Chicken is sixteen years old tomorrow.
She is tough, smart, independent, vulnerable, and beautiful.
When she was born, I walked into the hospital nearly eight centimeters dilated–and she shot across the stainless steel table like a watermelon seed being squished across the counter. This is only notable because we were uncertain as to her gender–we were on welfare at the time, and had no ultrasounds, and all we had was a hunch that this one might be different than the last one.
Mate had to stand on tiptoes and speculate over the head of three cooing nurses. “I do believe it’s a girl!”
She’s been indifferent to her girlhood ever since.
One of the oldest pictures we have of Chicken (it pre-dates digital pix) is a picture of her, dressed in her brother’s hooded T-shirt and her brother’s old shorts, trying on mother’s glasses and looking soberly into the camera.
Unlike her little sister, we are unlikely to find a picture of Chicken, wearing her bestest bestest, decked out in make-up, and grinning winningly into the camera.
And unlike her formal big brother, we might very often hear her summarize history in a succinct, pithy statement that most folks on FOX News would not understand. (i.e. Stalin was a douchebag.)
When she was six years old, I went back to school to get my Master’s degree. I had very clear memories of my father in school when I was that age, and I was pretty sure I was done growing by then since my mother wasn’t doing anything about raising me, and I assumed that Chicken and Big T would be just fine without me.
Chicken was relentlessly affectionate, and terrifyingly hurt by my absence. I had an epiphany. To most people, it would seem like common sense, but when I was seven, I woke up, got dressed, fed the animals, made my lunch and got to school, very often without seeing another person until I met someone as I walked. Big T was one thing–he needed help because he was still not very vocal, but Chicken? Chicken needed me? I was floored–it had never occurred to me that I would be needed as a mother when my children were perfectly able to raid the refrigerator and wipe their bottoms without my help.
And now, when she is terrifyingly competent, and very nearly grown, I am not ready for my shotgun buddy (she rides shotgun on the way home) and my friend and confidante to be ready to bail on me. I stayed here and stayed ‘mom’ for her, right?
But that was different. That was my job.
Her job is to grow up to be the extraordinary person I see her turning into with every day.
Thanks, Chicken. You’re buckets and buckets of deep-fried, special-spice, extra-crispy awesome.
But you’re still growing up too goddamned fast.