Nebraska - Colorado 218 by Asbestos Bill.

A few weekends ago I stole away with my favorite girl. The one whose teeth are dropping out. The one who wears jeans that float up past her ankles. The one who corrects me when I say she’ll be in first grade in the fall. “I already am in first grade.” The one who thinks romantic kissing is snort-laughing hilarious, who exaggerates almost as often as I do and says, like every minute and a half, “Mommy? I love you.”

Catherine Newman‘s description of her six-year-old daughter in a recent essay resonates: “…the big eyes, the helpless littleness, the wobbly dependence.” Exactly. I forget, since my girl is growing up fast, that six is actually pretty little. Poor kiddo. Being the oldest, she’s the one who gets stuck with spontaneous be-a-good-example-to-your-brother lectures and you-know-better-than-to-wipe-that-jam-on-your-shirt looks. So what if she spouts similes and her favorite poem is by Thomas Hardy? She still uses arm-length pieces of Scotch tape, looks like she’s going to hyperventilate when we suggest she try riding the bigger bicycle and checks her pillow for fairy dust.

We spent the special weekend with my mom, the better to lengthen the maternal bond. On Saturday, the zoo made the agenda, as did the giant indy bookstore we visit every time we’re in town (acquiring a copy of the sequel to The Penderwicks was non-negotiable). We ended the day with a dramatic evening that included blood, Andy Gibb and a tooth wiggling marathon, but not a visit from the tooth fairy.

After she finally went to bed, I stayed up to have a glass of wine with the grown-ups. The subject turned to freeway driving and near-misses so I shared something that happened on the drive down the day before. A motorcycle pulled ahead of me in the left lane. I checked my mirrors and my blind spot. Empty. Putting on my blinker, I checked again just in time to see a second motorcycle right next to me. I didn’t even need to swerve, but the possibility of sideswiping the bike buzzed in my head as it passed.

My mom’s friend, a motorcyclist, asked how my mirrors were adjusted. They’re not supposed to be redundant, he said. The rearview and side mirrors are supposed to work as a team, handing off the reflection like runners with a baton. You don’t say.

On the way back home, I followed his advice and pitched my side mirrors away from the car. It worked. All these years and no one ever told me this? I’ve been looking at the same car behind me in all three of my mirrors, instead of adjusting the angle so I can see the vehicle right next to me. And that’s the one that’s most important, and dangerous, right? The one that’s too close, moving in sync.

Which is, you’ve probably gathered, where I’m going with this girls’ weekend story. With all the hoopla of the first year of school (I’m free! they shouted together), I’m out of the habit of paying attention to my girl and who she’s becoming. Suddenly she’s wearing those highwaters and making kissing noises whenever I mention going on a date with her dad. Begging me to play with her and so sad to leave my mom’s house where the two of us get to (slumber party!) snuggle in the same bed.

Is it cloying to say that I need to adjust my parenting mirrors? Because I do. This girl is becoming someone a little bit different every day. Right next to me. And that’s not dangerous at all. But it is too important to miss.

Photo courtesy of Asbestos Bill (Creative Commons).

P.S. I feel obliged to settle your mind. I’m not going to start driving like my grandfather, who was notorious for scaring the daylights out of the family whenever he barreled into the left lane with barely a glance in mirror (in one of the old tank-like Suburbans, no less). I’m not, in case you’re worried, going to stop turning my head to check my blind spot.

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