Sunday, May 23, 2004

My Kids

I have a 17 year-old daughter, and an 18 year-old son. I know that most of my posts on this blog are about politics, arts, culture, religion, or other topics of normal adult conversation, but this one is going to be a little more personal.

Ali, my daughter, is a happy enigma to me. She loves horseback riding - not just like so many other teenage girls do. For her, it isn't just a hobby and a topic for a few posters on the wall. It is an area where she is growing in strength and skill. I went and saw her practice a couple weeks ago, and she looks so controlled and accomplished on her horse. (Well, not "her" horse. She rides one of the horses at the stable - I wish I could afford the cost of a horse and its maintenance. She deserves it, but chose her parents unwisely.) Horses are likely to be a constant in her life, if not in her career.

She is incredibly kind to children - always the favorite baby-sitter of her customers. Ali has a warm and accepting smile - kids can sense that she enjoys their company without patronizing them. Coloring, watching cartoons, or giggling over something silly, they know she is happy to be there in the moment with them - she surrenders her teen distance and becomes a big little girl with them.

She's struggling with the fact she hasn't figured out exactly what she wants to do with her life - not a big sin in a 17 year-old, but I know it weighs on her. She is an incredibly smart generalist. She scores in the 99th percentile on standardized tests, but she doesn't present herself as a genius in any particular topic. Meeting her, you'd think she is just a bright, average teen girl. You wouldn't know that she has the intellectual horsepower to change the world. But she does, and someday she's going to find out how she wants to direct that power. I hope, in the meantime, she enjoys being the person she is, and doesn't force herself into being who she thinks will make others, myself included, happy.

Sam, on the other hand, has chosen a direction, and is sprinting into the world. Next fall, he will start in the Dramatic Writing program at NYU. If anybody can make it in the world of screen writing and dramatic writing, I think it's Sam. He's written several plays already that have been produced locally, and his writing keeps on maturing. He's read everything from Nabokov to Hemingway to Chabon, and he simply "gets it" at a level I'm not sure I ever achieved, even when I was totally immersed in literature. He's funny, incredibly bright, and a hard worker. A nerdy non-athlete, he was elected class president and homecoming king in a school where he had every opportunity to be a self-pitying outsider. His record bristles with achievements, and he is a joyful presence in the house.

They are both joyful presences in the house, with their outrageous senses of humor, strong opinions, uncanny wits and fascinating ideas. And I suppose that fact is what has caused me to do this post - in a short while, our house will lose their splendid noise. Sam will be gone in a couple months, never to really return as a resident. He'll be changed by New York City, and I'll never know him as well as I do now, nor will I get to see him every morning and night.

And his sister will depart a year after that - no idea where yet, but almost certainly someplace far away and wonderful. I count myself fortunate that I have another year with Ali - time to bridge the distance between a father too quick to tease or fail to notice the important things in her life, and a daughter who doesn't quite know what to make of her father. She and I are not as much alike in tastes and obsessiveness as Sam and I are. I'm grateful for another year to find a way to let her know how much I love, enjoy and admire her for being who she is.

They are both leaving this house for adventures I cannot wait to hear about. I'll miss them horribly, but I'm thrilled for them both, and I would hate for them not to seize their opportunities for change and growth. They're both going to leave marks on this world.

Last night we had a graduation party for Sam, and it was wonderful to see the village that came out to congratulate him. Old family friends, current school friends, former and current teachers, neighbors, relatives - it was proof of the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. We have been blessed by the people who have gotten involved in the lives of Sam and Ali, and helped make them who they are. They are better than I could have hoped when I first held them as infants. Nothing I will ever do in life will compare to being their parents.

38 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely post, Dan. I don't have any kids myself, but your remarks gave me a taste of how wonderful it can be to have such persons in your life. -- Jessica

6/29/2004 8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your Kids are lucky, Dan. I'm a teen too, and not half so lucky. I hope they don't take it for granted, but they sound really cool, so I'm sure they don't. Neat about NYU, by the way, I'm going for Notre Dame.

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