Just before midnight on Valentine's Day of 1991, I got the best Valentine's Day present I've ever had: my daughter, Michaela. She was the best present not just because she was my first child, but because of what she has taught me -- mostly, by being different from me.
From early on, it was clear that Michaela was, shall we say, laid back. She was so laid back that sometimes it worried me, like when she was late to walk and talk (she waited until about 15 months to walk, and didn't say much of anything until she was about 18 months). But there wasn't anything wrong with her -- she went on to walk and talk perfectly fine -- she just wasn't in a rush.
I am always in a rush. It's my natural state. I am like Rabbit from Winnie-the-Pooh; when Pooh said to him that sometimes songs just come to him, Rabbit didn't understand, "because he never let things come to him, but always went and fetched them." I go and fetch things.
Not Michaela. She takes life as it comes, and finds things to enjoy along the way. She is the only one of my children who never got upset if I changed plans at the last minute, even if I was canceling something fun. No problem; she'd make her own fun.
I appreciated this about her (it was way better to have a child who didn't complain than one who did), but I chafed against it as well. Going with the flow is all fine and good, but what about charting one's own path? Striving to achieve? Wanting to be the best?
Because I'm all about charting and striving and wanting to be the best at what I do. Michaela, however, was not interested. She was a good student, she worked hard, didn't let anyone down--but she wasn't particularly interested in being the best. As far as she was concerned, that was way more trouble than it was worth.
I'm classic Type A. Michaela is... mellower than Type B. Type C? Type D?
As a parent, this worried me. What would become of her? What kind of future would she have? We fought. About schoolwork and how she spent her time. About her messiness. About whether she should continue ballet, or stay on the swim team. About all sorts of things. It was me trying to change her -- because I thought my way was better.
But as the years went on, I began to see the wisdom of her approach. She might be Type D, but she is practical and responsible. She kept out of trouble (well, at least serious trouble, she had the usual teenage scrapes). She got into Northeastern with a merit scholarship. She had part-time jobs all along, so asked me minimally for money. And throughout, she enjoyed herself. She didn't worry about things; even when she was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, she accepted it with grace and a sense of humor.
I watched her and thought: I don't know how she does it. I don't know that I could ever approach life with such equanimity and optimism. And watching her made me realize that I don't have to always strive and push and rush. My way just might not be better.
We stopped fighting.
But there's something else about Michaela, something that was always there, but that I didn't fully appreciate until she grew into a woman: Her life is organized around her family and her friends and taking care of people. She takes care of people in her job, too -- she works for Early Intervention, with babies and toddlers with developmental problems, doing home visiting and getting paid remarkably little for it. But she doesn't mind. Because she is helping, and having a great time -- and after work she is with her friends and her family and having a great time there too.
Which is all, really, Michaela has ever wanted from life.
Now, I'm a doctor with five kids, so theoretically my life is organized around helping and family too... but somehow, still, I get off track far too often. I forget what's important. I get caught up in other stuff -- the shiny, distracting and ultimately unimportant stuff.
It's one of those great truths of parenthood: as much as we teach our children, they teach us even more. And sometimes, we are given exactly the child we need.