Libby Bryant- Astonishing!

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Every day at the 12:15 lunch bell for the last four years, a certain young curly headed lady has traipsed into my office, hungry for lunch and ready to share her day’s concerns and triumphs. My Libby. She turned eighteen yesterday, and she is a force to be reckoned with. There are those people who come into a room and look at someone else and say, “Oh, there you are!” and proceed to quietly move from group to group, nibbling on cheese cubes and nodding attentively as friends share their stories, interests, observations. I am one of those.

But then there are people who come into a room saying (even if not literally) “Here I am!” and the party begins to swell with energy, charged by the individual who seems to just glow with it. The dancing gets more exciting, the volume escalates, and the laughter surges. That’s Libby.

I am not sure she realizes it. She is a thermostat- she sets the temperature for a room. She is gorgeous, tall and leggy with a killer smile (thanks, Dr. Mardaga), golden skin, and beautiful lips that she currently accentuates with bold red lipstick and a Rosie the Riveter hairdo. She is equally gorgeous inside. She has a tender heart and a moral center that is firm. She is ambitious, setting her sights on some of the most competitive and elite schools in the country and aggressively hunting for scholarships to ensure she doesn’t have to take options off the table for financial reasons if she can help it. She keeps trying to quit her job, but her employers and fellow employees love her too much and won’t let her. She has no interest in having a boyfriend to distract her. She is driven.

But when I see her, I also see, like one of those cheesy eighties double-exposure Olan Mills portraits, a frizzy headed toddler dressed in mismatched high heels and her sister’s dance recital costumes, singing with gusto and ordering her siblings about. I see the snaggle toothed first grader who insisted (rightfully so) that she could play baseball as well as any boy and should be able to, the girl who broke her fingers playing a game of touch football on the BBES playground. I remember the choir concerts at Ellisor, where I dropped her off every morning at 6:45, giving her a new silly nickname every day before she headed to help the primary teachers prepare for their days.

I remember my pregnancy, when she seemingly refused to enter the world. Neighbors pointed and laughed as I trudged the streets in Muskogee trying to Get.The.Child.Out. Church members teased (lovingly) from the pulpit that when the roll was called up yonder, “Kim will still be here” waiting for the baby. Her birth was my favorite, a home birth with only Travis and a midwife named Ruth, sunlight streaming through the stained glass church windows in my bedroom, Ruth literally laying her hand on the emerging child and bathing her in prayer as she came into the world. I exclaimed at her tinyness and Ruth drily told me the ten pound girl was NOT tiny.

It’s not that Libby is fearless. She’s not- though she was when she was a wee thing. Life has knocked her around enough that she knows that taking risks can sometimes backfire, that loving too deeply can wound. Libby just seems to be able to look fear in the face, make friends with it, and leap anyway.

Every day at lunch time, we have thirty minutes of uninterrupted mother-daughter time. On top of that, I get to teach her every day and direct her every afternoon. I got to do that with all my kids, but the other two were in junior high when they were mine, and it was only two years (they also didn’t eat with me!) I have watched her become this wonderful young woman. I will miss her so much next year I cannot actually allow myself to think about it.

But this girl is ready. Ready to make her mark, to toss her hat in the air with a smile and kick the doubters to the curb. I hope she knows that she can always come back to me, to sit on the couch in my office or climb into my comfy bed, where she can lay her precious heart open, amaze me with her insights, make me laugh, and be still for a bit. I will play with her curls and rub her back and maybe even sing with her.

I love her so. Happy birthday, my sweet girl.

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