18, No Time to Waste
"MOM, THERE'S SOMETHING I want to talk to you about. Now don't say 'no' until you hear me out."
I watched Kathi, now almost eighteen years old, as she made meaningless patterns on the tablecloth with her fork, her eyes downcast. A feeling of fear rose in my throat and caused me to stiffen.
"It's this, mom; Felicia and I want to get an apartment together for the summer
" just for the summer," she added hastily, as she lifted her head and saw my face.
"You know the answer to that; it's no. I won't even discuss it," I said with fierce finality.
I got up from the table and walked away, hoping to close the subject once and for all. Kathi didn't move.
"You've got to see it my way, mom. It's something I want to do, just for the summer. I promise I'll be back in the fall please, just listen to me!"
All of the "How to rear your children" advice came back to me and bounced off my brain with a painful thud. Tears were threatening to break through at any moment, and I hardly dared trust my voice to answer. I stood there looking at my second daughter, her usually happy face now stricken. I knew that I could change that by one sentence, "Yes, go Kathi, with my blessing." But I couldn't say words I didn't mean.
Kathi, at seventeen, was a slender girl with raven-colored hair that fell long and loose about her face. Just under her bangs were dark, luminous eyes, quick to reveal her every mood. She vibrated with life and energy, her vivacity drawing people to her. She was like a magnet to the teen-agers who were constantly around her. She seemed to give so much of herself that her friends were seeking her out for the sheer pleasure of her company. It had always been like this. I don't know why I hadn't gotten accustomed to it by this time, but it still irritated me to have to always vie for her time. But Kathi was Kathi! Her friends were numerous.
But Felicia was a special friend!
And I didn't like Felicia!
As Kathi and I stood there facing each other, what I really felt was anger: Anger built up in me toward Felicia who had taken Kathi from me; anger toward her friends who had more of her than I did.
And I was angry at the wall that had built up between us. Everyone always told me Kathi was different, Kathi was special, and yet I, her mother, was having the hardest time understanding her. I was angry that she would even want to leave home. Most of all, I was angry that that magic age of eighteen was soon to be hers and I was helpless to stop her.
"No, no, no!" I heard my own voice saying and could hardly believe it was mine. "You can't leave, and if you do, you can't come back. No."
I brushed past her before the tears erupted into a fountain of grief, ran into the bedroom, and flung myself on the bed.
Kathi stood at my door, struggling to control herself.
"Why? Why do you want me to stay then?" she was asking. "Is it because I'm the only daughter left at home, or because you want me to run errands for you? Why? You have the boys you don't need me!"
She started to walk away, and I said the only thing I could think to say. I called after her through a voice choked with emotion.
"Because, Kathi because I love you!"
Kathi was out the front door, and the house was quiet. I lay back on the bed with a heavy heart.
It was early March, and the California breezes were whispering that spring would soon be here. It was nearly dusk, and soon it would be time to prepare dinner for Vern and the boys.
Kathi, my heart cried out, where did you go?
When did we build this barrier between us?
Was it long ago when you were just a little girl and I was having baby after baby and you were made to grow up so fast?
Was it when your older sister Cindy became a teenager and she and I shared so many secrets together?
Was it when Cindy was married and you felt that "second daughter" jealousy?
Was it resentment that you had now become big sister to a brood of noisy brothers?
What had happened to the chubby little five-year-old who took my hand and gently asked me to help her pray "for Jesus to come into my heart"?
I sobbed quietly, praying between sobs that God would help me know how to bridge the gap between us. I was sure that Kathi was driving off to Sharon's or Felicia's to share this new confrontation with them. Kathi, Sharon, and Felicia had become an inseparable threesome, silly and irresponsible. I suppose Kathi shared the attitude of most teens "leave me alone."
But I was determined to slow her down, to force her to understand her responsibilities, and in the process, I had met a personality as strong as my own.
And now she was coming of age, and I was heartsick. It seemed only yesterday I had held her in my arms, welcoming my second daughter with real joy.
Vern and I had so wanted to train and teach our children to love and live for God. But somewhere along the way, I had become rigid and unbending in my views.
"Lord," I prayed, "teach me patience and love and understanding with Kathi."
It was with this resolve that I helped Kathi plan the slumber party for her eighteenth birthday. She was so excited, scrubbing and cleaning the house, running to the store for last-minute items. Her enthusiasm never failed to buoy my own spirits.
As the girls began to arrive and I watched Kathi greeting them at the door, I had to smile. It's no wonder that everyone loves her so, I thought. She greets every girl as if she were the only one in the world.
I had always loved Kathi's slumber parties, but this night was one I would always remember. The house was soon full of giggling girls, huddling together in the living room, with wall-to-wall sleeping bags, huge rollers sticking out of their hair in every direction. They laughed and screamed long into the night, drinking Cokes, munching potato chips and doughnuts, and capturing their most awkward moments with flash cameras.
And there was Kathi always the center of attraction, the last one to sleep and the first one up the perfect little hostess running back and forth with food trailing behind her.
The stereo blasted all the "now" music, and though Vern and I could hardly sleep, we were intoxicated with our daughter's happiness. As I listened to the gaiety that filled the house, I thought, maybe after graduation Felicia will go with her parents to Texas and the girls will forget their plans for leaving home. I smiled smugly, comforting myself, but there was a nagging uncertainty deep within me.
The next morning there was the usual aftermath and clean-up. I found Coke bottles under chairs and on tables; empty potato chip bags were scattered about the room, with remnants of chips littering the carpet; doughnut boxes, emptied to the last crumb, were everywhere.
And Kathi was upstairs sleeping soundly.
As I cleaned the house, I thought, this is probably the last slumber party Kathi will ever have.
I was right. It was to be her last slumber party and her last birthday!
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