Tuesday, June 7, 2011


My daughter’s life is celebrated with milestones. And each milestone she hits, I get older. My life used to be marked by milestones, celebrated by my parents. But somewhere along the way, I forgot to look for the milestones in my life.

I sit and reflect upon this because my daughter is about to cross a momentous thresh hold in her life. She is about to graduate from middle school and enter high school. High school. Every child’s dream. Every parent’s nightmare. While she is ready to hurdle herself into that new environment and meet this new challenge head on, I am ready to take her and move into a cave.

Recently, she had try-outs for the HS cheerleading squad. Every day I would drive her to the HS for her try-outs and sit and wait in the parking lot. This was precisely the same time the HS Lacrosse team was done with practice. The BOY’S Lacrosse team. These boys were not boys. They were “men-lings,” somewhere stuck between teenager and adulthood. They towered over my daughter, who is very tiny for her age. They had facial hair and leg hair and for crying out loud, chest hair! How could my baby, my first born, possibly navigate her way through the hallways with these hairy beasts? No. I wouldn’t let her.

But I have to let her. She has to cross that milestone and walk over that thresh hold. She’s growing up and she’s proud of it and so I must let her go. Not completely. Never completely, but stay enough paces behind her so she feels freedom and so I feel I can still be there to catch her if she falls.

She might fall. Maybe even a few times. And sometimes she might fall so far that she might feel that she will never get back up. But I know that despite the bruises and scrapes from all the falling that comes with growing, she will also spread her wings and fly.

Preparation for this momentous occasion called for collecting class photos for a montage the school will play in the background during graduation. One picture in particular, made me stop, take pause, smile, and reflect. It was her third grade picture. Mrs. GaNun. She was the kind of teacher every child should be so lucky to have in their lives. She was strong but gentle, kind but authoritative, creative but structured, a dream come true. This was the year we discovered that my daughter had some kind of a learning difficulty. She was bright, very bright but there was something, a synapse, perhaps, that was not adeptly firing. Mrs. GaNun made it her mission to reach my daughter and more importantly, to teach my daughter what tools she needed to bring information into her long-term memory bank.

I stared at the faces in the photo, scanning to find my Emily. There she was in the front row, first one on the left. What I saw broke my heart wide opened and love oozed out in ways I cannot fully express. Why hadn’t I seen her expression before? Was I too busy? Was I too “in the moment” to see what was before me?

All the kids, all 20 of them to be exact, had broad smiles on their faces. The children in the front were clearly instructed to clasp their hands in front of them. And there was my daughter, even at that age, smaller than the rest. She did not have a smile on her face, the only child. She had an expression of timidity, a lack of courage or self-assurance. Her head, slightly tilted to her left, eyes wide, staring straight at the camera, her shoulders elevated just a tad, reaching for her earlobes. What struck me the most were her hands. Instead of being gently clasped in front of her, her wrists were crossed and then her hands were clasped. Where everyone else had a symbolic ring in front of them, she had a knot. Maybe she didn’t understand the directions of the photographer but to me, knowing her plight, knowing the discoveries made that year, she looked protective. Afraid.

As I stated earlier, it broke my heart; wide open.

I realize now, this was her journey and a necessary one. She needed to know her learning style, her strengths and weaknesses so she could attend to them. She needed to shine the light on herself in order to radiate later. And radiate she does. She is now fully aware of her needs and one could scarcely know that she has a non-working memory. She knows how to compensate and as a result, she excels.

This discovery brought me to myself. You see, I, too, am standing at a thresh hold of a milestone in my life. And I can learn a lot from my daughter. As I embrace my writing career, my financial insecurity, and the fact that, alas, I am growing older, I see myself in her little third grade face. I, too, have a “learning” difficulty, if you will. My biggest enemy, like all of us, is myself. I still have a long way to go. But I recognize now that if a snapshot of my life had been taken, I would be standing in the front row with my wrists knotted and hands strained, with my shoulders raised, and eyes wide. I, too, would portray one lacking courage or self assurance. But not anymore.

I have stepped into the spotlight and unclasped my hands, relaxed my shoulders, and fixed my eyes on what is ahead for me. There are many problems still to be solved but one I will not need to solve again is this: I am a writer, have always been a writer, and will always be a writer. I accept that my fate is unknown, that there is much hard work to be done, but now I know in my heart that no matter where life takes me, it is where I am meant to be, and I will have the tools I need to take me there.

Five years later, my daughter’s 8th grade photo portrays a very different Emily. Hands at her sides, shoulders relaxed, eyes on the camera, and a smile on her face.

She is ready for her calling, ready for her milestone, and now, so am I.

“Personal limitation exists only in our ideas of who we are. Give up all notions of who you are and your limitations will vanish.”

- Anonymous