Last Thursday, we brought our daughter, Hunter, back to school in North Carolina. I had nagged her for days to pack. But being a teenager, she saw no harm in waiting, and since I had counseled otherwise, there was the upside that it would bug me no end. So at 1 a.m. Thursday she started to pack. She finished by 4 a.m. and was up at 7:00 with the car stuffed and ready to go. I told her I was pleased and surprised but worried that three hours sleep was insufficient, especially for someone who had just been diagnosed with pneumonia. She grinned coyly, as daughters are wont to do with their dads.
She slept most of the trip down, awaking only for lunch. I could sense her anticipation, and she confirmed that she was indeed excited about getting back to school, or should I say, getting back to her friends. School was merely the gathering spot.
Hunter is our mystical child. She is thinking of majoring in philosophy and savors each moment of life, good or bad, one by one. She rarely speaks in the future tense. When we arrived, she rushed out of the car to see her roommate and best friend, with whom she probably exchanged a thousands text messages this summer.
We unloaded the car and the storage shed. Hours later, her room was filled with unopened boxes, but she promised to unload them, as we left to spend the night with friends. Like most children, she tries to please her parents. She wants to make us proud.
She’s not always sure how. She’s always received good grades, though her inability to focus has presented problems over the years. You see, homework needs to be done in the future. It’s not in the moment. She worked long hours this summer, in part, I think, to prove to us she could and in part to buy shoes, her passion and definitely a pleasure of the moment. But much like many parents, we sometimes don’t really know what will make us proud and rarely ask what would make our children proud of us.
The next morning, we came back to help her get settled. At 11:00 she was still sleeping and had unpacked all of three boxes. We then helped run errands. One trip was to the grocery store, where we hoped to stock her apartment with something nutritious. She obliged, knowing that chips and cookies were just a short walk away from her place. While we wandered the aisles, she reminded us of the little girl who as a five-year old wore two different socks. Why? “Because I like to.”
Most 19-year olds are self-conscious. She is no exception in many ways. But she is a lover of fantasy and wonderment. So she was not at all embarrassed when she saw a large stuff horse in the grocery store, grabbed it and ran up to me calling out, “Daddy, buy me a pony, buy me a pony!” She then let out her hearty laugh and skipped off to the meat department. Yes, at 19, she still can skip at the least provocation.
She also cries at the least provocation, especially watching movies. If so much as a fly is hurt, Hunter cries. It’s what seems appropriate to her at the moment. She is sensitive to life’s injustices and to tender expressions of love.
We finished up the day’s chores and said our goodbyes. She began to cry. She was excited to see her friends but sad to see us go. She’s still more comfortable in her own home. She’s leaving that behind for another year.
The drive home was uneventful. We talked of how much we enjoyed Hunter the last two days. In honor of her, we didn’t unpack the car of the things she decided she didn’t need after all. Instead, Karla watched “Mrs. Doubtfire” for probably the fourth time in as many weeks. Like her daughter, she can watch movies over and over again. I joined her at the point where Robin Williams unsuccessfully pleads with the judge to let him see his children because “he needs them” and can’t live without what they give him. Sally Fields soon relents, of course. You all know the sappy ending. You almost expect Robin Williams to buy his younger daughter a pony. I could feel my eyes well up. I couldn’t stop the tears.
Hunter would be proud of me.