Monday, 28 April 2008

The one I've loved the longest

Yesterday, I sat in a café just off the campus of the University of Ottawa, waiting for elder daughter to finish her interviews connected with her participation in an adolescent girls study. It was a warm windy afternoon, and I watched the twenty-somethings pass by, swept up in term finals. Young girls look as pretty and varied as ever I remember, but, I dunno, guys these days look remarkably unprepossessing and all the darn same: baggy pants, short gelled hair, tee shirts. A young girl with dark hair, summery green top and jeans, and a comfortable, confident gait emerged from the throng of Sunday sidewalk strollers, and with a shock, I realized it was my daughter who just turned 16 last week. She could pass for someone in her twenties, which grates with her no end. (So could I, when I was her age --- until I opened my mouth.)

Both the Resident Fan Boy and I have had similar small shocks over the past few years when we've arranged to meet her somewhere, and for a split second, fail to recognise the tall, self-possessed young woman waiting for us.

I worry about her because she seems so all right. So articulate, centred, together. I was such a mess at her age. I've just dug out my diary from when I was 15 going on 16. It makes for depressing reading, my sixteen-year-old psyche.

She had the whole of our attention until age four, and really the bulk of it until age eight; her younger sister was pretty well a camp-follower until we realized there was a problem. Then, it became all about younger daughter: the meetings, the consultations, the therapies. I sometimes think elder daughter copes by being the "one we don't worry about"; she gets top grades, is pleasant company (aside from the odd adolescent hiccup).... I can count the crises we've had with her over the past eight years on the fingers of one hand.

How does she feel about having a special needs sister? It's hard to tell. I think her attitude towards those with "differences" is marginally more enlightened, but she clearly finds classmates with ADD, Aspergers, etc. a bewilderment and an exasperation. I remember a passionate discussion when she was about to turn twelve, when I was pleading the case of two classmates with learning difficulties. "This will be your sister in a few years." Her response was heated: "People like my sister!" "They like her because she is cute," I replied sadly. "She won't be cute forever."

A mother of one of her pals told me that she was surprised to learn that eldest daughter had a sister, because she never mentioned her. (In fact, this woman told me this every time we met. After a while, I wanted to hit her.) My heart broke a little when I saw that elder daughter's best friend had listed herself as her "sister" on Facebook.

And see? This damn post has become about younger daughter again.

In trying to give equal time, equal resources, equal care to two or more children, there's bound to be guilt and short falling. Do I love one child more than another? That's like saying I love ice-cream more than chocolate. The best answer I ever heard of in response to the inevitable who-do-you-love-best from an elder child is: "I love you both the same, but I've loved you longer." My elder daughter is my beloved first-born, the one I've loved the longest. All evidence to the contrary, I think about her and worry about her every day. She is everything I wanted to be when I was a teenager, from her self-discipline and assurance right down to the straight, heavy hair (mine was wavy). I wish her many happy returns.


Vanessa said...

I was really touched by this post. Thank you for sharing. Having lived away on my own for some time, my parents were always a little startled each time we were reunited by the little changes in me that only parents seem to really notice. I'm sure you are also the person your daughter has loved the longest. :-) Best to you.

Persephone said...

Now, there's a lovely way of looking at it! Thanks for stopping by, Vanessa! I wish you plenty of lovely roses to "eat"...