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When daughter A was a little I used to read her a book titled “Leo the Late Bloomer” by Robert Kraus. In the book, there is a young tiger named Leo and he cannot do a lot of things that other tigers his age can do such as read, write, speak, or eat neatly. Leo’s father expresses concerns that he will never be able to do these things. But Leo’s mother says that there is nothing to worry about. She predicts that they Leo will bloom in time. But the key was that they had to stop watching him. Sure enough, at the end of the book Leo does bloom. He can eat neatly, read, and write. He can also speak and his first words are “I made it.”
This book really hit home for my husband and I with regard to A. After a somewhat difficult pregnancy, we were blessed with a beautiful healthy baby girl. The day she was born I tossed away my dog-eared copy of “What to Expect When You are Expecting” and immediately started studying the book’s sequel, “What to Expect the First Year.” Rather than using the book as a guide, I referred to it as the gospel and worried whenever A didn’t meet a milestone at the exact moment the book said she should. When will she roll over? When will she walk? When will she talk?
Fortunately, A was able to do all these things and more alas on her own timetable. As she got older, she continued to resist changes. While her friends looked forward to growing up, A went into new situations kicking and screaming. When I took her to “drop off” parties, I brought a good book since I knew I’d be staying. I wore sweatpants and a bra to bed when she went to “sleepovers” because inevitably the host would call and say A wanted to be picked up.
Her resistance to life changes continued as she got older. When her 5th grade class visited the middle school, she cried hysterically and said she was never going there. Instead of saying “Can I have the keys?” when she got her driver’s license, she said, “Please don’t make me drive!
As college approached, many of her peers excitedly looked forward to being on their own and away from their parents. But my daughter was not excited to move on this next chapter of her life. In fact, when I suggested she apply for a pre-orientation program that seemed aligned with her interests, she cried and accused me of trying to get rid of her early. Even though it was her choice to go to sleep away college, throughout the summer I could see her doubts and nerves kicking in about being so far from home. Would she be able to adapt to her new surrounding and embrace the college experience?
I also worried because I realized that I had spent the last 18 years taking care of A instead of teaching her how to take care of herself. When she was hungry I made her a sandwich and when she needed her track uniform clean I washed it. I folded her laundry and put it away. There were still nights that we left our side door open because she forgot her house keys. Would our “Leo” bloom when we weren’t looking or would she call to be picked up in the middle of the night?
I am happy to say that A has been at college several months and she hasn’t locked herself out once. When she doesn’t like the campus dining, she goes food shopping and cooks for herself in the dorm kitchen. Her room is relatively neat. She makes it to classes on time – without me shaking her arm a dozen times and saying, “You are going to be late.”
Last weekend A came home for a visit. Due to the Metro North issues her three-and-a-half hour train ride turned into seven hours of travel complete with delays and a brake down. I met her under the big board at Penn Station and her first words echoed Leo’s: “I made it!” Just like Leo’s mom predicted, when I stopped looking, my daughter bloomed.