Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Turning Points

At some point in our lives as parents, we hit a new turning point when our children cease to be our “children” and become our friends. I’m not sure if this is an age specific thing or if it is different for boys and girls, but I do know that when my first-born turned 25 last month, I was hit with a sudden realization that my relationship with her had changed—in a forever kind of way. There was no sadness in this moment at all for with it came the knowledge and understanding that my baby, this former child of mine, has been transformed into a friend—and she is one of the best possible friends to walk the face of this earth with me.

Seven young mothers in the maternity unit at the McMaster Medical Centre filed into my room the day she arrived, a quarter of a century ago. They solemnly announced that they had just finished a walking tour of the nursery to look at all the newborns and had chosen mine as the loveliest of all 28 babies in the nursery that day. And while I secretly agreed that she was indeed the fairest of them all, with her single blonde curl, rosebud lips and infant starfish hands, it was her steely eye that spoke to me first. When she fixed that determined gaze on me, I knew in a heart-beat that I would learn a lot from this tiny being.

And so it has come to be. She has taught me much over the course of the years-and I expect she will continue to teach me for many more years. What kinds of things? Let me elaborate:

Curiosity Doesn’t Kill The Cat. Ever.
She has taught me that curiosity is a great teacher. She is naturally curious about everything—music, people, places, poetry, language, food, art, politics, sport— and this is a gift that has taken her far. She has travelled widely, experienced much and has friends all over the world. She has searched for el paco in the mountains of Bolivia, eaten a roasted guinea pig, and dog sledded in the frigid forests of Quebec. She has celebrated Easter in Poland where she slept in a closet and experienced first-hand the generosity of people who have nothing, and New Year’s in Mexico where she ate a grape for every wish she made on the stroke of midnight. She has survived hair raising bus rides in South America, skied the Sierra Nevada, played the slots in Monte Carlo and hiked on a plain of salt. She has bungee jumped from the dizzy heights of a swaying tower, circled silently towards the earth in a glider and been awestruck by the beauty of Machu Picchu. She takes Spanish cooking lessons, gardens in a community garden and has launched herself—fearlessly—into the arms of a stranger on a trapeze.

It Takes Guts.
I wept when, as a young woman, she left home-completely alone- for a year studies abroad. I should have saved my tears. By the time she had arrived in southern Spain 15 hours later, she had already gathered a large group of new companions along the way. Many became life-long friends. Later she spent several months in Bolivia, living in a poor area of Le Paz, travelling around the country side and working only in Spanish. She dealt with the miseries of stolen credit cards, horrendous bouts of food poisoning, ice-cold apartments and dangerous streets. She has experienced such irritations as bus drivers making pit stops at brothels and the frightening ordeal of being detained by the Mexican police, but has faced it all with her usual poise, grace and her uncanny ability tell a riveting story afterwards.

Never Say Never.
At nine months, this child of mine stood up and walked. Gripping her two small fists in front of her, she lurched in an awkward goose step down the laneway of her grandparents farm—a full 500 yards. She had never stood upright before. At 12 months she could walk down a stair case without holding the banister. In high school, a math teacher once told her she was weak in math. Never could a teacher, however misguided, have provided more inspiration. For the next three years, she slaved over her math texts, wept over exercises, listened intently to explanations, did copious amounts of homework late into the night, wept and slaved some more. By the time she graduated, she was something of a math whizz and was considering a full degree in mathematics at university—and had the marks to do it. She has since chosen other paths but her can-do attitude has never left her as she has made her way to fluency in two additional languages, an advanced degree in political science, and a successful entry into the work force.

Kindness Is A Way of Life.
Of all the things I have learned from her, kindness is perhaps her greatest lesson. For her, kindness is the leading principle of her life. Over and over, her empathy has not only astounded me-but also humbled me. On countless occasions, when taken aside to be questioned on why she continues to be good to someone who has wronged her, she responds simply with “What’s wrong with being the best person I can be at all times?” If only I could be so wise. She always makes time for her friends and her family. She wraps gifts, pores over heart-felt and hand-written cards and never misses a special occasion. She once took a 22 hour bus ride alone through a foreign country to visit an injured friend in the hospital.

Her passion—and chosen line of work—is human rights. Her sisters are her best friends and Christmas is her favorite time of year.

Live. Love. Laugh.
She is known for her infectious laughter, her ability to tell a story in the most self-deprecating manner, and her uncontrollable, hysterical fits of giggling that can continue long into the night, especially when spurred on by the running commentary of her sisters. She laughs at animated squirrels in movies, in yoga classes—and even out loud in her sleep. I see it as one of her gifts to others.

She is also known for the sprinkle of freckles that have graced her small nose for about twenty of her twenty five years. The mother of a young playmate once commented to me that she felt it was those freckles that made her so many friends—I nodded and smiled but I knew, and continue to know, better.