The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

May 9, 2009

A daughter takes her first steps away


A 60-plus-year-old tradition continues this weekend when more than 300 area sixth-graders _ including my oldest daughter, Abby _ travel to Washington, D.C., Arlington, Va., and Philadelphia for a four-day sightseeing tour.

The trip is the culmination of a year of civic service as school crossing guards, and for many students, it's the longest they've ever been away from home. The fact that it coincides with Mother's Day is purely logistical; according to trip coordinator Cam Morris of Oneonta Bus Lines, Mother's Day weekend is simply the best time to secure a block of 100-plus hotel rooms in the D.C. area.

For the kids, this is the ultimate field trip: hours of uninterrupted chat time; the chance to visit interesting places such as the White House and the Franklin Science Institute with their friends; and a taste of independence.

For the moms, it's a bittersweet reminder that our kids are growing up, whether we're ready or not.

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I went on this trip 27 years ago. I still have photos of friends, smiling in their bright-orange safety patrol belts, and the journal where I listed all the places we visited.

Many things have changed since I was 12. People today are so used to being connected 24/7 that some parents are unnerved by the prospect of not being able to call their kids for four whole days. In addition to the no-cell-phone policy, my daughter's school has an "unplugged" rule, which wasn't necessary back in 1982, when portable music players like the Sony Walkman were just starting to catch on.

But as much as life has changed, the nuts and bolts of the trip will probably be the same. There are some cool new destinations, like the interactive Newseum, but the 555-foot Washington Monument remains the tallest structure in D.C., and the lines of people waiting to tour it will likely be just as long as I remember.

I find it both eerie and comforting to think that Abby will tread some of the same ground I did, passing by the Eternal Flame in Arlington National Cemetery, staring up at the same domed ceiling in the Capitol, hearing much of the same history.

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Six years ago, I wrote a Mother's Day column about Abby. She had long hair and wiggly teeth and a doll named Natalie that she carried everywhere. Since then, I've chronicled many milestones in her life: 13 inches of hair snipped off at the salon; the first time she pedaled a two-wheeler on her own; the day she crossed the finish line of her first 5K race.

Each time, I was sentimental _ cognizant of the fleeting nature of time, the certainty of growth and change, the urge to freeze the moment.

Yet, here I am, asking myself: How, exactly, did the 5:30 a.m. feeding evolve into a 5:30 a.m. drop-off for a trip 360 miles from home? When, precisely, did my little girl get old enough to pack her own suitcase?

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Things will be different with Abby away.

The house will be a bit quieter, without the latest top-40 songs playing over and over on You Tube. The milk will last longer. My weekend laundry load will be lighter, without all those jeans and hoodies.

The phone probably won't ring at all.

I'm sure I'll look at the empty chair at the dinner table and wonder what she's having, where she is, how her day is going. And, even though I know she's responsible, conscientious and in very good hands, I'm sure my worry strings will twinge now and then. I'll wonder how much sleep she got and whether she remembered to stash a snack in her bag.

But the weekend will go by fast, full of Mother's Day festivities with my mom and my mother-in-law. It will also be an opportunity for special time with Daughter No. 2; time I will treasure all the more now that I am truly beginning to understand just how fast it goes.

When Abby comes home Tuesday night, she'll bring photos and stories and a familiar pile of dirty laundry. I know that she will be a little more grown up, even if I can't see it; even as things quickly return to normal. The phone will undoubtedly resume its chronic ringing. Within 48 hours, I'll be going to the store for milk.

I know that this is the first of many separations. With sixth-grade graduation just on the horizon, I am adjusting. It no longer seems impossible that, in just six years, we will be shopping for prom dresses and colleges.

For now, though, I will take comfort in that familiar pile of laundry.

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Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at lisamiller44@hotmail.com.