I wrote this, for the Cincinnati Enquirer. A reminder that time is a thief. Best to live for whatever it gives. Jillian is 25 now. She was 18 last week, I think.
Time changes everything Age leads to new beat in life’s dance BY PAUL DAUGHERTY | PDAUGHERTY@ENQUIRER.COM
Jillian turned 18 Wednesday, youth-to-woman, some secret threshold crossed, no turning back. I saw her differently. She got a necklace for her birthday, a couple pairs of shoes and $70 cash. She liked the cash. “Seventy bucks!” she said. “Big money.” Children will always be children in their parents’ eyes. But the young lady before me bears no resemblance to the girl I saw yesterday. Yesterday. . . I grabbed her up from her spot in the hospital crib. She was no larger than a thought. Six pounds and some, six weeks old. I hummed her an old standard from the early ’60s. The Spaniels, I believe. “Goodnight, My Love.” ” … Pleasant dreams, sleep tight my love. “May tomorrow be sunny and bright.” We danced. After a few minutes, she was asleep. The doctors at Children’s took her from me and reconnected the tubes that kept her hydrated. Jillian had bronchiolitis. She was dying to breathe. And then she wasn’t. After a week or so, not long after the doctors said we might need to put Jillian on a respirator, a nurse stuck a needle in her heel. That ticked off my daughter sufficiently enough, she screamed aggravated homicide. The yowling dislodged enough gunk from her lungs, she started to breathe normally. She gets her temper from her mother. Yesterday, Jillian was 6 and playing soccer. Very hard, and well enough for a kid with a disability. Then she was 10 and 12 and 14 and acting in the middle school play. She was 15 and managing the high school volleyball team and 16 and dancing on the JV dance team and … dating. Yesterday, I worried my daughter with Down Syndrome would not know the joy of a goodnight kiss on prom night on the porch of her house, moonglow warming the cymbidium orchid attached to her wrist. I wanted most of all for her to experience the seismic glory of being a child. I wanted her to dance. She has. She always has. Now she is 18, a young lady in a new necklace and shoes. She wants a job and a car. She’s had the same boyfriend for three years. I work two jobs to keep her in Homecoming dresses. I’d like her life to slow down, so I can keep up. We glimpse our own mortality through the aging of others. When a sports star dies or retires, we feel for him. But no more than we feel for ourselves. We remember him when. I watched Jack Nicklaus win the Masters when he was 46. He seemed impossibly old at the time. In another two months, I’ll be 50. The river runs away, too swiftly. When it comes to noting birthdays, I’ve made the usual passage: Anticipation to dread to shrug. Soon enough, anticipation will return because, well, marking yet another anniversary beats the alternative. Time is a thief, and he gets better as the years accumulate. A good thing about getting older is, your body slows but, for the briefest of moments, your brain does not. In this most amazing of interludes, everything you moved too fast to notice when you were younger starts blooming before your very eyes. Put simply, at almost 50, I see things. The arc of a yellow leaf as it twists from tree to forest floor. The sideways gallop of my retriever when she sprints down a trail. The look in the eyes of my 18-year-old daughter when I wish her a happy birthday. You better live life for whatever it gives. That’s what I know now that I didn’t know then. You better go while the going’s good. Jab with your brain, lead with your heart and enjoy the passing show. Jackson Browne wrote, “Take good care of each other. And remember to be kind.” That’s about right. My daughter wanted to be 18 as soon as she turned 17. She goes for life. On the night of her 18th birthday, she looks at me most proud. “I’m not your little girl anymore,” she says. “Jills,” I say. “You’ll always be my little girl.”