THE “GUILT” OF CHILD “REARING”

My daughter Ashley has been put into the hospital. Nothing serious…I hope. She is pregnant with our second grandchild and will be induced to give birth later today. It has “induced” in my head memories from Ashley’s past…and a bit of haunting with it.

I feel a bit like Maximillian Robespierre of French Revolution fame. In addition to “losing his head” during his own “Reign of Terror” Max once, as I understand it, wrote on “child rearing” despite never having a child to rear. When I think of my daughter Ashley, I feel somewhat the same way. I was a part time Dad, and carry a certain burden of guilt because of it. For some reason I feared children. I had a sense I would not wear the mantel of “fatherhood” very well. Thirty-five years after becoming a father, I still am not sure, but could not be happier with the way Ashley turned out.

Linda Gail and I chose not to have children although it was probably me more than she. Instead, we chose to share my daughter with her mother. Our relationship with Ashley’s mother was at times strained and at times not, and probably could be described as “as good as one would expect and probably better than most.” Without consulting Linda Gail, I chose to not confuse the issue of child rearing by “bending” to Ashley’s mother’s vision of raising our child since Ashley lived with her. Ashley’s mother did a wonderful job of raising my daughter with very little help from Linda Gail or myself…until Ashley does or says something that reminds me that we might have had more influence than I realized. I am sure Linda Gail believes our influence was paramount.

Linda Gail’s influence was great, both in amount and purpose. I remember sitting on the front porch rocking while playing some sort of juvenile “name calling” game when the four or five-year-old Ashley called me “penis breath.” You really have to love the lessons learned in day care. Before my eyes could refocus after growing to plate sized, Linda Gail said, “I’ll handle this!” I chuckle seeing Ashley’s little hands clasped over her mouth as Linda Gail whispered in her ear.

I cannot speak for Linda Gail, but most of my warm and fuzzy memories involve a young Ashley, running around “Hemlock Hills.” We purposely wanted to introduce her to a different life style than would be found in the suburbs of Greenville…despite the City of Mauldin being more rural than suburban and the fact there was a huge farm directly across the road from her home. We wanted her to have a “country” slant to her life. Damming up the nearest stream to wade in, searching for salamanders and crawdads. Riding all over the “north forty” across rutted old logging roads while bouncing ourselves silly in the old Land Cruiser. Fishing using a “Snoopy” bobber attached to pink line running through a pink rod. Thankfully, Ashley did not grow up to be a “girly-girl.” I have an idea that both of our grandchildren will be subjected to fishing, camping and hiking. It helps that Ashley married a guy with the same interests.

Early on she had little understanding of certain insects beyond the lightnin’ bugs she released in to her room, wishing to sleep in the warm glow of their flashing little bottoms. Later on a warm July night, before we had installed air conditioning, we heard the patter of her small feet descending the stairs from her bedroom. “Daddy I can’t sleep. They are too loud. Can you turn them off?” She was speaking of the cicadas singing loudly outside of her open bedroom windows. Sorry kiddo I don’t know where the off switch is.

I tried to do things with her that I did when I was a kid. Dragging her into the garden to plant butter beans and then letting her help shell them when they had matured. What do you mean you don’t like tomatoes? Going into the woods to hike…and split and load wood. It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun but it was…I hope. Ashley really didn’t quite get the moral of the story when I put a watermelon in the stream to cool, just like I did when I was a kid. Later in the afternoon as I struggled to retrieve the melon and finding that a “varmint” had begun the party without us, Ashley asked “Wouldn’t it just have been easier to put it in the refrigerator?” Yes, but would it have been as sweet? I have to say Linda Gail probably took Ashley’s side.

As Ashley got older she played soccer and keeping with the insect theme her first team was the “Lady Bugs.” They were so cute. She was not the most gifted athlete, a trait she inherited from me. I remember her running, shoulders scrunched with her chin jutted out in determination. She would later move to goal keeper and I was always amazed, and a bit fearful, at how fearless she was attacking high crosses or the ball being dribbled on a breakaway. I was also a little bit proud…ok, a lot proud. With my own coaching schedule, Linda Gail and I don’t have as many memories of Ashley’s athletic career as I would like but I still cherish seeing her team win a state championship. I was also quite proud when she began coaching during her second of three careers.

Christmas Eve was always our time to get together. Linda’s mother and father, Mr. and Mrs. Porter, now Linda Gail’s stepmother Francis, my brother, Steve, and his wife, Rebecca, and of course Ashley. After an evening of celebrating and gift giving there was always the bitter sweet time when I took Ashley home, late in the night. We would talk, just she and I, until she fell asleep. For some reason I remember driving home in Linda’s little red bug with Ashley helping me shift the gears. Odd what we remember. This past year we moved our Christmas Eve party to Ashley and Justin’s to accommodate Miller Kate and I am not sure if we like it very much…yet.

I have a photograph that always causes a tightness in my chest. Young Ashley is perched upon a twisted tree that resembles the hump of a camel. Mr. Porter (Pop) and I are steadying her with Linda Gail’s mother looking on. Pop and Linda Gail’s mother are gone, as is the young Ashley, replaced instead by my grown up daughter; nurse, wife and mother of a red-headed little “doddle bug,” Miller Kate. I wish Linda Gail was in the picture but, as usual, she was “attempting to capture the memory.”

As I am writing this I have just gotten word that “Little Boy Blue’s” arrival is still on hold. It appears he is ready to come, about two weeks early, and I am sure Ashley and Justin are ready but I’m not sure about Miller Kate. I have a remembrance of a chubby little red-headed kid (brother Steve) who came into my life just before my fifth birthday. As soon as he was old enough to stand I punched him in the nose, not my finest moment. Hopefully Miller Kate will deal with the new addition better than I did.

Despite my guilt and fear, Ashley has turned into a daughter to be proud of…is there any other kind? She is sensitive and strong and actually has some of our “liberal” traits. I just don’t know why she doesn’t like tomatoes. I guess I could have done a better job there.

POSTSCRIPT
“Little Boy Blue” decided to join us during the mid-afternoon. Seven and a half pounds of healthy boy with all of his toes and fingers and everything in between. Dark headed with a full head of hair, I think he will end up red headed like his sister. I’m not sure what Miller Kate thinks about her baby brother yet. She addresses him as “Baby Nolan Samuel”, more as a title than a name. I worry how she is going to react when she realizes that she has to share being the center of the universe with someone else. There is something hopeful about a new birth. New opportunities to make a difference in the world. Hope he grows into a smart, strong, athletic young man but I will accept a good young man. Knowing his parents, I am sure he will have every opportunity to be a good young man.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from the soon to be released book about thirty years of the “unintended consequences” of living with Linda Gail, “Through the Front Gate.” For more of Don Miller’s unique outlook on life try clicking on http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.

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