Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hoppy Birfday

My wife and I had tremendous good fortune in being the parents of two amazing children, who are, themselves, actually adults though one of their parents (me) doesn't always see them or think of them that way when, for instance, the hour is late and I know one or the other is out gallivanting or on an excursion. Very frightening things can be delivered over the telephone and I have an active and vivid imagination and what I can scheme and dream up takes my own breath away.

Today is the birthday of our daughter, Michelle. Born in the Kettler Krankenhaus (a very positive review, btw) in Offenbach am Main, in (then West) Germany, she spent her first four and half years living with her brother and parents on Ahornstrasse around the corner from the park with the kiosk where she used to charm the owner into giving her a sweet when she ran past as she played.

It was in Offenbach that Michelle first met my mother, seeing her two German grandchildren for the first time and she stayed very close to Sigrid, watching 'Oma America' carefully while speaking in whispers about 'Die Frau' (the woman). Michelle gradually warmed up to her American grandma and for many months after my mom flew back to the states from the Frankfurt Flughafen, when we'd drive by it on the A3 autobahn, Michelle would peer out the car window hoping to catch a glimpse of Oma America, convinced that since we'd picked her up and dropped her off at the airport, my mom must be living there.

When, near the end of a very long day some time later, she, her brother and their mother finally got off the plane in Philadelphia where I met them as they arrived to their lives in these United States, she stared out the terminal windows at the runways blazing with halogen lights and offered that "Amerika hast sehr viel dunkel night time", her own attempt at Gerglish and to impose some meaning into what had become a very chaotic young life. Beginning again as a small child, but now in a completely different environment where the only thing that hadn't changed was she, Michelle seemed to realize she needed to adapt and overcome and did (and still does everyday).

She started with a violin in fourth grade at the (now closed) William Buckingham School and I've long since lost track of all the instruments she has mastered. I know there's a piano, and a viola, and a French Horn and who knows what else. Along the way I went from being the smartest daddy in the whole world to a balding, slow to react, little old man who, very often in a battle of wits with a determined young woman, too late discovers he is unarmed. The more of an adult she becomes, the less she is comfortable being my 'itty-bit', a name I rarely call her now because she frowns when I say it, in much the same way as her brow furrows slightly when I call her 'Mike' as my diminutive for Michelle because my late Uncle Jim called his daughter Michelle, Mike, as well.

Michelle is nearing the completion of her studies as a music major at Eastern Connecticut and while I know the world will be braced for her, I can't help but think she'll make her mark. And I hope she'll always remember that no matter far apart we are, we will always share the same sky and the same moon and stars. Happy Birthday, Michelle.

"I'm gonna watch you shine.
Gonna watch you grow
Gonna paint a sign.
So you'll always know.
As long as one and one is two.
There could never be a father
Who loved his daughter more than I love you."

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