It wasn’t supposed to be this way. You and I were destined for a normal life. I had done everything right: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage. You. But what appeared to be three lives following a very well-worn path, shattered. You see, I blew the most important decision in life. I did not pick a good father for you, and this poor choice sent us both spinning and forever living in the fallout.
I was 30 and had never lived alone. You were five and just getting started.
You were heartbroken. You told me you were going to live with him, and I said nothing, knowing you were wrong. I was exhausted. Teaching kindergartners and first graders all day and coming home to one at night was a lot.
Everything was hard. Making ends meet was hard. Getting you to school and me to work was hard. If you got sick, I was in a panic, trying to find childcare. My employer had been concerned about hiring a single mom, and I was terrified of losing my job. We were cast in a fragile balance, and anything could topple us.
Nights found me quietly crying in my pillow and you calling out, asking if I was okay. I felt awful for making you worry. And you, lost in the shuffle, were quiet and stoic. I tried to add a special time for just the two of us, but even that seemed unmanageable.
As the years passed, life got better. I found stable work, and we fashioned a childhood for you. Fridays were Happy Meal and movie night. I still remember you saying it was the best part of the week. We celebrated when things went wrong because that is when one really needs to celebrate. We took lots of walks and talked. Sometimes we brought flashcards so you could study. Birthdays were marked with slumber parties, games, and swimming. On your special day, you chose one box of sugary cereal, I would typically never buy you, and that one night of the year you could sleep with me. I remember one birthday, when I thought you had forgotten this tradition, coming into the bedroom and finding tweener you waving from the bed.
We celebrated Halloween with parties featuring games and pinatas. Christmas was with family. You were the only grandchild, for many years, and teased mercilessly by your jokester uncles. You reveled in the attention. The spring found you searching for your Easter basket with elaborate puzzles, and throughout the year, the tooth fairy left lengthy explanations blaming Santa for misplaced teeth. (That tooth fairy role always tripped me up.)
Our nighttime ritual included a prayer blessing around 15 people. (I think you had at least 3 of my ex-boyfriends in the line-up!) We always said we would immediately recognize an imposter because we were the only ones on the planet who could recite that prayer.
One summer, we ventured on a road trip, but the air conditioning broke, and we ended up at Circus Circus in Las Vegas. We watched circus acts, rode the roller coaster, ate junk food, binge-watched Tommy Boy, and left around midnight so we would not have to return in the heat.
We visited Granny and Gramps in Wyoming; I staked out the sofa, and you went sledding and skiing. They surprised us with a trip to Hawaii, and we snorkeled in Molokini, helicoptered Maui, and, of course, purchased one of those ubiquitous grass skirts.
For your fifth-grade graduation, identical twin tabbies Baby Boy and Baby Girl joined our little family. You had begged and begged for these little bundles of fur but confessed to me within an hour of their arrival, they were just too much responsibility. With time, you became more comfortable with your role, and throughout your adolescence, those cats became buffers in some very tense mother-daughter exchanges.
With time, you and I started getting a little gutsy. I was on the teachers’ negotiating team and made speeches at board meetings when salaries were cut. You finagled a sweet 16 birthday boat party, became junior class president (putting that darn float together almost ended me), and most impressively, became the class valedictorian, in a time when there was only one. We were finding our way in the world and doing it well.
But it was not all perfect. We had our shared painful past of desertion and bitterness and in our healing had become too connected, or maybe not connected enough. You had to pull away and did it with such fury. I was hurt but should have known this was just part of growing up.
As you got older, financial responsibilities loosened, and we were finally able to breathe. When I took you to college, we went on a shopping spree and I, for the first time, was not nervously asking about price. In future years, we traveled to Thailand, swimming in the Andaman Sea, and taking cooking classes at the Blue Elephant. New Zealand found me filming you bungee jumping, my hands shaking and you dangling upside down, wondering how much of you had been exposed in the jump. In Portugal, we lost ourselves in the winding streets of a medieval city and gasped at the massive record-breaking waves of Nazare.
You graduated with top honors from Berkeley, traveled the world, got your dream job, and found true love with Jon. When I danced you down the aisle, all those old sadnesses melted away, and I realized, after such an inauspicious start, we did it! We really did it.
Happy Birthday, dear Jocelyn! You are definitely part of a Life Well-Lived!
M.J. Minerman writes for spinsters around the world who have "not found their lids and are pursuing lives well-lived."