Growing pains


Sometimes the growth spurts are so incremental you can’t see them until they are long gone. The height chart hanging from the back of the door tells you how many inches she has grown. The artwork tucked away shows you how elaborate and exact her drawings have become. The school conferences remind you of goals and milestones and how far she has surpassed them. It’s the kind of growth that you expect to see as a parent…bit by bit and so gradual that only hindsight tells the full story.

But lately, my 7-year-old Doodlebug has been growing right before my eyes. I am standing back with awe and watching her evolve. I find myself in a Charlie Kaufman-esque movie, watching myself watch her, while the scenery and storyline swirl around in familiar yet complex layers.

Scene One: The child is no longer reading; she is submerging. She is diving under for hours at a time, coming up only occasionally for air or to squabble with her brother. She curls up on the sofa, tunes out the chaos and immerses herself in the world of wizard kittens or pioneer chores or magical peaches.

She carries a book with her always and reads every free moment. Our nightly rituals have always involved books, but now they fill every second except the shower. This means that during the five minutes of hairdrying she is too absorbed to complain about the tugging and detangling. So as usual I dry her hair and brush it smooth and shiny. “Chin up, Doodle,” I say repeatedly. She obliges briefly but immediately drops her nose back in the book. Finally I wise up and say, “Try holding the book up.”

Scene Two: It is another night, much later than the last. I am just getting into bed when I hear a door open down the hallway. I hold my breath, feigning sleep. I can see her brother’s room through an angled closet mirror so I know it must be Doodlebug. Another door opens, a toilet flushes, water splashes in the sink, then a door closes. The light never turns on and she presumably tucks herself back in bed. Yes, she is 7 years old and quite capable, but it was not so long ago that any night waking required some parental attention: an extra set of hugs and kisses, the nightlight back on, a glass of “Dad’s coldest water.” But tonight she needed nothing and I lie in bed with a little lump in my throat, thinking about how many of these lumps I’ve known and how many more are still to come.

Scene Three: We are at a rollerskating birthday party and it’s her first time ever to skate. She has been nervous all week. Does everyone else know how to skate? Will it be crowded? Will you please please stay? Will you skate with me? I made babysitter arrangements for both boys and agree to don some skates with her. It had been awhile for me, but what’s not to love about a skating rink that hasn’t changed at all in 25 years?

We skate together for maybe 20 minutes…holding hands, then side-by-side, and finally making daisy chains with several of her friends. She is soon confident enough to scoot along ahead of me, and I am soon awkward enough to find a seat near the purses and sneakers.

Before I know it, I glance up from my post and see Doodlebug at the far end of the rink skating alongside a sweet boy from her class. Their backs are to me, but their bodies tell me they are talking and laughing with ease.

This is the daughter who couldn’t bear to go to the party by herself, who hates to go to any party by herself. Who spent her preschool years sitting in my lap at many gatherings, watching happily from afar. Who still insists we walk her to her first-grade classroom every morning so she can get One Last Hug before she cheerfully says goodbye.

And now, here she is under a giant disco ball, skating along with a crew-cut boy to Debbie Gibson’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” as if she had been doing it her whole life.

And me, I am thinking that when I became old enough to have my life pass before my eyes, I did not expect to be wearing neon-orange rollerskates.