Today my daughter Greta is 19. I know, I know, you are shocked I am old enough to have a child that age. I get that all the time. But she really is that old…. And that means that so am I. But today the post is not about me. It is about her.
Greta was born at Darnall Army Hospital at Fort Hood,Tx. She was born just after a rash of births there coinciding with the return of troops from Iraq following Desert Storm. Greta’s dad had been in the reserve and went active just after we invaded Iraq and had to catch up with his unit, not joining them in the sandbox until December so he had to stay a few extra months as a result. By the time we got to Fort Hood in April of 1991, everyone else was already pregnant. A few months before Greta was born there was a day when 24 babies were born at Darnall in less than 24 hours. It was a busy time.
Anyway, being 21 years old, a thousand miles away from home for the first time in my life and pregnant, I was a bit anxious. The military did not help. I got an ultrasound at 20 weeks, but they refused to even try to look and tell me if the baby was a boy or a girl. Since Greta’s dad and I could not decide on a name (he wanted John for a first name after himself. I thought the world had too many Johns as it was and refused the name), I was sure that this would be a nameless boy and I was terrified of being stuck out in Texas alone with a boy-child without a name.
Greta was born after 10 hours of labor at 3:54 am. I was exhausted and in more pain than I ever thought I could be in. The military did not even offer epidurals as an option at the time unless you were having a cesarean and I had to give birth with very little pain meds. They gave me ¼ of the Demerol the doctor has prescribed well into the labor, but never got around to the other ¾ which may have made a dent in the pain, not that I will ever know. It was also so long ago (or the military is so behind the times – or both) that they actually had to wheel me to a delivery room. For those few of you who may not know, they don’t bother with that anymore. Unless they have to take you to an OR for an emergency, you stay in one room the whole time now. The bed converts into a birthing table like a transformer and you are good to go right where you are. But again, this was a military hospital.
My mother flew (for the first and last time in her life) to Texas and stayed a couple of weeks. I remember dropping my mother off at the airport and looking down at Greta and crying. I was terrified. It was my job to keep this new fragile person alive and I had no clue how to do that. A few days after she left, Greta’s dad drove Greta and I home to Alabama and we stayed for a few months (this lengthy stay was not in the original plan, but I was not too torn up about it).
Greta was a good and happy baby. She was a bit demanding, I thought, but then I was 21 and clueless as to how much work having a baby actually was. Greta taught me a LOT. She was a beautiful baby and very good tempered. I managed to stay at home with her until she was 11 or 13 months (I really cannot remember now) when a lady who I’d known all my life through my parents’ church opened up a home daycare. I got a job as a teller at SouthTrust Bank. Greta was the oldest and the only girl. She took to daycare really well. She enjoyed the other kids – or at least the fact that she got to boss them around, the one thing she would get in trouble for on a regular basis. She would put the younger boys in time out. They probably deserved it. I can still remember seeing her little face watching for me out the window when I would drive up to get her every day.
When she was 3, I moved her to the highest ranked preschool/daycare in town. She loved it. On occasion she would not like it when I left her, but her teachers assured me she cheered up immediately when I left and had a great day. By then Greta’s dad and I were officially separated (he was in Georgia by then and I stayed in Alabama) and soon to be divorced. Greta and I had our own little two bedroom apartment at Fieldcrest in Dothan. It was great. I had never had my own place before! I was in school by then and working part time at the near-by Movie Gallery as an assistant manager.
Four mornings a week I would take Greta to daycare and go to school. Most of my work hours were on the weekends, so I could pick Greta up early at around 2p and she and I could hang out at the pool or something the rest of the day. On Fridays I would spend the day with her and take her to my parents after lunch (they lived a whole mile away) and work the rest of the evening. Usually on Friday evenings I could pick her up, but on Saturdays I closed the store and she would spend the night with my parents and I would pick her up on Sunday afternoons. This worked out pretty well for us for a few years.
Greta was precocious and full of joy and challenges during those Fieldcrest years. I found out then that the terrible twos weren’t near as bad as the threes. She was a handful. There were days when I just did not know how to handle her. She loved books and we read every night. I had a very specific bedtime routine and I followed it religiously for my own sanity. She hated to have her hair rinsed and screamed while I did it every single night.
