The skies here have shared some sunshine in the past few days, but mostly they have been gray. Over the past few months we have struggled through the stress of caring for a loved one whose care is getting more difficult. That comes with a sobering dose of reality that if I don’t change, his present could become my future. And yet that change is so hard to grasp.
This might be why my daughter Sarah turning 13 seems like such a joyous event to me. I should be sad, I’m told. But her birthday, her milestone, her own rite of passage has somehow become all that for me, too. The other reason the event is so wonderful for me is because Sarah is so wonderful herself.
In a story I’ve told a million times she was the granddaughter my mother always wanted. I’ll be honest. I wanted our first child to be a boy. I envisioned a protector of all the others. I got over that within minutes and embraced the idea that for the first time in my life I would live in a house in which I was outnumbered by females.
The pregnancy was a relative breeze for Diana, but the birth was touch and go. Almost every problem that could happen, did, for both Sarah and Diana. When Sarah was finally free from her mother as the doctors worked quickly to heal Diana, another set of doctors surrounded a tiny table bearing an infant who took her time in announcing her presence. My gaze shifted back and forth between what was happening with Sarah and what was going on next to me with Diana.
And then the cry.
The first one I had ever heard for a child of my own was sweeter music than any, relieving some of my worry as the work on Diana continued. Within a few minutes they wrapped Sarah up and brought her over to me. They put her in my arms and she sunk into them quietly.
They say babies can’t really focus for a few weeks, but in the first moments of Sarah’s life it seemed to me she was looking inside me as she gazed up and made eye contact. It was less like I was holding something new and more like I was sharing affection with an old friend who seemed awfully glad to see me again. She was even smiling a sweet, gentle arc.
Sarah turns 13 today, so the days of that kind of bonding are not as frequent as they once were. As it should be she has entered a part of her life where some of the closeness she had with me and Diana has been replaced by her bonds with her friends. That moment I had during her first minutes of life is not one she will ever remember. In fact, at this point in her life it may be that her mother and father are a constant threat to embarrass her.
But that’s OK, because I will remember that moment, just like I will remember the time she got off the bus from kindergarten, saw me at the front door and ran toward me yelling “Daddy!” and those walks we took when she was about 4, when we decided we probably better not walk into that forest because Tigger might bounce on us. There was also that New Year’s Eve when she was little and we came home after midnight from friends. Sarah was tired and let me have it with a barrage of unintelligible, but loud, complaints about us having left our friends and her having to go to bed.
And I will remember what she meant to my mother, who gave birth to three boys and had four grandchildren, all boys, until Sarah came along. Two weeks after Sarah was born my mom learned she had stomach cancer and two weeks after that she died. For every reason but one she was ready to die. The one thing that made her want to stay was Sarah. Having watched Sarah now for 13 years, I can see why.
Those beautiful bonding moments that happened so often when Sarah was little still happen from time to time. They just look different and they’re harder to predict. I don’t mind that Sarah is getting older. (What does bother me is that I am, too.) Every day, if I pay attention there is something new to celebrate about all of our children. Sarah has borne the burden of leading the way for Sascha and Apollo with some ease, some willingness and sometimes some resentment. It is not always easy for her, I’m sure, but I don’t often get the sense that she regrets her station in life.
That Sarah is becoming a woman now is something I can still watch as a happy father. I know that could change the moment some boy becomes part of the story. So far, though, so good.
The day will come when I will watch a door close behind her when home becomes a dorm, or an apartment or some other element I can’t conjure. I imagine that day being within the list of those that stick with me. Those usually come, though, when I’m not anticipating them. I didn’t expect to earn that gaze from Sarah that first day of her life, but like so many I’ve had with her since, it became a moment that lasts forever. No matter what success I ever achieve in life in the form of money or respect from the world, nothing will give me the joy that that lasting memory has. That was the moment I discovered love.
Happy Birthday, Sarah.