I took my oldest child, our daughter, to a residential writing program at Bryn Mawr College this morning called Girls Dream Out Loud. The two week program focuses on writing, dramatic arts and fine arts for girls (middle school through high school). This is the second year of the program, and it looks — on paper — to be wonderful, and it feels — in person — to be fabulous.
Walking into her dorm room, which she’ll share with another girl for the next two weeks, was like walking back in time. The building is very old — historic, really — not unlike some of the buildings on my own college campus. The two beds were on opposite sides of an uncarpeted floor, window a/c in the tiny window, one closet for the two of them, bathroom down the hall. The buzz of move in day was not unlike what will be going on in dorms all across American in another month or so. New bedding, clip on lights, fans, shower shoes, the whole thing. If I didn’t know better, I could convince myself that it was *my* moving day, or her freshman moving day. Could’ve been 23 years ago — or four years from now. Just as my parents did on my first day of college, I left my girl with her schedule for orientation and her schedule for the next two weeks. She hugged me goodbye, and nodded sagely when I repeated the same things I told her every day as she got on the school bus (“Be smart, be wise, be kind to all you meet.”) And then we went our separate ways — she, back into the old dorm to await the “ice breaker” portion of the afternoon, and I, back to the car to head home to the other awaiting monkeys.
The first child is an interesting force in a mother’s life. Although all of her children are unique, the first child is who actually teaches the woman to be a mother. Before getting pregnant with the first, you have no idea what your body will or won’t do. After that first pregancy, you have a barometer for what is “normal” for you. That first baby’s birth sets the stage for all other births — did you have a c? Can you VBAC? How long was labor?
That first baby’s personality molds who you are as a mother. Did you have a colicky baby? Then you learned coping mechanisms that I didn’t need to. Did you have a sleeper? Then perhaps you learned to be laid back and relaxed, or perhaps you were nervous and hovered over the crib, checking for a rising and falling chest. Did you have a cooperative toddler? Or one who power struggled? It is amazing how such a small force – – 8 lbs 8 oz — can shape and mold the adults around her!
As for me, our first child was, and is, a pretty easy going child. She and I learned about the value of scheduling and routine, to the point where she would take herself upstairs for a nap (or “quiet time”) when lunch was over. (I’d be cleaning up the dishes and turn to see her heading upstairs for naptime.) She modeled discipline: when we told her she had to leave her nuk (pacifier) in her room if she wanted to keep it (she was probably 3 at the time), she readily agreed but would take breaks during the day to head upstairs and “take a hit” off the nuk…and she never brought it downstairs.
She wasn’t — and really, still isn’t — terribly silly and was hard to make laugh. But oh, when she laughed, it was (and is) a glorious sound. She really means it. And that taught me, as a mother, to relish the times when she laughed, and to really be present for those moments.
She wasn’t nervous today about being dropped off for her 2 week program. It is her first time away from home, and she knows no one there. But her demeanor reminds me that such new experiences are invaluable, are a part of growing up, and that she is well prepared for them. As her mother, I’m awed that she’s got such self-assurance at almost-14. I don’t think I had that. As her mother, I’m grateful, and as her mother I’m proud of her. And as her mother, I’m going to miss her these next two weeks!