A Grateful Grumble: A Personal Narrative
This morning there was a knock at my bedroom door. It was followed by my daughter’s muffled voice, “It’s almost 7:45.”
“I know,” I sighed. “I’m up. Be out in a minute.”
Not long ago, I was the one who roused my sleepy girl from bed for school. I’d cajole her into clothes. Put breakfast in front of her. Braid her hair. Rush her out the door.
Now 15, she no longer needs my reminder to brush her teeth. Instead she knocks to make sure I haven’t overslept. The buses have become too unreliable. She needs me to drive her. “Please,” she says, “Let’s not be late again.”
Grumbling, I pulled on cold jeans and a sweatshirt.
A night owl by nature, I focus best in the evenings. I often don’t finish work until well after midnight. During the school year, I don’t shift my schedule, I just burn the candle at both ends. It’s been my m.o. since becoming a mother. Mornings like today, I wonder whether 21 years of sleep deprivation might finally be catching up to me.
Not long from now though I know my daughter will stop knocking at my door. The time we spend traveling to and from school together will end. While I might finally get enough sleep, I realize that when that happens, I won’t feel relieved. Instead, I’ll feel a bittersweet ache as another chapter of parenthood comes to a close.
When my daughter was a toddler, she used to wrap her arms and legs around my calf, like a bear cub climbing a tree. Turning up her big eyes to mine, she would beg me to walk. She wanted to go with me wherever I was headed – the grocery store, the mailbox, the living room.
She was my second and, likely, last child, and I knew this exhausting but excruciatingly sweet phase would be all too brief. Although it was futile, I couldn’t help but try to freeze time. I used to squat down, squeeze her tiny squirming body and beg, “Please don’t grow up!”
Giggling, she’d squeak, “I can’t stop growing, Mommy!” before running after her big sister.
Later she would skip beside me in her pink jacket and leopard print backpack on our way to elementary school. On sunny days we’d race each other down the forest path, leaping over rocks and tree roots to arrive flushed, out of breath, and early. On rainy days, though, she stopped to rescue so many marooned earthworms that we were almost always late.
This morning, my daughter climbed into the passenger seat of the car, brushed her long dark hair, and stared nervously at the clock. She had a social studies presentation to give.
When it became clear that we would make it on time, she relaxed a bit. We chatted about the car ahead of us, how the shape of the state of Minnesota hardly seemed worth putting on the center of a license plate.
As I turned eastward, the rising sun glared through the windshield. We squinted, but the sun wasn’t the only reason it was hard to see. My daughter chided me for not wiping off the film that had built up inside the glass. “It’s a driving hazard!”
I nodded. She should know. She’s taking driver’s ed.
We arrived with three minutes to spare. In a single graceful motion she put on her mask, grabbed her backpack, and swung open the car door. Stepping out, she mumbled, “Bye” without looking back.
I tried to wish her a good day and “I love you” as the door slammed shut. For a moment, I watched as her long legs carried her swiftly across the parking lot and into the building.
In six months, she’ll have a driver’s license and the keys to her sister’s old car. Then I’ll wake each morning and check the driveway to see if she’s left for the day. Eventually, the car will remain, but my daughter, like her big sister, will fly off somewhere, to forge a life without me.
For now, there’s still some time. Tomorrow, she’ll knock on my door again. I’ll grumble, but also, I’ll be grateful.