I squeezed Abby tight. She’s normally not much of a hugger, but this day, I just didn’t care. I held her for just a bit too long because I just wasn’t ready to let go. She hugged me back, but said “Oh my gosh, stop! It’s no big deal.”
But it was a big deal. It was her last first day of school. It was the first day of her senior year of high school. She had not gotten her driver’s license yet by the first day of her junior year, so this was also the first time that we had not driven her to school on the first day. She was driving herself.
So standing there in the driveway, I held that hug as long and as tight as I could, gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and then finally let her go. Her mom then stepped in, with big tears in her eyes, and Abby understood that another big hug was imminent. April wrapped her up in her arms, and Abby’s awkwardness sort of fell away, and she melted into her mother’s arms. They stood there in silence for a few moments, a beautiful mother/daughter moment that’s indicative of the amazing bond that they have with one another.
April was nineteen years old when she had her, so not only are they mother and daughter, but also best friends. April let go of her and looked her in the eyes. She said, “You’re going to do great. It’s your last year of being a kid, so enjoy it.” Then I opened her car door for her and helped her into her car, even though she thought I was acting silly.
As her mother and I watched her drive away, beneath his sunglasses, this big, strong, tough cowboy had a tear roll down his cheek. I quickly wiped it away, hoping that April didn’t see it, but she did. I felt her arm slide around my waist as she said, “You’re such a big softie.” And she’s right. I am. And that’s pretty ironic, I guess.
You see, until about six years ago, I’d never been around many kids. I had two great nephews, Braden and Joby, but I probably wasn’t the best uncle. I loved them, and they loved me, I think, but I wasn’t fun. My brother was the fun uncle. I was the uncle with “all the rules,” as Joby always said. I worked too much, lived alone and drank too much whiskey. I didn’t really know it at the time, but I was selfish. Everything was about me. It was a simple life, I suppose, but not a very satisfying one.
I didn’t want to be told about how quickly that it would be gone. It just seemed so cliché. Just let me enjoy it! Let me have my happy moment with my daughters without having to think about what it’s going to be like when they’re gone.
But then one day came along April, Abby, and Emma. When we got married, I stepped into a role that I knew nothing about. All of a sudden, I had these other people that were depending on me. Decisions I made no longer only affected me. They also affected these little innocent girls. That’s heavy.
When our family first began, I tried so hard, but it was a struggle for me. When you’ve lived only for yourself for so long, it’s not easy to start making decisions in a new way. But old dogs can learn new tricks, after all. It just sometimes takes a little longer. My life became about April, Abby, and Emma. Every decision I made was based on how it would better them, how it would better our family.
Abby was eleven years old then, and Emma was seven. Abby was short and had chubby cheeks and little chipmunk teeth, and Emma was so tiny that she hung on my leg pretty much everywhere we went. In some ways, that seems like so long ago, but in other ways, it seems like just yesterday. Since then, we have added another girl to the mix, Miss Gracee June, and we have become one big, happy family.
It used to get on my nerves when people would say things like, “Don’t blink. Next thing you know they’ll be all grown up.” Or, “They just grow up so fast. You better enjoy it while you can.” It always felt like such a downer thing to say to someone who was enjoying living in the moment, taking our kids to softball games and livestock shows and cheerleading at football games. I didn’t want to be told about how quickly that it would be gone. It just seemed so cliché. Just let me enjoy it! Let me have my happy moment with my daughters without having to think about what it’s going to be like when they’re gone.
I taught Emma to tie her shoes when she was seven. She weighed probably forty-five pounds. I sat her little body on my lap, and we tied them and untied them over and over again. And then finally, it clicked. We celebrated and laughed and high-fived. It was such a small thing, but for as long as I live, I’ll never forget that moment.
Now I look at her, and she’s beautiful with blonde hair and blue eyes and thirteen years old. She shaves her legs and gets BO and wears the same size shoe as her mother. That little, tiny girl is gone, just a sweet memory, although for the most part, she is still every bit as entertaining as she ever was.
Abby, on the other hand, was older and more cautious with me when I first came around. She was more closed off, and it took me a while to gain her trust. But very few seventh graders don’t need help with math homework. And I’m pretty good at math, so that worked out in my favor. I’d spend those few minutes each night helping her with her homework. Slowly but surely, she came around. We got closer each and every day until eventually, we couldn’t have been closer.
She grew up from that little chubby cheeked pre-teen girl, into the beautiful brunette young woman that I am now helping into her car, on her last first day of school. And as her mother and I watched her pull out of the driveway, we looked at each other with tears in our eyes and began walking back to the house.
She squeezed my hand and said with a tremble in her voice, “I just can’t believe it. It seems like just yesterday that I dropped her off at pre-school. She should still be my little girl, sitting in my lap reading her bedtime stories.” I squeezed her hand back and looked at her and said, “Yeah, I know. It’s like we just blinked and now she’s all grown up. It just happened so fast.” I guess it’s not so cliché after all.
is the author of the popular parenting blog, The Daddy Diaries. He and his wife April have three daughters: Abby, Emma and Gracee. Originally from northeast Oklahoma, the Stampers now live in Tyler, Texas. For your daily dose of The Daddy Diaries, visit Stoney on Facebook or on his website, thedaddydiaries.net.