When my 13-year-old daughter, Ellie, signed up for the class field trip to Universal Studios this year, I was happy to pay for her ticket. When we learned that the buses were leaving the school at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, my wife, Hailey, was happy to volunteer me to be the one to give her a ride to the bus loop.
I dutifully woke up at about 6:30 a.m. and figured I would have to drag Ellie out of bed to make sure we left on time.
But Ellie was already awake and preparing her snack bag. In fact, she informed me that she had been up since 4:30 a.m., just to make sure she didn’t sleep in.
I worried for a moment that my sweet girl had lost her mind. You’ve been up for two hours? On a Saturday?!?
She was pacing in the kitchen.
“How many Propel packets should I take?” she asked, holding up the little sleeves of drink powder. “I have seven.”
I yawned. “There is zero chance that you will drink seven bottles of Propel at Universal.”
“How much money should I take?” she asked.
“How much money do you have?” I asked.
She half frowned, and I surmised that I had not given the correct response. The idea is, Dad, that you are supposed to give me your money.
Hailey had coached me on this, knowing my Scrooge-like tendencies, when we stopped by an ATM the night before.
“It could cost $15 for lunch, plus another $10 for a snack, and $5 for a drink,” Hailey had said as I hesitated at the ATM screen, “so let’s send her with $40 just in case.”
I did some rough math in my mind and determined that $40 could buy approximately 5,779.3 peanut butter sandwiches. But I nodded. I withdrew.
“I’m going to give you $40,” I told Ellie at about 6:35 a.m.
Her smile was a little too quick for comfort, though, a little too indicative of a desire to spend, so I quickly gave her a little lecture, one that Hailey never needed to know about.
“But,” I said, clutching the two 20s, “I expect change. I really do.”
The money disappeared into her change purse like that wiggly little reptile into the mouth of Jabba the Hutt in “Return of the Jedi.”
Maybe it was the low light in the kitchen, or maybe it was the early hour, but as she finished getting ready, I suddenly saw Ellie not as a kid but as a near-adult. She gets impeccable grades in school with little parental prodding and spends her free time reading and writing. I can see her as a future force for good in the world, someone who will be trusted to make choices of consequences.
Those moments are a parent’s privilege, a reward for the worry and sacrifice of raising a child. They are also tinged with sadness, a knowledge that she will one day be gone, doing marvelous things without me.
“Can you open this?” she then asked me, handing me a bottle of medicine.
“Yes,” I said, but then I asked, “Can you not open a childproof bottle?”
“I can’t manage to open it,” she said. Her expression revealed zero embarrassment, which, oddly, made me even more confident that she was well on her way to being an independent adult.
I also knew that I needed to write about this experience. “Do you mind if I include that in my column?”
“Sure, if you want,” she said. Then she added, “I’ll be able to read about myself in art class. We use the newspaper for projects.”
It was time to leave. We drove to the school and pulled up in front of signs on the posts of the bus loop overhang, presumably listing the students in each group for the bus trip.
I hesitated, unsure whether she’d want to be seen with her dad walking her up to the drop-off area. Did she want to appear independent and cool in front of her friends?
“Do you want me to help you find your sign?” I asked.
“Yes I’m scared," she said, all in one breath.
Again, that smile, that disarming honesty, that comfortable vulnerability. That’s Ellie.
Go on, be a grown up, if you must, if you aren’t already.