At a gathering we threw on Labor Day, my daughter was telling a group of us grown-ups how much she'd enjoyed a recent experience. Sorry, but I can't remember what the specific experience was. She has so many these days, I have trouble keeping track. Possibly, it concerned some fun she had in her marching band, or something that happened while she was manning an FFA booth at the fair. Or something that happened while she was at her part-time job. Maybe something at school. Or when she was just hanging out with her friends, I can't remember. All I remember is how awesome it was, whatever it was. The experience was "awesome," the setting was "awesome," the people with her were "awesome", and an "awesome" time was had by all.
Then, almost in mid-sentence—and I could see it on her face, the change, the horror, the sudden awareness that she was talking like a teenager to a bunch of old poops—she turned self-conscious and fell into that sticky trap of trying to justify why every third word coming out of her mouth was awesome. "I know other words," she said, fidgeting. "Only they don't mean what I want to say. Those words don't tell how ... how ... awesome it was."
Another time, I might have pulled Dad rank with a lecture on the benefits of a broad and rich vocabulary. But not then. Not at a party. Not when there were other old poops listening. Not when she was already suffering self-induced embarrassment and, especially, not when I knew exactly what she meant. It hasn't been that long ago, nor has my memory become so foggy, that I don't remember what it was like to be 17 and experience something so pleasurable, so stimulating and new that I couldn't find the word I needed to tell others about it. ("Groovy" was never a word I could see myself saying a lot—only when I felt the need to parody those people who said "groovy" a lot. And by the time "rad" came along, I was too old to use it even as parody. All of which left me, throughout most of my life, pretty much restricted to "cool" whenever I needed a word for something cool. I should be embarrassed to admit this, particularly if I still said "cool" all the time, but the sad truth is, I don't find much of anything to be awesome anymore, so my use of "cool" has thinned out to a mere dribble. I would so enjoy something "way cool" to happen to me again that I wouldn't even mind saying "groovy" to tell you about it.)
She was still fidgety, unsure whether we'd swallowed her reasoning, so I said, "Don't worry about it, hon'. Ya gotta go with the best word ya got." And I said it knowing, and hoping, she'll probably get tired of saying "awesome" long, long before she runs out of experiences to describe as "awesome."
I couldn't wish for much better for her, I don't think—that her experiences always stay a step ahead of her vocabulary.
This will be the last item I ever write about my child. She was 5 or 6 when I first exploited her as column fodder. If I recall correctly, the first mention concerned her having to miss being in a Christmas pageant in the first grade because she'd come down with an untimely croup. (She would have been either a snowflake or a reindeer, I forget which. But she would have been excellent at either, you can bet your ass on that.)
In the ensuing years, I have used her as a vehicle to write about what wonderful children's programming you can find on PBS, how crappy current pop music has become, the dangers of letting your kids run unattended in stores (where they might sign you up for free baby chickens if you're not following them closely enough), and how humiliating parents are to teenage girls (if you're following them too closely).
But that's all over now. This will be the last item I ever write about my child ... not unless I squeeze one more in within the next two weeks. That's when she turns 18, my child. Two weeks, and she'll no longer be my child, or anyone else's. She will be old enough to vote, to buy lottery tickets, to join the Army, the Navy, the Coast Guard, to get married without my consent. In the eyes of the law, she will be a grown-up. (It's likely I will continue to write items about a certain young lady, but I'll have to be a bit more careful about what I say. I don't know how the law reads on this matter, but I suspect she'll have reached the age when she can sue me without my consent.)
I suppose there are parents who look forward to the day their offspring reach the point of self-sustainability—even the point of separation. I, myself, used to joke that the tempestuous teenage years must be God's way of conditioning parents to embrace the eventual parting. You know ... like the headache that feels so good when it stops.
But I was just joking. I have dreaded this since the beginning. Since she was 14 inches long, displaced 9 pounds of water in the bassinet, and I first realized she was the best thing that ever happened to me. Not to say we haven't been through some wars, some depressions, some turbulent times, she and I. But even at her most contentious, even when she stubbornly argued back at the faintest hint of fatherly stubbornness, even when she pouted or moped or wailed or acted like someone else's kid, I had the wormy blue certainty in the pit of my gut that it was all passing too quickly. That I would miss it someday, and soon. (It's like all those toddler gadgets we bought to accommodate her at age 1, age 2, age 3: No one told me they would be obsolete even before the sheen wore off.)
So here it is. We are oh-so near to it, just two weeks away. Everything from here on will be incremental steps in another direction, and all too soon I will miss hearing how awesomely awesome something was. She is so determined to be grown up, so eager to be an adult, she will start using those other words she has learned, just to prove how mature she's become. (Being her father's daughter, she may revert to "awesome" on occasion, if only to parody those who say "awesome" all the time.)
But there is another, melancholy reason she will switch to those other words, those insufficient words. I hope she can avoid it as long as possible, but she will find that there will be fewer and fewer awesome moments in her life. Don't ask me whether it's the accumulation of new experiences or over-familiarity with the old ones that does it, but awesomeness tends to fade. To winnow down to one or two things. A child, for instance. And the time you've had together.