In my 37 years, I’ve seen my share of loss. I’ve lost all of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, fellow Marines, a brother-in-law, cats, dogs and other pets, co-workers, and obviously, my wife. There has been illness, accidents, age, war, heart-attacks, and a sprinkle of stupidity involved. It happens. Death happens. I know of no one my age that hasn’t experienced some sort of loss to death at some point in their lives. The first loss can symbolize a loss of innocence. A loss of the childlike optimism that nothing bad ever befalls us. It’s reality surfacing for the first time in our lives.
For some, that could happen at a very early age. Others may be adults before it happens. Regardless, death is something that we humans are aware of. We are conscious of our mortality very early on, and the first loss of someone or something close to us brings with it clarity.
However, there is a secondary loss currently beginning to clarify in my life. Something I was aware that I would lose one day, but that I will never be prepared for. You would think, after so many years with Megan’s Cystic Fibrosis, that I would be better suited to be mentally cope with something long-term and inevitable…
...Shelby growing up.
She’ll be eleven in a month. She’s “graduating” the 5th grade a few months later, and moving on to middle school. She doesn’t read “little kid” books anymore...not even the Sunday comics interest her. She’s spending more and more time with friends and less and less time asking me to take her hiking or fishing or playing games.
There are flashes of attitude bubbling up from time to time. Sarah and I call it “pre-teening”. She’ll roll her eyes or sigh when we tell her to peel away from a book or video game and walk her dog or do her chores. Instead of laughing with me when I’m goofy, or even laughing AT me, she seems annoyed more and more often. The jokes about me chaperoning her prom in high school or ensuring there's an embarrassing picture in her senior yearbook are no longer jokes to her...they’re concerns.
Make no mistake, she’s still a kid. She is still goofy and silly and likes her stuffed animals and unicorn robe and stuffed pig slippers. She hasn’t been totally tainted by “fitting in” yet, and that’s what makes her awesome. At the same time, she is starting to outgrow the past 10 years of “fitting in” with me. She’s embarrassed to sing along to music in the car (save for one silly Christmas song), and would greatly appreciate it if I stop joking about her having a boyfriend. She has almost no interest in cooking, building, or creating things with me unless I force her to.
She’s forming her own interests, and knows how to learn independently of parental input, and it’s that independence that is tough for me to face.
I LIKE being depended upon. I just do. My swim team in high school depended on me as their team captain. My Marines depended on me when I was their platoon Sergeant. Megan depended on me for years as a caretaker and husband. Shelby has depended on me for a decade now for not only caretaking, but teaching, entertaining, and learning right from wrong.
She’s beginning to leave some of that behind. She’s growing up. I love it, and I hate it at the same time. I am so proud of her, for she’s always been at least a few years beyond her actual age, but at the same time, I’m losing some of her. She’s been with me through both the best and the worst of it all. She’s been my “war-buddy”. Everything that I (and Megan, and Sarah) have put into raising her for the past ten years is beginning to ripen, and I’m just not quite ready to face the reality that in a few more, she will be a teenager, and counterintuitively, hopefully not want to lean on her old man so much.
The rub of it all is that Shelby becoming independent and being in her formative years is something that I have desired since her birth. It’s something that Megan wished to be there for as well. Megan didn’t quite make it this far, but I’m sure we would be in the same boat...happy that Shelby is growing up, and sad that we’re beginning to lose our “little peanut”.
It’s a loss any parent hopes for and dreads. It’s wanting them to leave the nest, yet never have to be an empty nester. It’s asking for that “one more year” of childhood, while secretly desiring nothing more than to see her as a successful, strong, smart, and strong-willed woman.
Look, she’s only 10. She’s not off to college, getting married, having children, and only calling on holidays. She’s got at least 8 more years before she’s out of the house and truly becoming an adult. But, it starts here. It as if you add that second digit to her age, and the wheels are not-so-subtly set in motion. She’s still in that state where “growing-up” means getting an inch taller month-over-month, rather than buying a house or starting a family or career. We’ve got some butting-of-heads to come over then next few years, I’m sure, but ultimately, it’s the loss of our “little-girl” to a “young woman” that will take time for me to adjust to.
She’s going to make mistakes. It’s part of maturing. She’ll learn from her own mistakes, and I will always feel they were my fault, whether she’s 14 or 40. I’m having to learn myself how to foster her sense of responsibility, while not taking everything she does under my own.
In fact, I’M still growing up. I’M still learning. My parents never had a girl...just my younger brother and I. Megan had no sisters either, and truth be told, word on the street is that she was an absolute terror in her teenage years. Sarah is the youngest of 4 herself, and her parents are both gone. None of us were only-childs. The lack of experience is beginning to show for me, and I fear it, yet see it as a good type of challenge.
Maybe I’m just not ready to begin that challenge yet. The pause button may have been pressed for me when Megan died 3 years ago, but it certainly wasn’t for Shelby. In fact, I think it accelerated her growth. I’m just noticing the early signs of losing what I have known of her, dreading it, yet secretly smiling proudly for her.
There are dichotomies at every turn. There is the obvious thought of Megan “not getting to see her growth”, yet it is opposed by the thought that “at least Megan didn’t have to see her grow up”.
I want to see Shelby mature...just not yet.