I am so blessed.  I know it, and today was one of those days when I was sublimely aware of just how blessed I am to have my two daughters.

It has been a rough couple of weeks.  I have been/am still recovering from pneumonia.  Going to a conference while I was sick was not a good thing.  Having to prepare for a National review of my program two weeks after that conference was grueling, especially while I was still recovering my energy.  The review was yesterday.  It went so incredibly well, but as I said, it was grueling.  It was a full day of meetings, tours, and stress.  I was beat by the end of the day.

Earlier this week, our department secretary informed me that I HAD to take some time off.  I was accumulating too much comp time.  (Not a bad problem to have!)  I decided to take a half a day off work today to spend with my girls.  We all needed our hair cut and could get appointments for today at 3:30.  The girls and I planned lunch and a little shopping before our hair appointment.  After weeks (months!) of stress, I was so looking forward to time with my daughters.

As we were walking from the car into the restaurant to have lunch, I caught a glimpse of the three of us in the window as we passed by.  It was just our silhouettes that I saw as we passed, but it gave me such a sense of pleasure.  For a moment, I felt a perfect fit.  My girls….and me.  These two daughters of mine are the first real and true female relationships in my life.  Yes, I have a mother, but our relationship has been rocky (at best!) for as long as I can remember.  There is love, yes, but not this unconditional love that I feel for, and from, my daughters.  Growing up, I had friends that were girls, and then later women friends, but I always had to hold a part of myself back from them.  Oftentimes, I didn’t trust those relationships.  There was an underlying competitiveness, or an unwritten, unspoken sense that I had to behave, speak, act a certain way or I would be rejected or disparaged.  My middle school experiences with my group of friends and the catty rejection, gossip, and backstabbing had left me afraid to trust or get too close to other women.  It was my daughters, and I’m sure maturity in myself, who have allowed me to develop deep and trusting relationships with other women in recent years.  I now have female friends that I would trust with my heart, my dreams, even my life.  Still, the most abiding female friendships that I have are with my two girls.  We complete each others’ sentences.  Sometimes as we observe things, we don’t have to speak any further than with our eyes, then we will burst into laughter, and say, “I know!”  The males members of our household have seen this happen and the just don’t get it.  They don’t get US…the females, but we do, and we love it.

When I was pregnant with our first child, I worried about being good a mother to a girl.  How could I do it?  How would I handle the emotions of a daughter?  What if my daughter was a “mean girl?”  What if I was to become the mother to a snotty, cheerleader-type?  I remember once my mother telling me that she hoped I had a daughter just like me.  She said this as if it would be horrible, a punishment.  I did not have a good example of a healthy mother-daughter relationship.  How would I know the right way to parent a daughter?  I felt that parenting a son would be easier.  T knew how to be a man, so I didn’t have to worry about that, and didn’t boys always love their mother?   I agonized over my lack of “girl” skills during my first pregnancy.  When our first child, Grace, was born, and was so very ill, I blamed myself.  Had my superstition been the cause?  I loved her intensely during her short life, but my “daughtering” skills were never tested.  Yes, I had been a good mother to Grace, but I had not been challenged.  She had been easy to love.  The nagging fear of a daughter remained during my next pregnancy.

The next two children were boys, and they were all I had imagined.  Yes, boys are easier!  T was a good father,  and he showed them all of the necessary boy things in their lives.  He coached sports teams.  We were Cub Scout leaders.  We camped and fished.  These were all of the things I enjoyed, too.

By the time we were expecting another child, I was beginning to long for a daughter.  I knew Emily would be “MY EMILY” from the moment I found out that I was pregnant.  I bought lots of pretty pink clothes and blankets.  I was certain that this would be my girl, and I was finally ready to face my fears.  Her gender had not been confirmed, but I plowed ahead in preparing for MY DAUGHTER’S birth.  I knew.  In my heart, I knew.  I didn’t doubt it for a moment.  Midway through the pregnancy, we had an ultrasound, but her legs were crossed, and it was not possible to determine her sex.  Still….I was waiting for my daughter to be born.

The night she was born, my daughter!, was such a wonderful moment.  I screamed in joy (not pain) when the doctor said, “It’s a girl!”  My beautiful daughter, my best little friend in the world, was finally here.  She has been a joy, a smiling, beautiful, blonde joy from that moment forward.  Yes, I DO have a daughter who is just like me.  And yes, sometimes that scares me and makes me fear that she will repeat some of the same mistakes that I have made.  But it is a joy, not a punishment, to have a daughter whose heart I can read like a book. 

Nine years, later, my sweet Emily stood by my bedside moments after her sister Lola’s birth and proclaimed, “This is the happiest moment of my life!”  Emily had her sister, and our trio of female love and understanding began.

It’s amazing to me when I look back to think of the intense fear I had of being a mother to a girl.  There has been nothing in this world that has come more naturally to me.  Yes, we have had moments of emotion, yelling, arguing, door-slamming, and drama.  It has been a winding, twisting, sometimes rocky road, but it a journey that I would never, ever have wanted to miss.  My girls are who taught me how to be a woman.  For that, I will be forever in their debt.

Tonight is a special anniversary for Emily and I.  Three years ago tonight, she ran away from home.  Our town has a concert and movie night in the park once each month during the summer season.  Our community band plays.  There is an ice cream social.  Once the sun goes down, the big screen goes up, and people spread out on blankets and lawn chairs under the canopy of trees to watch a movie that most have already seen.  That June evening three years ago, I was a proud mom.  I was playing in the band along with three of my kids.  Emily sat next to me and played her sax.  During intermission, she came to me for money to buy ice cream.  After playing with the band that night, she was off to join friends to watch the movie….or so I thought.  That night three years ago turned into a nightmare that I don’t often relive.  

