The hardest thing I have faced was watching my teenage daughter, Emily, risk her future by not taking the present seriously.
When Emily became a sophomore in high school her homework would often have incomplete written across the top. Furthering her education by attending college had always been my dream. However, just a few short months into her first year of high school, she was falling behind in algebra and English. By the middle of the year, fearing Emily’s failure, I paid for an Algebra tutor and an English tutor and they came twice weekly for one hour.
Extroverted would be an understatement if used to described Emily’s exuberance. Clearly, for Emily, attending high school had become a social event and the opportunity for a rounded education was secondary. Emily’s father and I were divorced before Emily’s graduation from a private middle school and I couldn’t help but think that I was partly to blame for Emily’s nonchalant attitude toward academics. Emily had devoted a great amount of her time in the development of a social life, by the end of her first year of high school, she knew half the student body. Holding onto my dream, the more I talked about her attending college the less inclined she was to listen. Yet, her grades had improved and I went ahead with the certainty of her pursuing a Masters’ Degree. During this time, my employer of twelve years filed Chapter Seven Bankruptcy. Subsequently, wanting an advantage when competing for employment, I entered college to earn an A.S. degree.
Soon enough, all seemed to be going well, even though I was forced to deal with more than occasional cutting of classes but a GPS installed on Emily’s phone put an end to that problem. To this day, I can remember her screaming in horror from the passenger seat as I sped down the freeway toward home without responding to her extreme distress. Then time, true to its nature, passed into another year. Emily was now seventeen-years-old, good natured, personable, generous, and loving. We were heading toward the finish line and as I started researching different colleges, with enthusiasm Emily began her senior year of high school and I the second year of college. I found it difficult to work full-time, rush home to prepare dinner, rush off to classes by 5:30, return home around 9:30, and then study into the late hours of the night to complete assignments.
Only weeks into her senior year, for the first time, Emily brought a boy home and introduced him as her boyfriend; his name was Carlos. He was pleasant enough yet knowing he had graduated high school two years earlier, to me, was worrisome but, I thought Emily would be off to college soon enough. One day, Emily started complaining of stomach aches that would come on as quickly as they left. I suggested she be seen by her doctor and made an appointment for the following week. At the clinic, Emily was asked to provide a urine sample and was handed a small plastic container and left the room to use the restroom. After Emily returned, it wasn’t long before the doctor entered the exam room. I was sitting in a plastic chair against the back wall facing Emily who was sitting on the edge of the exam table. After the usual once over of Emily, the doctor did not show signs of concern and left the room to check the test results of Emily’s urine sample.
Together, we silently waited, my thoughts drifted to the possiblilies of what was the cause of the stomach aches; flu, appendicitis or maybe teenage nevers. Lost in my thoughts the door opened and in walked the doctor. Immediately, all the blood drained from my face, my heart raced with the adrenalin my fear released and my eyes were fixed on what the doctor held in her hand. Without a glance toward me, she stepped to the side of the exam table and showed Emily what she held. The doctor asked my seventeen-year-old, college-bound daughter, “Do you know what this is?” With innocence, Emily replied, “No, what is it?” Tears had begun to flow from my eyes as I hung my head down. “You’re pregnant.” said the matter of fact doctor as if she had closed the case and was moving on to the next medical mystery. The doctor exited the room without another word.
Seconds later, when my eyes met my daughter’s the look on her face I had not seen before. Tears streamed down her cheeks and her lips trembled. To me, she looked like a lost child who was engulfed with terror, shock, and disbelief. Wth some effort, I stood up and took the few steps to be at her side. On auto pilot, I said, “We will get through this.” I could see my words had been interpreted that I had all the answers. With a defeated tone, Emily asked, “Okay, mom, so what should I do?” I hid my panic and uncertainty, knowing it was not my place to make the decison that would alter Emily’s life. In a split second, our lives had just taken a left turn into the thick fog of the unknown and whatever was to come could never be reversed. What was felt as a tidal wave, unbeknownst to me, would become a destructive tsunami permanently washing away the landscape of my life. Breaking the silence, I said to Emily, “I cannot tell you what to do, but I will gather all the information regarding the choices that are available to you, then you must decide what do.” Emily hopped off the exam table; now in a surreal world, we quietly left the clinic. My racing thoughts were in conflict as we walked through the parking lot. I was struck by the fact that this was not just her baby, this was to be my first grandchild and that shifted the balance making her decision a personal one for me as well. Over the next week, as reality sunk in and the choices were known, Emily made the decision to become a teenage mother. She also made the decision to move in with the father to be. Although I was against that decision there was no way to alter her direction. The first night Emily was gone, I cried myself to sleep feeling helpless and as lost as Emily had become.
Over the next nine months, busy working days and attending college at night, I didn’t speak with Emily as often as I should. Two weeks before her high school graduation, Emily gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Two months later, before my employer closed the doors, I graudated with honors. Then tragedy struck, I was diagnosed with advanced glaucoma. In that this disease is asymptomatic, I was unaware that my optic nerves were being irreversibly damaged until the day I could not see with one eye what I could with the other. I could no longer see well enough to work and was granted Social Security Disability. My income was now 1/3 of what I was earning as Key Accounts Manager for the company that was now closed down. Ultimately, the harsh reality was that financially I could not remain in the city I was born. Subsequently, within sixty days of my diagnosis, I had moved nine hours away, leaving Emily and my two-month-old grandson behind.
Through Facebook and texting, I remained current with what was happening in Emily’s life. Before the end of the first year, she left her boyfriend, moved into her own apartment and was granted full custody of her one-year-old son. My daughter was attending the college of life and in the first year, the tuition was steep. Nonetheless, by the grace of God, Emily was offered a prestigious position at one of the most sought after employers in Santa Barbara. This job afforded her the financial stability to be independent as a single parent.
Through the next five years, what I have learned is that my daughter is not the child I wanted to keep in mind but rather had grown into a beautiful young woman and a loving mother herself. To me, she shines like a rose freshly blooming and when I see the joy she receives from parenting and the love she has for her son, I see what I thought was going to be the hardest time Emily would live through now appears to have become nothing more than a walk in the park.