Turn Around, They're Gone
Before winter made a ferocious comeback this week, the sun offered a flirtatious hint of early spring. Northern New Englanders call it the "January thaw."
I went out for a midmorning stroll to fetch a coffee on West Broad Street and encountered a remarkable display of human synchronicity, perhaps another harbinger of spring.
Six young mothers in a row, all pushing prams bearing toddlers or infants, passed me on the sidewalk. Astoundingly, they were perfectly spaced half a block apart, stretched across three separate blocks, like planes in the glide pattern of a metropolitan airport.
"Excuse me," I said to the fifth mother and child, unable to restrain my curiosity. "Did a convention of new mothers just let out up the street? Are we on 'Candid Camera'? I've never seen such a parade of sunning babes."
She laughed, glancing down the block. "Nope," she said. "I guess we're all just happy to get out in the warm sunshine with our babies. I know that's what we're doing - right, Maggie?"
Her daughter smiled up at me from her fleecy stroller seat, all big round eyes and tawny curls. I touched the end of her nose, and she grinned.
"I have a Maggie, too," I was pleased to point out. Mom smiled. "You do? How old is your Maggie?"
"Twenty-one," I said - "or will be in a few days."
Every Day an Adventure
I explained that on Sunday I was scheduled to drive a van full of our household furniture up to Vermont for my daughter's first apartment. Most of the items had been in her bedroom since she was born, including a beautiful old cherry-wood bed that belonged to her grandmother.
"That's so nice," the mother said. "The big 21, eh? Daddy's little girl is all grown up. Any advice on raising a young Maggie?"
For an instant, even young Maggie seemed interested to hear. But then an approaching Jack Russell on a leash captured her attention.
"My Maggie is the headstrong and independent type," I said.
"So's this one," young Maggie's mom said with a laugh. "Yesterday at Harris Teeter, she decided to open a 5-pound bag of sugar all on her own."
I started to advise Maggie's mom to savor every minute of young Maggie's life - noting how quickly 21 years could come and go. One minute you would be changing young Maggie's diaper. The next you'd be saying hello to her handsome college boyfriend, feeling a little put out to no longer be the leading fellow in her life.
"Just make a lot of memories you won't forget," I offered by way of advice. Probably because I'm the son of a '60s adman - the product of a golden age when many commercials were actually tidy works of art - I suddenly flashed on the famous Kodak commercial that flips through the pages of photo book detailing a woman's life from infant to motherhood. Ed Ames softly croons:
Where are you going, my little one, little one?
Where are you going, my baby, my own?
Turn around and you're two,
Turn around and you're four,
Turn around and you're a young girl going out of my door.
Young Maggie's mom smiled almost as if she had read my mind. "That won't be a problem," she said. "Our Maggie makes every day an adventure."
"Good for you," I said to young Maggie, who treated me to another spunky grin.
Other Kodak Moments
Maybe it was the giddy effect of the January thaw, or that significant 21st birthday coming too soon, or simply the nostalgic effect of all those newborns on parade in the sunshine, but I started thinking about all the funny Kodak moments my own Maggie has had in the past 21 years.
I walked straight back to my desk and e-mailed my Maggie's mom, Alison, and asked for her choicest memories of our adventuresome young Maggie. She was happy to oblige.
Our Muggins, as I still call her, was born on a gorgeous January morning after a huge winter Nor'easter.
She had little or no hair on her head, just downy wisps of blond duck fluff. Everyone but my wife and father predicted she would be a boy.
After her mom had returned to work, it was my habit to finish writing around 2 p.m. and take Mugs with me on daily rounds to the hardware and grocery store, where indeed strangers often mistook her for a little boy. She was talking at 10 months, happy to set anyone straight on the facts.
"What an adorable child, What's his name?" an elderly lady sweetly inquired in line at the supermarket.
"I not a boy!" Maggie said, baring her two good teeth. As a precaution, I stepped between them. Mugs often bit hard to make her point.
For reasons to this day unknown, her mom reminded me, young Maggie developed an early passion for baked ham.