When the movie was over, I looked around to gather any of my kids who might still be in the park.  We only live a couple of (small town) blocks away from the park.  We had walked from home.  When I didn’t find Emily, I headed home thinking that she would already be there.

T had stayed home with Lola, who was four at the time.  I asked him if Em was back and was filled with fear and dread when he told me that she hadn’t come home.  I jumped into my car, and drove back to the park.  I wandered around in the dark as volunteers were putting things away.  I knew almost everyone, and I asked over and over if they had seen my daughter.  It was a horrible feeling to drive back home without her.  As I drove, I hoped and prayed as I shook all over.  “God, please let her be home.”  She wasn’t there.

By now, the boys were scared, too.  Andrew was 19, and he got into his car and drove around looking for his sister.  Luke stayed home with Lola while T and I conducted a frantic search around town.  I called and called her cell phone.  At first, it rang and went to voicemail.  Then it simply went to voicemail without ringing at all.  I knew what that meant.  Her phone had been turned off.  I imagined a predator, a molester, being angered by the ringing and shutting her phone off.  I imagined my sweet 14-year-old daughter being raped and beaten.  I imagined her horror.  I felt it in every fiber of my body.  I ached without her near me.

As T and I passed by the park, we saw a police car.  That’s unusual in our town.  A woman with two small sons was talking to the officer.  Her son had gone missing.  How old was he?  He was 15.  Oh, My, God!  This horrible woman’s son had taken my daughter away!  I was livid.  I was scared to death.  Years ago, during my own childhood, a young girl had been abducted and murdered by a local 15 year old boy.  I wanted to kill this woman…and her son!  Who was this woman?  Had she raised a murderer?  Who was this kid?  I hadn’t even known that Emily knew this boy!  What was he like?  Was he on drugs?

The boy’s mother assured me that if Emily were with her son, then she would be safe.  Yeah, right.  That meant nothing to me when my dear daughter was missing.   I knew that I needed to interrogate her friends, and interrogate is the only word for it.  I’m surprised that I didn’t shake the teeth loose in any little teenage girls that night!  They wanted to protect Emily.  They didn’t want to tell me anything that they knew.  They didn’t want to get her into trouble.  Little twerps!

After the initial round of lies, the truth began to unfold.  Emily little boyfriend was troubled.  He was depressed, because his parents were getting a divorce.  He was fed up with their fighting.  He believed that if he ran away, it would bring his parents back together.  The stress and horror of losing their son would cause them to work together to find him.  HE would bring them back together.  He would scare them back together.  This boy and Emily had taken off on a romantic adventure following the railroad tracks out through the country.

My son, Luke, was frantic when he learned the story.  He was going to kick that kid’s ass!  (He did spend the entire next school year scaring the shit out of the kid!)  Luke hopped on his bike and headed out across the cornfield behind our house toward the tracks.  To me, this was the first moment I saw the potential man in Luke.  He was all business.  No one, but no one, was going to hurt his sister.

By this point, I was practically hysterical.  Andrew was furious, upset, and driving around town.  Luke was riding his bike in the dark along the railroad tracks.  I was scared to death that one of my other kids was going to get hurt.  Oh, it was truly a cluster fuck.  🙂  T, Andrew, and I just now spoke of and  remembered those bizarre moments and laughed.  Yeah…we can laugh about it now.

The police were involved. They weren’t alarmed. Two crazy teenagers messing with their parents was not a big deal. Maybe they see that kind of thing all of the time, but it was a big deal to me!

Around 4:00 a.m., T and I laid on top of the quilt on our bed. We kept the phone between us and our clothes on. I hurt so badly from fear and missing my daughter. At some point, I slept for a brief time. I woke up just as the sun was coming up. I grabbed my phone and carried it just outside of our bedroom to begin calling Emily again.  I was in shock. It was morning, and she was still gone.  My daughter was missing. I was the parent of a Missing Child.

I dialed her phone just as I had done hundreds of times these past horrible hours. This time it rang. I left a tearful voicemail begging her to call me and telling her how much I loved her. I waited. She called.

I kept her on the phone. She said they were out in the country walking. I woke T and motioned for him to get the car. As she and I talked, I tried to gather clue as to their whereabouts. I know this land. I know the landmarks. T and I drove to the area I guessed they might be walking. I was right!

Emily looked like a deer caught in the headlights when she saw our car. I grabbed her and pushed her into the seat. The little twerp with her kept walking. I said, “Get back here, you little bastard.” I swore at and threatened that kid from here to Kingdom Come, and the deposited him at his mother’s home.

We took Emily home and called our friendly police officer to come to our home to chew her out for putting us all through hell. And thus began Emily’s mother-imposed summer of community service. She was grounded for the entire summer. No friends or phone, but most importantly, I made her do hours of service at the Red Cross.

The kids had their adventure. They slept under the stars. They watched a movie on the portable DVD player they had brought along. They actually brushed their teeth before they went to sleep. Also, I am thrilled (still!) to report that they were both absolutely horrified when I asked them if they had had sex. (Emily now laughs about that one. I don’t!)

Three years later tonight, and Emily and I took a walk back to the scene of the crime. I felt a stab of horror as I looked across the park at another movie night and relived that night for a brief moment. Then I looked at my daughter. She is so beautiful and so grown up now…..and she still works at the Red Cross each summer….voluntarily.

I may not be the perfect mother to my daughters, but they are certainly the perfect daughters for me. They are my treasure and my joy.