This year before the start of school my oldest daughter professed, in no uncertain terms, she would no longer need her mother or I to walk her home from the bus stop after school. Before we could begin our rebuttal to her declaration our daughter also made sure to add in just how embarrassing and damaging it would be to her blossoming credibility amongst her peers if Mom and Dad stood at the corner waiting for her to get off of the bus.
I agreed with her that her mother anxiously awaiting her arrival home from school at the corner of our street would be utterly embarrassing, but me? Embarrassing? I was shocked. Neither my wife nor my daughter thought it necessary to acknowledge my dismay. Instead, we both relented to our 11 year old’s demand and told her she could walk home from the bus stop by herself.
This new found freedom has been slowly building in Hannah (in the same vain a locomotive starts out, slowly at first and then moving at breakneck speed becoming utterly unstoppable). It started with her not wanting to hold my hand crossing streets a few months ago. It moved on to her making her own lunches and like an epidemic, it spread to her picking out the clothing she wanted to wear. And now, as school starts, the independent virus running rampant in my oldest daughter has reared its head again. I suppose it was only a matter of time before she recognized her age combined with the distance from our front porch to the corner of the bus stop did not necessitate a chaperone.
The first day I am home when she gets home from school, I post a vigil on our couch looking out our front window as her bus goes by. As it does, I replay in my mind when Hannah didn’t want me to stray more than an arm’s length away from her and when she reached out for a ride in my arms instead of reaching out to push me back. As much as I understand that I’m her father and it is part of the parental DNA to fool myself in to believing my little girl will always be my little girl I also understand this time was coming. I understand she is reaching an age that commands her to be so adamant about her secession from her mother’s and my watchful eye.
After being needed for so much in her life, it is hard to accept she is reaching milestones that don’t include me. Yet as hard as it is to admit that, it is easy to see my daughter is no longer a little girl. I am brutally reminded of this genetic fact anytime I fold the laundry and come across one of her bras. The symphonies of her perfectly pitched infant giggling during a rousing game of “peekaboo” no longer fill our house but instead it is the giggling with friends she is talking to on the phone. Even I have changed. Where I was once “Daddy”, I am now just “Dad” (although I fully expect ‘daddy’ to be used again once she hits her teens and wants the keys to my car). One look at her will tell you Hannah no longer needs to be held under the same set of rules and restrictions as her younger sister. She has proven herself to be mature enough to handle the expanding list of freedoms that come from growing up. Even though I have a front seat to it all, I still can’t quite explain how extraordinary it has been to watch this girl grow right in front of her Daddy’s…I’m sorry, her Dad’s eyes.
Now I’m relegated to leaning off of our front porch, hanging on to the post by my fingertips to catch a glimpse of her stepping off the bus, careful not to be seen (she really made an impression on me about her credibility). My daughter is completely engrossed in conversation with a friend that I am sure would sound like a conversation between a Klingon and an Aborigine to my untrained ears. She doesn’t look around for me. She doesn’t skip a beat walking down the sidewalk. She is totally comfortable walking alone.
Because walking down the sidewalk is a young lady whose burgeoning adolescence has instilled in her a sense of confidence and freedom that was coming no matter how much I tried to stop it and no matter how much I feared it. Hannah and I both know her independence doesn’t mean she doesn’t love me or she no longer is going to need me, it just means she will need me a little less (or at least not admit she needs me). That doesn’t diminish my feelings of not waiting at the corner for her bus nor does it mean I won’t miss her reaching out for my hand but I know this is not only just the beginning but this is life and either we learn to adapt (or cope depending on your personality) or we get passed by. So I’m learning to adapt. I’m learning the best thing I can do for my little girl is to stand to the side as she grows in to the young lady she is rapidly becoming and to do it so she has a sense of confidence and a sense of knowing I sincerely support her independence. But most importantly, I’m learning what my daughter has already figured out and that’s how I’m going to do, walking alone.