She didn’t cry when she was born. When the doctor slid her onto my chest and I saw her face, she opened her enormous eyes and simply looked around. “I love you,” I said, and those were the first words she heard. And I made her a promise later that day as I stared at her perfect face—I will do my best for you every single day.
She was a beautiful baby—people often stopped me to remark upon her amazing eyes and lashes, her pink cheeks and ready smile. As she got older, her hair became silken ringlets. She said her first word at 8 months, and she spoke in full sentences by the time she was 18 months old. She could read when she was four.
But more than her intelligence and long eyelashes…well, indulge me here, because I know I’m her mother, but it seems that she has an intuition for kindness. Somehow, she knows just what to say to the lonely old person or the awkward child. When she was two, I’d take her to see my great-aunt in the nursing home, and she would stop to visit every single person on the hall. When the old folks would ask how she was, she’d answer, “Fine, thanks, how are you?” in this funny, emphatic way. She’d go into their rooms and find something fascinating there, and always give a hug when leaving.
When her brother was born, she was almost three. There was never any sibling rivalry. He was her baby, too, and she would read him Peter Pan and feed him bites of her yogurt and sit with her arm around him, watching Sesame Street. On her first day of kindergarten, she befriended a little boy with a severe speech impediment. “I can’t understand him, Mommy, but I love him,” she told me. That boy’s mother requested that my daughter be in the same class as her son for the next three years.
When my grandfather was widowed after 67 years of marriage, my daughter was one of the few who could make him laugh. “I’m here to polish your little bald head!” she’d announce, and proceed to do just that, giggling away until Poppy’s head was “nice and shiny.” She’d sleep over with me on Tuesday nights, and when he thanked her for the company, she’d say, “It’s so nice and cozy here.”
When she was sixteen, she made the decision to shave off her long, thick, shiny locks. Not just cut them off and donate them (she’d done that twice already), but cut them off, donate them and go the distance by shaving her head to the scalp. She raised thousands of dollars for a foundation that funds research for a cure for childhood cancers. She was the only girl in her entire high school with short hair, and her friends couldn’t believe that she really did it. Strangers would approach her and ask if she was a model; when she told them why her hair was this way, they’d often tear up and hand her some money for the cause.
She loves to read. She loves to cook. Her best friend is still her brother. She has spent this summer reading lots of books, playing the piano, visiting her friends, taking care of the horses and chickens down the street and babysitting the kids she calls the Tinies, because they were so young when she first met them. We’ve done her college shopping in bits and pieces. She’s ready.
On Thursday, McIrish, her brother and I will drive the Princess to her school, and thus will end the eighteen and a half happy, happy years of raising her, of her sleeping under my roof every night, of the four of us having dinner together each evening. I will miss her more than I can say, and yet I’m so happy for her, and so proud to have raised this magical child into a kind, intelligent, funny, responsible person. She hopes to become a neonatologist—fitting, since her brother was a preemie.
But whatever she becomes, I know that I honored the promise I made to her the day she was born. She has made me a far better person than I was before motherhood—harder working, braver, more honest, kinder, and I thank her for that, and send her out into the world with such love that my heart nearly bursts with it.