I would find little finger digs in the stick of butter in the frige where Greta would help herself, thus solidifying the nickname “Butter” (which had originated because she was a downright fat baby – totally adorable!). One morning when she was maybe 4, I woke to find that the reason I had been able to sleep in instead of Greta waking me asking for breakfast as usual, was that she had already tried to help herself.
From the looks of it, the first egg broke by accident. However, Greta apparently found this to be great fun and continued breaking all the eggs and “cooking” with them. She even carried them to her bedroom and there was an egg soaked patch that never did come clean. I scrubbed and scrubbed and even rented a steam cleaner to try to get it up. It did not work. I just made a soap flavored meringue. Yuck.
Since I did not learn my lesson about sleeping while Greta was awake with the egg incident, she drove it home one day while I was napping on the couch. I woke to find her wide awake with a pair of scissors and doll hair all over my living room floor. The poor doll looked like the women in that horrible scene in Band of Brothers where they chop off the women’s hair as punishment for sleeping with the German soldiers. I scolded her and gave myself the 3rd degree for leaving scissors where she where she could get to them (although I am still not sure how she managed it – it was not like I kept them in the toy box). Then I noticed that she had cut a chunk out of her never-before-been-cut, still-curled-into-ringlets-at-the-ends, beautiful hair. I cried. I yelled. I took her and had it all cut off chin length (which was as short as I could stand) to let it grow out. I still have the hair preserved between two pieces of clear packing tape with the date and details of this incident recorded on it.
During our tenure at Fieldcrest my best friend (who had 2 kids, one 11 months older than Greta and one 3 weeks younger – yeah, whew!) got divorced as well and moved back to Dothan from Fairbanks, Alaska. Let the party begin! We spent then next 5 years together through thick and thin. We went out dancing just about every Saturday night that rolled around (a co-worker and friend had a 16 year old. Whoo HOO! Put the kids to bed, set the teenager up with movies and whatever else she needed and the three of us went out). Everyone (by “everyone” I mean the 3 of us… no guys allowed, of course!) came home to my friend’s house and we all spent the night there. My best friend met her husband on one of those nights. They dated for years before marrying and added two beautiful daughters to the two kids my friend already had. Over Memorial Day weekend they celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary.
I would not trade those 5 years for anything, though. Greta and I moved into a house in a large subdivision in Chapelwood. If you were from Dothan you would know exactly what that meant. We lucked into a spec house and were there for about 3 years. It was a great place and we loved it there. I was still in school full time. We had a ball there. My friend’s kids and Greta were together all the time. I remember Greta having a sprinkler party one birthday when we invited more kids than I should have and my dad set up 5 different kinds of sprinklers in the yard for the kids. One Halloween we had a bunch of kids over to go trick-or-treating. Greta and my friend’s daughter dressed as cats. Adorable.
There was also the golf club incident which landed my friend’s son in the ER requiring stitches to his forehead. I found out two things that night: one was that head wounds really do bleed a terrifying amount and the other was that when one of my friend’s children are hurt she can perform amazing feats like run through walls and overcome her issue with fainting at the sight of blood. The kids were playing “baseball” in the bedroom. The golf club was the “bat.” I think Greta threw the ball, the sister tried to hit it and wound up clocking her brother in the forehead with said “bat” (the roles here could have been reversed for all I know). Greta came flying into the kitchen bearing the bloody news and my friend apparently morphed through the walls in a panic to get there. To this day I don’t know how she moved so fast. I had seen her faint at the sight of blood before. Not only did she not faint, she held his hand and looked him in the eye while he was being stitched up (and I am sure the needle through his skin made her want to vomit at the very least) – and that is just what great Mamas do.
Also, while we were in Chapelwood, we had our Brazilian exchange student, Renata, come live with us for about 6 months. She was great. At the time, Renata was 17 and she was already a world traveler. She had done an exchange program in Cananda, her grandparents were Italian and she’d visited often and gone no telling where else by then. I am sure Dothan, Alabama was a pretty fair step down from what she was used to, but she never let on. She and Greta bonded like sisters (complete with the arguments) and it was a great time. Renata is now a journalist with a major magazine and lives in Rio de Janeiro. We lost touch for a while, but managed (through the wonder of Facebook) to get back in touch. She is just as amazing as I knew she would be.
