Thursday, September 07, 2006

So Much Like Myself

For adoptive parents there is always surprise when a child to whom you have contributed no genetic material resembles yourself. In our family of ten children, the child who is most like me in temperament is really the most unlikely candidate. We do not share the same gender, the same ethnic roots or the same personal level of attraction. Our thirteen-year-old daughter is a beautiful (growing moreso each day) Hispanic young woman about whom we often hear, "She is very beautiful" or similar phrases. Typically Claudia or I smile as we say, "Thank you, we think so, too, even though we can claim no credit for that!"

So, it isn't in those exterior ways that my daughter and I are so much alike. It is in the interior of life, which I witnessed again yesterday. In our new community students and parents have a pre-beginning-of-school conference with their home room teacher. So yesterday morning she and I left twenty minutes early (she and I both prefer to have plenty of time, especially when encountering new situations). She was pensive and her early-morning facial expression shouted, "Don't even try to talk to me." So we rode together the two miles to her school in silence, each of us savoring the sense of peace our absence from a large, active family afforded. We parked our car in the large (by our historic standards) school parking lot, exited the car and entered the building. Her first words of the morning: "I really hate this, you know," with my nodding response, "Yeah, I know, but tomorrow it will be worth." "I suppose," with the precise exhalation -- a combination of annoyance and anxiety -- that only an estrogen-filled thirteen-year-old can muster.

I asked how she would like to structure her morning (just as I prefer it when others ask me the same question), and she told me. We then proceeded through the process -- find the home room and teacher, listen to the information, look through the multi-page folder, complete the requisite forms, visit the locker (which is always too small and requires memorizing a combination, something which causes both of us some anxiety) ... then go from classroom to classroom plotting room-change stratgegy, complaining in the process about the inconsistencies of the building plan ... having the yearbook picture taken and irritated to do so ... a final stop at the locker to leave supplies and complain one last time about its lack of space ("What am I supposed to do when I have to wear a coat to school? It will never fit in here!")

And so we departed the school, our conference and orientation complete, both of us relieved to be done but using no words to say so. The tension relieved, we were able to talk for the two-minute trip home, the exchange of information cordial and helpful, with exchanged words precise and terse without being rude.

And as I waited in the driveway for her departure and our fourteen-year-old son's arrival (he had a later conference), I thought to myself, "She is so much like myself." Perhaps that is why I don't feel the need to try so hard as a parent with her. There are moments when I feel a little guilty, like I should be spending more time with her, or engaging her in more conversation, or giving her more attention, but I am realizing that I don't feel the need to try so hard because I understand her so well that we share an unspoken number of agreements that allow us to be connected in an introverted sort of way. It means that I give her space -- plenty of it, believe you me -- and try not to question her motives. When I ask questions I try not to be intrustive or obnoxious. I have learned that even in silence we can enjoy one another's company. This is not skirting my parental responsibility or abdicating a father's role in my growing daughter's life. It is, however, like navigating the interior of my own psyche, so I must do so with care and intentionality.

In those three minutes following her departure and prior to our fourteen-year-old son's arrival in my vehicle I gave thanks to God for the gift -- the unpredictable, moody, surprisingly resilient gift -- of a teenage daughter so much like myself. Captured by the reverie of those precious seconds of time, my momentary escape was ruptured by the intrusion of our most extroverted family member opening the car door. "Hey, dad," he said in his best English-as-a-second-language manner, "What's up? Ready for the conference at my school?" As the inchoate verbal meanderings ensued, I smiled to myself and began to think about how very different from myself this one is.

But that's a story for another day.

1 comment:

Linda said...

I loved reading this post Bart! I'm glad I got to meet you and your 13 yr old daughter before reading this, as I could picture the story as it unfolded. There are many times I can relate to our 14 yr old daughter because I have felt like she is feeling, etc and never tell her about it. There is something in your writing that spoke to me and has opened my eyes about parenting her. She is very much like your daughter. We don't share genetics or birth culture. I didn't feel like I had much in common with her. After reading your post, I now think we have a very special bond I wasn't even aware of. Thank you for opening my eyes-