"She was the only toddler who cried for free samples of ham when we passed the deli section," she reminded me. "All the other children wanted free cookies, which they actually gave out to the children for free there. I don't know how it started, but it was very stressful, though we did get little ham shavings for her out of it."
How could I have possibly forgotten this? I still have the psychological parenting scars to prove it.
"Want ham! Want ham!" young Maggie would cry, arms outstretched longingly toward the Boar's Head display, crocodile tears welling.
"Would you please give that child some ham before she loses her mind!" another grandmotherly sort once sharply rebuked me. "What kind of father deprives his child of ham?"
I didn't have an honest answer for her. We took The Mugs everywhere, though - to fancy restaurants, to movies, to the local record store, even the lumberyard. We were building a house. At age 4, Muggins informed me she planned to be a carpenter, or possibly a "ballerina mermaid."
I bought her a cute miniature carpenter's hammer. She went around hammering everything in sight, including our golden retrievers.
At pre-school, she proved a take-charge gal from the git-go - and a bit of an instigator.
"One time at Country Day Care," her mom recalled, "she came home with a fake makeup kit in her backpack. I asked her where she got it, and she claimed she didn't know. But then she caved and cried and told me she had taken it. I made her take it back to Miss Gloria the next morning and tell her she stole it and apologize. She still remembers this."
Her mom also reminded me of the time Maggie convinced her it was safe to duck into the supermarket for a moment while Maggie and her younger brother, Jack, waited in the locked car. It was a small Maine town, after all, where everybody knew each other's business. Maggie and Jack were both in elementary school.
Their mom wasn't in the store two minutes when a voice came over the public address system: "For the person with the blue Volvo parked out front, you might wish to check on your children."
Alison abandoned her cart and rushed outside to discover both our prodigies perched on the roof of her car. They had climbed up through the sun roof.
"Jack was playing his toy guitar," she said, "and the two of them were soliciting donations from people to hear him play."
Somewhere around age 10, our Maggie saw the movie "Titanic" at least a dozen times, helping personally finance Jim Cameron's manor house in the South of France. She also wrote a stream of love letters to Leonardo DiCaprio, vowing eternal devotion, wondering how he might like to live in Maine.
Petals and petticoats
During one summer of change, she and I fly-fished and camped our way around America with our aging dog, Amos. We blew up the truck in Oklahoma, briefly lost Amos in Yellowstone, met a lady whose grandfather had ridden with Jesse James, and had the time of our lives when we needed it most. I put most of those Kodak moments in a book that eventually became a movie.
By then she was over the Spice Girls and well into the Dixie Chicks. Looking back over what seems like the mere span of a Kodak commercial, young Maggie went on to star in several school musicals, learned to sigh and roll her eyes for dramatic effect, and went out on her first date with a kid who was no Leo DiCaprio.
A minute or so after that, I turned around and she'd become a voracious reader, a promising writer, a seasoned foreign traveler, a classic beauty like her mom. One day last summer, she informed me she planned to be the editor of Gourmet magazine someday. I wouldn't bet against her, even though Gourmet shut down a few months ago. Knowing Maggie as I do, though, she may find a way to bring it back to life. This is a girl, after all, who loves her baked ham.
Just before Christmas, she phoned her mom and me from Italy to announce that she planned to return to Vermont to reunite with her college boyfriend and find her first apartment, whereupon I sighed and rolled my eyes for dramatic effect.
That's why, this Sunday, perhaps even as you read this, I'm driving north with a van full of family furniture and heirlooms that rightfully belong to my suddenly grownup daughter. She's finally 21, after all - or will be this Thursday.
Where are you going, my little one, little one,
Petals and petticoats, where have you gone?
Turn around and you're tiny,
Turn around and you're grown,
Turn around and you're a young wife with babes of your own.
The leather chair and matching ottoman are my contribution to the next chapter of her new adult life. It was my favorite reading chair, and I hope it will be hers.
Best-selling author Jim Dodson, editor of PineStraw magazine and a regular contributor to The Pilot, can be contacted at email@example.com.
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