calling her father by his first name and began calling him Dad. And I became Mom. That language change meant so much to both David and me. Gradually, with some structure and love, she began to feel more secure and confident. Several years later when she became a teenager, she would ask us to change what we called her.
Jennifer was not a good student, although she is way above average intelligence. Often, she chose to read a book rather than do her homework. As a parent and teacher, this was frustrating for me—and a losing battle. Summers Jennifer went to Farm and Wilderness Camp in Vermont, did an outdoor overnight solo, was selected for a canoe trip to Canada, and came home with a mohawk and a new name—FL—which she got almost everyone to call her. Away from home, her eight-week camp experience (over several years) affirmed her strengths and individuality and helped her discover who she is.
Although I did not labor in birth with my oldest daughter, I labored in love as she grew and she is worth it.
Family isn't always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are; the ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.”
My gift today is our oldest daughter’s birthday.