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Our daughter Ryann turns 21 Sunday. It’s a milestone of course, an oft-noted stepping off point for adulthood. It’s a celebration, too, as all birthdays should be celebrated. Too often they are denied to too many. She was born in North Carolina, but mostly raised and educated in Colorado. She is living with Susan and me now, taking a break from college. She successfully finished two years of the academic life at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colo., studying English and Japanese, which she speaks conversationally.
Having a child late in life – I was 40 then — compels one to at once appreciate the irresoluteness of previous behavior while looking to the future. Where one should be looking anyway.
Her older brother, William, named her. We were as surprised as he was at the news of her forthcoming arrival. He’s 12 years older. To stem any sort of disappointment of no longer being the “only child” we offered a caveat — you can name your sister.
So Will named her after his favorite baseball player at the time, Nolan Ryan. (He also liked Roger Clemens and Dale Murphy. Fine names, incidentally. ) “She’s not going to wear frilly socks,” he concluded during negotiations at the dinner table. To my knowledge, she hasn’t.
On the day she was born, I bought her a ring at the local jeweler in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., a nice-sized pearl in a gold setting. Her birthstone. I kept that ring in its box for 16 years in the corner of the top drawer of my dresser. When she turned 16, she got the ring. Another milestone celebrated.
When she was in the fifth grade, I received an awful health diagnosis and we had to relocate for five long months to Seattle in order to get a stem cell transplant so to put this blood cancer into remission. She went from having a nice house with a dog and the school friends she grew up with to a 700-square-foot apartment, in downtown, gritty Seattle. A real urban setting what with a drug rehab across the street, a grimy bodega on the corner and a porn store in the next block. She went to school with other cancer patients, or kids of cancer patients. In the course of seeing homeless people and stricken cancer patients in all stages of treatment — an education in itself — she began an assimilation of experiences with a vibrant Asian culture that is found in Seattle. Call it a silver lining from what could’ve been a dark place.
Besides sharing common genes, we share a propensity for laughter and being a couple of cut-ups. I believe we do this more often than most fathers and daughters, but then the data on such research is arbitrary. Our parents weathered a Great Depression, survived a world at war and made the lives of my older brother and me easy in comparison. While we had a home with love and support and education and all the blessings that come with, I don’t recall a whole lot of humor with our parents, as I was telling a good friend the other day. So that makes the I-Can’t-Believe-She’s-21 story a little easier. Every parent likely wants to return to the days of counting freckles and reading “Squawk to the Moon, Little Goose,” once more. The prism of looking back 21 years can be a reckoning; writing a column about the milestone, while a comfort, pales as a placebo for turning back the clock. As they say: it goes by fast.
The lovely thing about parenthood is that when you have a child early on in a marriage and you go through the bumps and bruises of growing up — discount store portraits, soccer camps, first dates and so forth — you think you have it nailed. Then along comes the late-in-life child, and you realize, well, you haven’t figured out anything. One size doesn’t fit all. In clothing. In newspapers. Or in middle-aged parenthood. Here’s the deal: With children so many years apart, you never really have a bad day ever. You smile a lot. You laugh more.