As my daughter fast approaches her college graduation, it has been impossible not to reflect on so many things about her, how far she’s come, and how we see her as she heads into this (gulp) next adult stage of her life. In doing this, it’s been impossible not to notice the similarities, as well as the differences, in how she and her life are unfolding and how my own or her father’s did. When I was her age, I was already in love with Smart Guy; he was in medical school, and we were seriously taking baby steps toward our futures. While Principessa is not in a serious relationship, there are so many other details of her life that open old windows on my past and who I was as a 22 year old young woman, as I watch her forge her own path and make big decisions.
Principessa is clearly her own person. She always has been. She came out of me running toward her own dreams, letting us know she had a mind of her own. She’s been fiercely independent from the time she was a toddler. However, as she finishes her last classes and types her final papers (announcing on Facebook that she TYPED her final paper on the real typewriter she’s had for years, versus a computer), she awaits word on where she might be next year, as she updates us on Graduation weekend (in 2 weeks) and readies to say good bye to the college life she’s loved, I am struck blindingly at times by the similarities between us. Beyond the physical similarities that others often see in pictures of me at that age, I see the passion and determination in her that so defined me at that time.
Our circumstances could not be more different: I had a single mother who could not contribute to my education at all. I was entirely on my own at that stage in life, in all decision making (the first to graduate from college in my family), financially and often emotionally. Principessa has a wide world of family who support and love her, and help in any way they can, or she needs. That said, she is a very independent young woman, and aside from tuition and board, she has not asked for single penny in four years. Not a one. She has budgeted and taken care of herself in a very mature and impressive way, managing to see much of the world as she’s done it. She and I share a strong inner drive to be out in the world. I could not afford to do much at that age, paying for school, etc, but I did manage to go to Australia for three months during college, something that seemed extremely exotic to everyone I knew at the then. Australia was not the familiar destination it is today. Principessa has spent nearly 16 months in the Middle East, during her college career, certainly an exotic and misunderstood place to many of us.
We each had a huge, and at times painful, love affair in our four years at school. There is hardly a person alive who did not have their heart broken once in their life, but that doesn’t matter when you’re in it. There was little I could say or do that eased that time for her, but knowing that she was strong and so was I, that she would get through it too, made it all a little easier… for me. There’s no easy when you’re the one with the broken heart, but I never knew until then how my own heart to could ache for someone else’s, in quite that way. She has strong elements of her father’s logic and interests, and it has been interesting to relive flashbacks of a young Smart Guy, listening to her explain something she’s read, some new idea that has her excited, the same way I listened to his latest theory or plan. I am always jolted when I realize that she is in fact a mixing of the two of us, whilst so truly her own self.
However, it’s not just my own daughter that I’ve been making this connection with. Over the past year or so, it has struck me over and over that I am now of an age where I have friends whose kids are the same ages as we all were, when we first met. Many of these kids, I’ve known since they were babies as our families have grown up together, while others I’ve gotten to watch grow through annual Christmas cards and letters, with occasional visits sprinkled in. It’s striking over and over when I see flashes of their parents, as I once knew them. The musical interests and passions of one, remind me so much of his young father that I can’t help but chuckle each time he posts some new band he likes. His strong political stands often remind me, with a faint tug to my depths, of the hours of arguments and heated debates I shared with his dad (a dear friend to this day) about welfare, poverty and American values versus U.K. policies. At the same time, his quiet humor, his lovely smile and ability to connect emotionally, is his mum all over again.
Another friend’s son looks so much like his father looked at his age (21), that it sometimes stops me dead. His dad and I spent so many hours skate boarding and walking around Cambridge, MA, talking about bands we liked, and hanging with our friends. I remember so well when his parents fell in love and we watched them leave us all behind for a brief while, as they had eyes for no one else. Now, thirty years later, we’re all still close friends and last summer I found myself sitting up late at night, talking about life with their boy. He’s so clearly a mix of both his parents, and so uniquely his own person, but as we sat and laughed, and sat and talked, I kept seeing his dad’s old twinkle, his mom’s laugh. Ghosts of my youth, on the sofa beside me.
I am fortunate to have several such relationships. I have been blessssed to have had good friends that have now shared a life time with me. We met in our youths, some as far back as middle school, others in college or just when we started our families, and we have remained connected through all the twists and turns. It is a testament to some of these friendships that despite entire oceans of distance, we have made it a priority to see each other whenever possible. Family vacations, conferences with a few days added on, these often brief but emotionally packed visits have allowed us to remain close, while we’ve watched each other’s kids grow up. Whether it’s their alternative interests in music, their laughs, their mischief, the way they push the hair from their eyes, the way they discuss a subject inside and out and then tenaciously circle back, there are so many bits and pieces of my past, the people I knew and spent my life with, the person I was, the person I married, in those young faces, in those young lives. Sometimes it takes my breath away.
I am keenly aware of the fact that I’m aging and thus am drawn back, sentimentally, by these memories and connections. However, it is a wonderful place to be, despite my age spots. “Simone de Beauvoir believed that if a woman gives her “consent” to growing older, she is changed into a “different being,” one who is more herself, more complete.” (Traveling with Pomegranates, Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor). That rings a solid chord in me, as I’ve reflected on the evolving lives of my own kids and those of friends I love. It’s thrilling to see these young people move forward and go in new directions from the ones we chose. Working in China, studying abroad, choosing careers so different from the ones we chose, I get a chance to watch it all unfold, from a place I feel comfortable sitting. It’s powerful to note the similarities that tie them to people I have long cared about and kept close, while seeing them explore their own unique paths. There’s a tiny moment of reclaiming my own youth, our youth, while comfortably (most of the time!) grounded in my own life. None of them are little kids anymore. I’m not looking for the physical similarities that you find in young children, that announce, yep, he’s just like… Now, as they all become adults, it’s a much more visceral connection to my own past and life, even as I watch each of them move in their own directions. The flashes of myself and Smart Guy as young people are startling to see in our daughter… The apple of our eyes… but it’s all the apples and trees in the orchard that connect the past and present, so tangibly, and leave me smiling and grateful I’m here.
(All images from the internet)
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A moving, loving tribute to your daughter. Ours graduates next year- and I just can’t believe it- our last to graduate college. You touched on so much that is universal– sigh- the heart breaks, etc. Beautifully written post, Dawn. Thanks.
So glad you liked it Lisa. I figure I may write a real tribute to her when it’s really time to graduate… but this has ben stewing in my head for a couple of months now. Just strange to see all these kids grow up… and be more like their parents than they probably know! Yet, so distinctly themselves! Thanks for reading. 🙂
Wow. Another crossroad in life that generates so many feelings and memories. You can feel the love and pride you have for E. It’s a wonderful, sweet and promising time. Enjoy:)
Thanks Maryanne. Yes, a very poignant time in our lives. I was talking to a bunch of women last night, who are all at this crossroad and we were saying that it is particularly powerful going through this time with our daughters. Something about that connection that is really compelling. Thanks for the warm wishes and thoughts, and for reading along. 🙂
I can’t even imagine watching my own daughter (who is now 9) at this stage of her life…but I know it will be here before I know it!
This really is a lovely tribute, Dawn. Loved it. And congrats to you and Smart Guy! 🙂
Thanks Mikalee. Yes, it goes by in a few slow blinks. There’s so much going on, that you don’t notice the time pass, until the big life milestones come up, and you have to take notice. Prinicipessa is an amazing young woman: strong, intellectual, spirited, beautiful in so many ways, that it breaks my heart some days. I am very proud, even as my heart tugs away.
I know you are already cherishing these years, so just keep doing it, because, yes, it will be there before you know it!