She left for work a little before 9 this morning.
Working at the local supermarket. Running the cash register, answering customer questions, stocking shelves. Wholly unremarkable.
Or it used to be, anyway. In the swift current of global change, clocking in at the grocery store isn’t what it used to be. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My daughter turned 18 on Feb. 7. A milestone birthday in a year of milestone birthdays. My oldest son turned 21 back in December. My youngest turns 16 in July. And my step-daughter will be 25 in October. I wrote about my son’s big day back at the end of 2019 (you can read it here), and it was my intent to write about each of the following birthdays as they arrived. I couldn’t put something together for my daughter, though. Nothing I was happy with. I decided to wait til the time felt right.
That time is now, I guess.
My daughter was so excited to turn 18. Just in time to vote in the Vermont presidential primary in early March. That’s her to a “T”. Engaged in her world in a way I never considered when I was that age. She’s got a fire in her belly for social justice and equity, and it’s inspiring as hell.
She’s been through so much, and she has a degree of flexibility and resilience that makes rubber seem brittle by comparison. Constantly challenging herself, she’s nearly done early college as a high school senior, and she’s got a sweet choice of schools to pick from for college. Her mind is keenly insightful, and she provides a perspective on issues that far exceeds her 18 years.
The 18th year of a person’s life is one of crossroads. High school graduation. College or trade school or work or military. Relationships. Independence. Moving forward.
But then all this happened. COVID-19 and all that implies.
Going to work at a grocery store as a young adult doesn’t mean what it meant a week ago. Suddenly, my daughter and her colleagues are essential employees (which they always were, regardless of official designation). She’s part of a team that’s working to make sure food and supplies get distributed fairly and calmly to customers. And she’s well aware of the risk she’s confronting by doing this. Still, she does it anyway.
My daughter, my wife, and I were talking this morning about upcoming stuff that was “supposed” to happen. Prom. Graduation. Going to college. We agreed that none of these things will likely play out as planned. But she was the one who said, “There are bigger priorities.” She hopes there will still be prom, graduation, and the traditional moving onto campus and going to class when/if college starts next fall. But she also knows this might not be the case. Maybe there’s no prom. Maybe there’s a remote graduation ceremony. Maybe remote learning for college. Who knows? But she’s ready to take each day as it comes and figure things out. I’d have been in a constant state of existential angst at 18, if placed in a similar position.
Last weekend, my daughter went to visit her girlfriend, who lives a fair distance from us. I told her to expect this would be the last time they’re together for a while. She said she knew, and she faced it head-on. Since then, the’ve talked on FaceTime and made the most of a hard situation. Again, put me in my daughter’s place, and it would not be so dignified. There would be many proclamations of, “BUT A VIRUS CAN NEVER COME BETWEEN OUR LOVE!!!” and other such overdramatic nonsense.
As for the independent that comes with being 18, nothing puts a damper on that like needing to be isolated with your father and stepmom when you’re not working. But my wife and I are doing our best to foster that sense of independence she was already developing. Trying to treat her more as an equal, rather than as a kid. Like so many things, we’re making it up as we go and making changes along the way.
My daughter was five months away from being born when the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happened. She grew up in a world that had changed quite a bit, but to her, it was normal. Now she faces the challenges her mom and I (and every other American and much of the world) faced when we woke up on Sept. 12, 2001. Everything is different. Now it’s time to figure out where to go from here.
One thing I know for certain is this: I feel a lot better about figuring that stuff out knowing that my daughter is part of the process.