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Turning 21


November 3, 2011

Our last child has come of age. With our guidance, and without it, she learned to walk and to read, to cook and sew and ride a bike and drive a car. Singing seemed to be divinely granted. There were piano lessons and Girl Scouts and summer camp and basketball league. She was an easy learner and an eager one. She spurned my attempts to guide her sartorial style, developing her own at 18 months when she insisted on dressing herself—many times a day.

When it came time at age three to swim with the big kids, she was told she could not go in the deep end unless she could swim the length of the pool at our summer bungalow—60 feet. Hearing that, she promptly barreled in and swam the length and back. So there!

She was an oppositional child from the get-go. But she seemed always to love the structure and purpose of school. With other parents—less distracted and more goal-oriented—she might have been a high achiever academically. With the luck of the draw being us, she still managed to yield a good scholarship at a fine college and make honors.

At home it was useless to ask her to help. When I pointed this out to her recently—her oppositional streak—she listened intently. “How best to oppose this characterization?” she seemed to wonder. I’m still waiting for the answer. I remember using it to her advantage early, when she wanted piano lessons like her big brother. “Not until you are six,” we told her. We never had to tell her to practice after that.

Life with her has been full of conundrum. It started with a 36-hour labor that yielded a docile pink girl-child who took regular naps and weaned herself easily at 10 months. Later, the intensity of her emotional fits would have us consider a consultation with a neurologist. (Note to parents; eliminate nitrates first.) When her father asked her at age two and a half to explain a recent nuclear-powered outburst, she explained “Oh, Daddy, sometimes I’m a fussy girl and sometimes I’m a happy girl.” It has been my mantra ever since.