Tomorrow morning, I will tiptoe into the room that my two oldest daughters share and I will celebrate their breathing. Tomorrow morning, Julia, my second daughter is 16. Sixteen. I will wait to kiss her, to wake her up with a quiet humming of happy birthday. She doesn't like kisses these days, but she tolerates them because she knows that I still can't resist. She denounced the presentation of a breakfast sandwich with a birthday candle in it, so tomorrow morning, I will just watch her breathe in and breathe out and I will celebrate that someone, something, somehow blessed me with her.
Sixteen--I remember her legs, layers of legs that were irresistible and I remember the focus-- oh the focus..."I do...No...Mommy no do..."
When we tell stories of Julia, we always head for the trouble she could find. One time I turned around to do the dishes and there was Julia in the middle of the kitchen table about to turn my vase of fresh peonies upside down. Noooo, Julia. "Big mess, Mommy?" she said. And then she laughed until she screamed when I hauled her off of that table.
Julia had a trail of trouble. She started in the bathroom, fascinated with the spinning roll of toilet paper and intent on flushing anything she could. She learned quickly to hold down the lever and watch the swirling water, then laugh when I'd run in. Laugh until I scooped her up and placed her on the other side of the safety gate, away from me, away from the bathroom and the kitchen table with the fluffy flowers.
As I plunged and used my best plumbing prowess, Julia was on the way to the open dishwasher. Imagine the treasures available to a curious toddler climbing in
When Julia was one, she walked on legs that were irresistible to pinching, tickling, squeezing, and kissing. She belly laughed when I made fizzing noises on her belly, and she followed big sister Larkin wherever and whenever she could.
When she was two, she had mastered the art of pole-vaulting out of her crib. If the safety gate was too low, she climbed over that too. If it was too high, she would try to crawl under it, sometimes getting stuck in the process and bellowing until I ran to rescue her. She knew what she wanted and she knew to bang her head on the floor until she got it. "She's gifted," the doctor told me because she perfected the art of the tantrum so early. Before leaving her in her crib, we turned her diaper backwards and wrapped duct tape around it, put on a onesie and a zipped and snapped set of footie pajamas. "Keep your clothes on," we'd say, but she always, like Houdini, got out of what we put on her and would fall asleep with nothing on until a wet mattress woke us all up.
By three, she mastered all aspects of the bathroom--flushed what she was supposed to flush, emptied when she had to empty. She rocked and entertained and protected her younger sisters--first Clare and then Cecily. Although she was never my talker--yes, she still remains an inward soul, we knew when Julia was happy and we knew when Julia was sad. We knew when Julia was celebrating and we really knew when she was angry. My mother used to say, "When Julia's happy, we're all happy." There was truth to that.
Julia's focus has served her well. She was an early reader. I remain friends with her third-grade teacher who still tells the story of how I said nothing to her about Julia's prowess. "I knew that you'd figure it out," I told her. "And if I told you that her favorite book of the summer had been Black Beauty, you would have assumed the abridged version." Her teacher adored her and remains today Julia's favorite teacher thus far. Why? She respected, acknowledged, challenged and honored her. Julia's accomplishments then and now have not come from innate intelligence as much as they have emerged from hard work, from a drive and focus that I take no credit for, and from an appreciation for and commitment to hard work and high quality.
Today she is 16. Sixteen. She has goals and hopesand dreams that go far beyond getting her driving permit tomorrow. She was my toddler with a trail of trouble, my 8 year-old with a teacher who inspired her, and a young woman with dreams that will propel her into making the world a different and better place. It is my honor to know her.