After my friend moved away and got married, I spent the next few years in free fall. This period of time lasted longer than I would like to admit and was probably more detrimental to Greta than I would like to admit as well. We moved to Mobile and were there for a few horrible years. I loved living in Mobile, but I was not stable and that meant Greta’s life was not either. I lost a good 5 years to bad choices and emotional instability. Unfortunately, Greta had to live through them with me. I will always regret those years and would give anything to undo them, but it is simply not in my power to do that.
During that time in Mobile, Greta did well, though. She was admitted to a magnet school there that catered to and nurtured creativity. She also had quite the wit. I remember one day our cat, Snidget, had caught and killed a dragon fly that we found outside in the drive way. Greta was the first to see it and, without missing a beat, pointed it out to me saying, “Looks like another kitty crime scene.” Man, she could make me laugh! We also got to go to Mardi Gras in Mobile. That was a blast. A lot of people don’t know that Mardi Gras started in Mobile. New Orleans took a good idea and ran with it. We still have a huge cup with all the cool beads we caught.
One thing Greta has always loved is amusement parks. For her 5th birthday my parents and I took her to Disney World. It was a great trip. When we lived in Mobile, one year my parents and I took a trip up to Atlanta (where Greta was staying with her dad for the summer) and took her to Six Flags. Another year we went to White Water in Atlanta. And there was another birthday trip to Six Flags. I suppose it will always be to go-to idea for Greta’s birthday. She still loves it.
After Mobile we moved to Atlanta. I got married in 2005 and we moved with my new husband to Houston. I thought this would mean more stability for Greta, but I am not sure it did. In 2007, Greta was in the room when Ezra was born. I think that (and the following months of having a newborn in the house) gave Greta a unique perspective on exactly what it takes to have kids. She loves Ezra but understands that having kids is a huge responsibility. When Ezra was a couple of weeks old Greta kept him while Ezra’s dad and I went to his company Christmas party. Greta’s friend who lived next door came over and I think they just sat and alternatively watched him sleep in one of their laps and played video games with him lying on the bed next to them. Not long after Ezra was born his dad and I separated and we moved back to Atlanta. I am remarried now and there will be another baby in a few months. I am not sure Greta is going to want to be present for his birth. One may have been enough for her.
Tonight I am making Greta’s favorite dinner: Poppyseed Chicken, fried okra, rice and breaksticks. There are homemade cupcakes topped with my mother’s buttercream icing. She is getting money to help her with this weekend’s Bonaroo trip. She is so excited to go, I think she is going to burst. Plans fell through once, but they managed to save the trip. While I will worry every second she is gone, I know I would have loved to go to something like this when I was 19, and I would not deny her the fun of having the experience. Besides, pretty soon it will be all work and school, so she might as well have a good time this weekend before all the work kicks in.
In a couple of weekends she will get her real present – a fully restored, repaired, paid off and insured Mazda Tribute. My dad has been working like mad on it for months. This is for commuting to school and work. She will work so she can keep it insured, make sure it is gassed up and pay for the school to insure she will have a career so when it dies and she has a good-paying job and the money to replace it…and for everything else she still has no idea she will be working for the rest of her life.
Having seen where all she has come from, I am both anxious and excited about what she has in front of her. I remember being 19. I would not want to go back, but I almost envy the blank slate she has in front of her. I still see the precociousness and stubbornness in her that reaches all the way back to when she was 3. Not to mention the defiance that has been an undercurrent as well. I worry that she is as shortsighted as I was. I worry because she is still tricked by the illusion of time. And I worry that she may not have everything she needs right now because of my inadequacies as her mother. But I cannot help but be thrilled for her even through my worry because there is nothing like being 19 and at the start of adulthood… and the time of blissful cluelessness before you find out that all those years you wanted nothing more than to grow up was a total misunderstanding.