Chick Wit: Holding on, letting go, growing up

Posted: April 12, 2009

So I'm in New York, visiting daughter Francesca for the weekend, which is just the thing to remind you that your child is more adult than you.

She drinks stronger coffee, wears high heels with style, and could put on liquid eyeliner blind. Me, I'd blind myself with liquid eyeliner.

We tool around the bustling streets, talking and walking with our two puppies in tow, Pip and Little Tony. We pick up after them, which is a change for me, because at home I let them go in the backyard and call it compost.

Little Tony, unaccustomed to life in the big city, alternates between barking and cowering. His threat detector is topsy-turvy, so he growls at passing mastiffs while pigeons send him scurrying in terror to my feet. I try not to reward fearful behavior, but it's nice to still have something left to protect.

My daughter is on her own.

And it's a good thing, but surprising.

All the things I used to do for her over the years, she now does for herself. I know it sounds obvious but it's still miraculous to me, if only because I can remember her first step. Now she does her own laundry, cooking, vacuuming, clothes to the dry cleaner, hanging up pictures, bed-making, getting prescriptions filled, and all of it in the toughest and most glorious city on the planet.

New York doesn't intimidate her, even though the first week she was there, she witnessed a violent mugging on her street, a purse-snatching during which the woman's jaw was broken. A TV news crew arrived and interviewed Francesca, and she sent me the videotape from the station's Web site. Great.

Welcome to New York.

It's time to let go. Again.

I've written before about how parenting is watching your child take a series of baby steps, all of them away from you, which is as it should be. It's both the happiest and saddest moments in the life of any mother and father. And it only gets harder, by which I mean, if you think letting them go to college was hard, try letting them move to New York, where it's not always easy for the puppies to tell the pigeons from the mastiffs.

Last night before bed, Francesca showed me a video game she plays, in which you make as many words as you can in 30 seconds, and as you get better, you advance through different seasons while the screen changes from winter to summer and back again. I normally hate video games, but I couldn't resist cuddling up with my big little girl, watching the seasons change in our hands.

My high score was 45. Hers was 4350.

For once, I'm not exaggerating.

I think we moms and dads play a sort of parental video game, where we complete one year to advance to the next, and all the time the years get harder and the little video rewards of fake-gold treasure chests or kelly-green shamrocks flash on the screen only to evaporate instantly, too fast to see. And so we tend to appreciate them in retrospect only, when the game is over and we play I Remember.

I remember your first word. Your first step. Your college graduation.

I remember because when we were making the memories, we were too busy to see, much less savor, the moment.

That's how we know we were good parents. Because we were too busy doing the laundry, cooking, vacuuming, clothes to the dry cleaner, hanging up pictures, bed-making, getting prescriptions filled, and, well, you get the idea.

People ask me where I get the ideas for my columns and books, and the answer is that they all come from my heart. My new book, titled Look Again, is all about letting go of a child. In the book, a mother gets a missing-child flier in the mail, and the photo looks exactly like her adopted son. She has to answer the question - does her son really belong to another family, and if he does, should she keep him or give him up?

Oh, and by the way, she writes for a newspaper.

So please forgive me the sales pitch, but if you like the columns, you'll love the book.

I write what I know.

And what you know, too.


Lisa Scottoline is a bestselling author of 16 novels. Her new book, "Look Again," will be published Tuesday. To read excerpts that ran in The Inquirer, and for information about area book signings, go to www.philly.com/inquirer/columnists/lisa_scottoline.

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