Hooray! We had a baby! The summer of 1978, a bouncy little girl, eight pounds and a few random ounces, 10 wiggly toes and a squiggly red tongue. Healthy as a Cadillac on the showroom floor. The prettiest girl in the delivery room.

How many cute looks could one baby have? A little girl on daddy’s knee is an invitation to smile at God and say thank you. The first word they hear is “love;” the first word they say is “oops.” Each new day, something she hadn’t seen before, some new feeling, some other question (“what’s that?”), some new place to explore.

Thank you Lord for poopy diapers and three o’clock feedings (what a treat to be a part of all that!) Thank you for teething and bottle feeding (I can’t breast feed — did you already guess that?); thank you for tangled curls and baby shampoo and for giving us the word “angel” to describe our baby.

One day (or so it seemed) something curious happened. Goodbye to pureed food and diapers; goodbye to cribs and midnight feedings. Hello to words that make themselves into sentences and foods you have to chew, to hurt feelings and cavities.

After that the years roll by like spokes on a wheel. Three wheelers and then two wheelers, going from the edge of a blanket in front of the TV, to the edge of our backyard to the edge of our neighborhood. And all the while she’s running away (and that’s nobody’s fault, that’s just the way it is), running in the opposite direction. Suddenly she has “best” friends and swimming lessons and then cars and steady boyfriends and summer camp and calls in the middle of the night.

That’s OK, I guess, except that every move she makes is like she’s escaping, like she’s following an unseen route only she can see. But it also means she’s run my dream out to the end and now she’s starting one of her own.

So she loves me at Christmas and on my birthday. She’s moved, she’s found a husband and given me grandbabies and taken on mortgage payments. She talks computer talk and business talk and I don’t know what she’s saying. She takes me to ballgames but she doesn’t pay attention. She frowns at me when she sees my medicine cabinet.

I look now at this grown woman, she’s beautiful (still), smart and quick and clever and I did a good job putting a good person into the universe. She looks vaguely like the little girl she once was. From time to time I’ll catch the same sort of face I saw way back when but now it’s all different. I don’t know what she likes anymore, what she likes to eat, I don’t even know who she votes for. I do know that she makes a lot more money than I ever did. Her job entails something done in an office, I think. Telephones (the ones without any cords), seem to find her (no matter where she is — how does that work?).

I’m so proud of her … but she’s a phantom, don’t you see? She loves me and I love her because of that, but she doesn’t look much like my little girl. She and I, we’re going through the right motions and all, but who is she? (A beautiful young woman from Southern California, driving the right car and saying the right things, drinking white wine and paying for dinner with a string of credit cards).

And then it occurs to me. I see her, I see her in pictures, in old photographs and moldy memories and scratches on the wall to measure how much she’s grown. I remember when she won a third-place swimming ribbon, when Santa Claus made her cry, when she got stuck in the toilet because she didn’t know you were supposed to put the seat down.

In a while she leaves to go back to her home. I kiss her on the cheek and wave goodbye, watching her plane fly off into the celestial wilderness.

When I get back home I pull out the old photo album and go to sit on the front porch. Here’s one of her in the snow at Mount Rainier. Here’s one of her sixth birthday party. Here’s one where she’s kissing her daddy.

I lean back in my chair and clutch the photo book against my chest. I let out a heavy sigh. My little girl has flown away. I look to the sky, it’s blue and creamy colored and empty.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you for giving me a daughter who loves me.

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