September 4, 2001
Four Observations


Observation #1: Quitting smoking agrees with Daughter #1.

It was a calmer, healthier, better-smelling Daughter #1 who got off the plane on Thursday night.

"It's been three whole months since she's had a cigarette," boasted Joel proudly, as we all stood in line at La Piñata waiting for our table. Daughter #1 beamed.

"I can't tell you how proud I am," I replied, and she beamed even more brightly.

(And I am proud. And happy. And relieved. And as much as I would love to take total credit for her decision to quit smoking -- citing the power of *FootNotes,* maternal influence and subliminal mind control -- I suspect it was probably her own delicately fussy sense of smell that finally did it. This is the Tot who wouldn't drink milk if the carton had been left open in the fridge longer than five seconds, because it made the milk "too stinky." I think she probably just got tired of walking around smelling like the bottom of an ashtray all the time.)

I haven't made a big deal out of her decision to quit, here on the website or elsewhere, because frankly I wasn't sure it was going to *take.* I didn't want to jinx it by acknowledging it too soon. But it's clear that she's committed to her decision ... and it's equally clear, by the aura of renewed good health surrounding her (not to mention the aura of renewed non-stinkiness) that being a nonsmoker agrees with her.

Here's what else seems to agree with her: driving around in California sunshine on Saturday afternoon. Ordering gnocchi at her favorite Bay Area restaurant, The Stinking Rose. Shopping for khaki pants and guitar pajamas at the downtown San Francisco Old Navy. Bookstores seem to agree with her, too ... as do leisurely midmorning brunches, funky little Sausalito giftshops and posing for pictures in front of The Golden Gate Bridge for the third year in a row.

(Three-cheese pretzels and new Skechers DEFINITELY seem to agree with her.)

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Observation #2: She's one of the grown-ups now.

"How many in your party?" shouted the frantic little waiter, dashing towards us with an armload of menus. "Any children?"

"Four adults," I replied.

And then I paused for a heartbeat, looking at my almost-twenty-year-old daughter, before adding, "No children." No booster seats for *this* table. (Although we wouldn't mind one of those groovy kiddie menus and a box of crayons.)

In truth, Jaymi has never completely seemed like a child to me, even when she WAS a child. From the first moment I peeked into that tiny face -- bundled, burritolike, in her pink hospital blanket -- I've felt certain that there was a very old soul residing there. As a little girl she always carried herself with more poise and emotional sophistication than other children her age. And during my darkest and most dysfunctional days -- the years just before I left -- she pretty much ran our household (and she ran it with more efficiency than *I* would have, even if I'd been at the top of my game).

Mind you: housing an old soul is not to be confused with behaving like one. Age four, for example, was no day at the beach for either one of us. That was her *I Am The Boss of Everything (And Everybody, Especially My Mom)* phase. I remember her entire fourth grade year in school -- the *Tia B. Year,* when everything revolved around her sometimes best friend/sometimes mortal enemy, Tia -- as being one long, horrific Excedrin Headache. But mostly she has always seemed to have a leg up on the whole maturity thing. At least, compared to her peers.

(Or compared to her MOM.)

But this visit, I think, it hit home with me like never before that she is no longer a little girl.

There was the whole matter of dropping her and her boyfriend off at their hotel every evening, for instance. If anything brought home the fact that she's practically grown-up, this was it. I'm accustomed to getting up in the mornings, during her visits, and seeing her curled up on our raggedy old sofa, her suitcases strewn everywhere ... the refrigerator filled with her Coca Cola, the bathroom filled with her wet towels. It felt downright obscene, leaving her at the Howard Johnson every evening. ("I'm leaving my baby in DOWNTOWN OAKLAND!" I wailed in the Subaru, as we drove away. It was like leaving her in Hell, wearing nothing but a pair of non-flame-retardant jammies. "She'll be fine," David reminded me reassuringly. "She's got Joel with her, and we're just five minutes away." But that was small comfort.)

Someday, maybe, David and I will have a house the size of The Douglas J. Mattson Convention Center -- or else we'll break down and buy a fold-out sofa -- and we'll be able to accomodate out-of-town guests in relative comfort.

In the meantime, something tells me I'm probably going to have to get used to this hotel stuff.

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Observation #3: She reminds me of *me* at age almost-twenty.

Except that she has better hair than I did. And better teeth. And a nicer boyfriend. And she's got a better job than I had at her age, and a more impressive résumé, and a credit card -- I was in my forties before I had one of those -- and she seems to be a lot more sensible and focused about things like money and work and skincare and thinking about the future than I was.

Plus she isn't living with a balding aluminum sales guy.

Plus she doesn't smoke.

Otherwise she's the spitting image of 1978 Secra, I swear to god.

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Observation #4: I must be doing something right ... even if it was by accident.

On Friday afternoon, Jaymi and Joel showed up at my office in the middle of the afternoon with a hugely extravagant bouquet of flowers. "These are for you," she said ... a sort of thank-you-in-advance gift for all of the sightseeing we would be doing over the weekend.

I was surprised and touched.

A couple of times during her visit she pulled me to one side. "Are you sure we can't help pay for dinner?" she'd ask quietly, making sure that Mommy wasn't breaking the bank (or spending the inheritance).

She thanked us -- simply, sincerely, often -- for everything. Thank you for driving us around. Thank you for feeding us. Thank you for buying us stuff.

Thank you for not forcing us to listen to Mmmm-Bop again.

And when we got up this morning for work -- me in my usual Post-Tot-Visit funk -- there were electronic thank-you cards, waiting in our emailboxes, one for me, one for David. She sent them last night after they got home, just before she went to bed.

I've made more than my share of mistakes as I've traveled down The Momhood Road, the past twentysomething years. I'm always the first to admit it. But after spending four and a half days with this thoughtful, courteous, affectionate, forward-thinking grown-up woman ...

... I'm reminded that I must have done something right, along the way.

p.s. how surprised are you going to be to hear that our stoopid SCANNER suddenly quit working again, over the weekend? it seems to do this every time we have out-of-town guests ... leaving me temporarily unable to provide you with *photographic evidence* of the visit. i managed to scan these photo-booth shots -- taken at the mechanical museum at the cliff house [laughing sal says *hi* again, B.] -- just before the scanner went belly-up. but that's as far as i got. as soon as i have our pictures processed digitally, i'll post a couple of them here for you. in the meantime, tune in tomorrow to read joel's account of his first visit to the bay area!

one year ago: a dinner is just a dinner
two years ago: chick chromosomes

throw a rock