31 January 2005

Single...With Children: A Thank You Card To My Daughter And Many Happy Returns Included!

Single with Children: Thank-you card is due, rather than birthday card

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 09/12/01

On paper, 18 years looks a lot longer than it feels in my reality. On Aug. 26, 1983, something happened that would forever change the course of my life - the birth of my daughter Katie. This year, rather than a "happy birthday'' card, a "thank-you'' card seemed more in order.

I remember the hours of induced labor, trying to cajole Katie to make her long-awaited, two weeks overdue appearance. She finally arrived, not with the expected "cry'' I had assumed all babies come equipped with. She lay quietly on the warming table, looking just a bit irritated at being forced to relocate. Little did I know this was vintage Katie, who has grown into a young woman without relinquishing her nonconformist style. That's one of the many things I admire about her, though at the time I would have felt less anxious had she announced herself with a predictable, loud cry.

From the moment Katie appeared in my life, she has been teaching me lessons, the first that some babies do sleep though the night and it doesn't mean there's a problem. In those first days, I used to spend hours watching her sleep just to make certain she was breathing. I was so prepared to follow a rigid schedule of feeding, changing, burping that I was unprepared when she didn't obey what I read to be statistically true. Katie listened early to the beat of a different drummer, and it's stood her in good stead.

Through the years, Katie has taught me important things about life and, especially, myself. She's taught me the rudimentary lessons: learning to bathe a slippery baby, understanding that bruises and skinned knees aren't fatal, especially when they result from some important skill like mastering a bicycle or in-line skates, and that every fever wasn't a harbinger of some fatal illness. She's also taught me many things I never noticed in the 23 years of life before I met her - like the importance of keeping a keen sense of wonder about the world, the humor that can be found in just about every situation, and the goodness, she maintains, that can be found in nearly everyone if we remember to look closely.

She also has brought things into my life that I didn't think I wanted, but came to love very dearly, such as the kitten that made friends with her in a mall pet store. Until then I mistakenly thought I was a "dog'' person and had always maintained a strong dislike for all things feline. Of course, Katie sensed differently and Sylvester came home with us that day, only to open my heart not simply to him but also to the other three cats who now call our place home. How silly I was to believe I didn't like cats. How wise Katie was to know better.

Along the way, I taught Katie to tie her shoes, appreciate the comedy of Steve Martin and the treasures in a good book. Of course, we have different tastes in genre. She prefers the imagination and creativity of good fiction while I stick to my love of reality-bound nonfiction. Katie maintains a strong desire to convert me into the realms of fiction and, based on her vast influence in my life thus far, I wouldn't bet against it. She's taught me that anything is possible.

Our mother/daughter relationship has been by no means unilateral. This daughter of mine has been generous and patient in pointing out many things I probably should have figured out by myself. When I was first divorced, I didn't think myself capable of being a single parent. The mere idea made me want to hide under the covers. My self-esteem was in the basement, and I felt inadequate on many different levels. I was certain that it was a hopeless situation and that at any moment our family unit would crumble from the mistakes I was sure I would unwittingly make.

Katie and her younger brother Justin literally and figuratively held my hand through those first few scary weeks with patience, love and a confidence in my ability that I was sorely lacking. Together they celebrated my baby steps into a new life that frightened the living daylights out of me. Looking back on the past four years of our life together in a single-parent household, I can't believe how far we have come. I have made my share of mistakes along the way, but because of the love and strength they have so generously given me, the belief they extended and maintained in my abilities, we have made tremendous progress in creating a life together based on love and a new level of mutual respect. How fortunate for me that the lessons went both ways.

A few days ago, on Katie's milestone 18th birthday, I took a long look at this amazing creature and marveled that, though I might have given birth to her, she truly has given life to me in so many ways. I can't deny that I'm a little nostalgic for the past, missing the little girl who used to shadow me and snuggle in bed, but as I catch a glimpse of the young lady it has been the good fortune to call my daughter, I can only look forward to the milestones yet to come. Because of the person she has grown to be, I'm wildly optimistic that the best is yet to come.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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