Happy Birthday, Rachel

Today my daughter is eighteen years old. In just three months, she will be off to college. Celebrating the day she becomes an adult is especially poignant because she is my only child, and over the last several months it has been my mission to loosen the apron strings, to resist my over-protective urges, to show her that I trust her even when I’m not sure, in my heart of hearts, that I do.
I am so proud of the bright and beautiful young woman she has become, and when I look at her it is difficult for me to believe, sometimes, that she was once tiny enough to lie across my lap – no bigger than our cat (in fact, at birth she weighed only slightly more than half what our cat does). Although she has some maturing yet to do (and what eighteen-year-old doesn’t?), she is independent, spirited, curious, and friendly. She is organized, thoughtful, and persistent. While I didn’t always appreciate these qualities when she was younger, today I realize that they will stand her in good stead as she embarks on her college years and her adult life. Already she is far more willing to ask questions, and much more assertive about getting the help that she needs from teachers and other adults than I was at her age.

Adolescence has not always been easy for her. She has never been what you’d call one of the “popular kids,” although she has always had a few close friends. Watching her go through various social tribulations reminds me that I would rather watch my entire yarn stash be consumed by ravenous wool moths than be a teenager again. Having been a victim of “mean girl syndrome” in middle school taught her compassion for others, and showed her the importance of reaching out to other kids who seem shy or uncomfortable in unfamiliar settings. She has had more than her share of sad and lonely days, and it wasn’t always easy to parent her without sounding like a platitude-spouting helicopter mom. It has been a source of great pride for me to see how in her senior year she has developed a philosophical bent, and with it an awareness that if one group of friends proves fickle, there are others out there who are ready to befriend her if she extends herself to them.

I see that she is a good person who makes ethical choices – and this encourages me greatly. I see that she is beautiful both in the conventional sense and in a more spiritual sense, although she did not get this from me. In fact, the only times in my life that I have attempted to pray to any deity were when Rachel was desperately ill; first as an infant with a bacterial infection that elevated her fever to 105 degrees, then as a toddler when she fell out of a shopping cart at Costco and landed on her head on the concrete floor, and finally as a nine-year-old when she needed an emergency appendectomy. On each of those occasions, I prayed to whatever or whomever could protect my child and see her through to restored good health. Although it’s a cliche, I’d give my life for hers.

I am grateful that she has reached eighteen, and wish her a life full of good things, with only enough heartbreak to keep her compassionate, and enough challenges to keep her working hard to achieve the things that are important to her. I hope she finds love with a partner who respects her and is kind and devoted to her, and if she wants one I hope she’ll have a family of her own someday so she will appreciate all that remains unwritten in this post, but is there nonetheless.

Happy birthday, Rachel!

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