When she was 5 she learned that when a boy hits you on the playground what it really means is that he likes you. Richard belted her in the arm at the top of the slide. She didn’t cry and she didn’t tell the teacher. But boy did it hurt, and it left a bruise. Her little friend whispered, “he likes you” but when she told her daddy he said that if it ever happened again, she should make a tight fist and hit Richard back, only harder. “Right in the nose is always an option.”
When she was 6 she learned that even a daddy is afraid sometimes. She discovered just how fast her daddy could run. A lying, little, sneak of a neighbor falsely declared that her brother had fallen into a well, up in the woods. Her daddy, her terrified hero of a daddy, could have qualified for the Olympics that day. And he almost had a heart attack.
When she was 7 she knew for sure that she wanted to look exactly like Barbie when she grew up. She practiced by walking around on her tip toes. She wanted to have the tiniest waist, and a closet full of clothes. She wanted to live in a dream house, play at the beach, and drive a red corvette. Today she is living proof that those dreams can and do come true.
When she was 8 she learned that if she cut her hair super short like a boy, everyone would start thinking she was a boy and everyone in the neighborhood (even her own family!) would start treating her like a boy and she herself would start acting like a boy. She even got into a dirt-pile scuffle that involved a bit of rock throwing with above-mentioned lying, sneak of a neighbor. It was fun for a while.
When she was 9 she learned how to hurt her little sister’s feelings. All she had to do was tell her she smelled like a cow, refuse to play with her, mess with her animal collection, and slam the bedroom door in her face. She was wild, mean, and a little bit violent. Do make note that she later apologized for said bad behavior. Sometimes being a boy wasn’t easy.
When she was 10 she became suspicious that her daddy would ask her to go ice fishing with him just so he could legally put out more tip-ups and bring home more fish. When she realized this was indeed true, as in he didn’t deny it true, she was okay with it. Sort of.
When she was 11 she learned that being bigger than everyone else in her class was not okay. The boys didn’t like it and the girls really didn’t like it. She learned how to tolerate teasing from people all around her, even adults, with a quick wit and an arsenal of pain deflecting jokes. But the teasing hurt her more than they will ever know. In fact, “The Teasing Hurt Her More Than They Will Ever Know” is the working title of her first book.
When she was 12 she learned that a young girl could get her period for the first time and it would be freaky and overwhelming and thrilling and really gross. And her daddy would act kind of weird like a person acts when he thinks he doesn’t know you anymore. And there’s no party.
When she was 13 she woke up one morning to find that ALL of her older brother’s friends were utterly adorable. Her pupils dilated into the shape of hearts whenever they were around. Paul. Cliff, Dave, Mike, Peter – they were the original heart-throb boy band of her early teen years. In her dreams they lined up and did a synchronized dance. They winked at her and flipped their hair. She pictured them with their shirts off, washing their Mustangs in slow motion. And she fell in love on five separate occasions during the course of one Candlewood Lake summer.
When she was 14, she learned that senior boys liked freshman girls. This was pretty much a rule in high school, and it made her daddy nervous enough to give her the “boys only want one thing” speech. He included the six fundamentals of goal-tending: mental toughness, defending the wraparound, screen situations, stance, balance, and recovery.
When she was 15, she learned that writing formulas on her book cover in Chemistry and leaving said book on her desk where she could easily see said formulas during a test was considered cheating. She disappointed her teacher and it made her feel terrible.
When she was 16 she realized that she wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box. She ran a stop sign (a STOP sign!) and failed her driver’s test. She then survived an entire week of mortification before she could take it again and pass. And she lived to tell the story.
When she was 17 she learned that she could pretend to drink at parties and then safely drive all of her drunk friends home. She also went to “nickel night” at dance bars with ten of her best girlfriends. They got in the door using one pathetic fake I.D. It was a highly sophisticated process involving elapsed time, ID pass off, and smudged hand stamps. She wore an acid-wash jean jacket, a hundred silver bracelets and black boots. She has never been quite as cool as she was when she was 17.
When she was 18 she learned that living away from home for the first time was really scary and not knowing anyone was even scarier and some people grow up in West Virginia. Her weird roommate picked her toes and squeezed baby powder directly down the front of her underwear. She would then gather the fabric, pull it out front and let it go, snapping the waistband to create giant puffs that blew out the sides. It was a fun year.
When she was 19 she found out that first love was intense. It would consume her whole world for a long time and then slowly break her heart. But, it’s worth it because first love prepares you for true love. When your heart is broken the best person to talk to is your daddy, who will tell you that he always knew that boy wasn’t the one for you.
When she was 20 she lived in a house off-campus where she hosted epic parties, had pillow fights, learned to cook and pay bills (sort of), and made memories with a loving tribe of women she still calls her friends today. Their bond is deep. They retreat to an Island shaped like a teardrop once a year to circle, support, and whoop it up some more. She learned that this is more important than sending a Christmas card.
When she was 21 she learned she could pick up a guy in a bar. She liked him immediately because he paid no attention to her. He drove a maroon sedan (still does!), had a thick head of hair (still does!), and regularly employed his razor sharp wit (still does!). He was loyal to the core (still is!), a fountain of knowledge (still is!) and a top-quality person (still is, still is, still is).
At 24 she walked down an aisle toward that guy. Her daddy, composed and serene, smiled with pride. She beamed from here to the west coast. On that day, that fabulous day, she and that guy she picked up in a bar stopped the world and melted. And they dreamed of better lives (the kind which never hate).
When she was 25, she learned that giving birth is ridiculously difficult. It’s only easy when it’s over. One night in the hospital, with January full moonlight streaming through the window, she held her new, perfect baby boy in her arms. Alone with that baby for the first time she rocked and sobbed tears of joy, relief, and prayers. Mostly, though, they were second guessing tears of uncertainty. A baby was born, indeed, but a mother was born too.
A few years later, she gave birth to a beautiful, wiggly, noodle of a baby girl. This one had fuzzy ears and long hair that she could actually brush. One night in the hospital, she told this baby girl all her secrets. She promised to do the best she could with what she knew so far.
In her 30’s she found out that being tired, worried, over-worked, lonely, flustered, resentful, jealous, picky, judgmental, controlling, and moody was just part of the program. Her program. At times she was happy, fulfilled, delighted, brave, funny and genuinely earnest in her endeavors. In her bitterness, she missed out on some stuff (too much). When she was happy, she savored some of it too (but not enough). Then her daddy, her fun, retired, grandpa-daddy, had a heart attack and died in the blink of an eye. And on that day, that awful, disgusting day, she learned that when a daddy dies, a daughter dies a little too.
In her 40’s, she finally learned to let go. She learned that being a woman is a messy job. As the years fly by, her tears of sorrow and laughter continue to water the very core of her being, her soul. Now she is bursting, blooming, upward and outward, like a tree to the sun. There isn’t a lot she can change, but there is more than one thing she can. And when she can, she does. She listens to her truth and knows to live inside each moment. And when she listens for her truth, the truth about who she is, she hears her daddy everywhere. Memories of him have gone from melancholy heartache to endearing…to tender. What she has really learned is to deal with present things presently. She has finally learned that in order to begin again, one must begin.