First to Fly

The world just got a little luckier, today; a little brighter. My oldest daughter, Emily, graduated from Mount Royal University this morning; her beautiful face beaming with joy. With this degree, she adds one more First to her list; one of many. She was the First person in my life that I ever worried about. I was told she had Intrauterine Growth Retardation when I was just 16 weeks along in my pregnancy; she just stopped growing. My OB/GYN told me there were only 2 possible outcomes: she would survive and be a midget (no joke), or she would not survive; my placenta was only working at 50% capacity and she wasn’t getting the nutrients she needed. He told me that we could induce labor when I had reached my 23rd week, and hope to give her the care she needed to thrive; but I had to at least get my pregnancy past 23 weeks because the state of Texas would not allow medical intervention for preemies born before that mark. With that goal in mind, I was put on total bedrest so she could have the full attention of my body and all the oxygen and nutrients that I otherwise would have used if I were up and running around. We played music on my tummy, I wrote and painted in my journal while talking to her, we read her poems, and I read books to her that I checked out of the library by the shelfful; all murder mysteries (I’m so thankful they had no negative effect on her). We watched every episode of Murder She Wrote and The Scarecrow and Mrs. King, from beginning to end. And I ate cheese; so much cheese. We can thank the Women, Infants, Children program (WIC) for all the blessed cheese, milk, and Life Cereal I could possibly consume. It worked. Every week, I had an ultrasound to check on her, and they gave me a sugary drink to get her to kick. I was told, if I could count 10 kicks in the span of one hour every day, she was doing ok. We had a C-section scheduled for the end of my 36th week, but days before the scheduled time, Emmy decided to jump out on her own; she was my First big surprise! She was my First child, and when I looked into her eyes, I realized that she was my First love as well.
My doctor laughed when he reported her weighing in at 6lbs 14oz; he said it was good she was a preemie, because if she had gone full term, she would have been a 10lb baby…all that cheese! It turned out that Emily was his First baby patient to bounce back so perfectly from IUGR; one more for her brand new list of Firsts.FullSizeRender

As Emmy grew, I followed the advice in all my baby books, preparing for every step. Well. Most babies start babbling “mama/dada” by 6 months and 2-3 word sentences between 18months and 2 years. They also typically begin walking around 9months. My baby? She started with the “mama/dada” and moved straight into full sentences. By her yearly exam, she hadn’t begun to walk, however, and I worried. The doctor looked me in the eye and reminded me, “Emily asks for anything she wants – she can clearly communicate to you…what motivation does she have to actually get up and walk to something she would like? She asks politely for the toy from her bedroom, and you run off to bring it to her. Stop. She won’t like it, but she will eventually learn that she needs to get what she wants by walking to what she wants. All will be well.”

FullSizeRenderShe learned her First little lesson in life; sometimes you have to get what you want by rising to your feet and pursuing it on your own.

Then we moved to California and I needed to work, so poor Emily had to go to Daycare for the First time, crying all the way; crying every morning. We eventually fell into a routine and a morning ritual that would calm her down by the time we arrived at the Daycare Center. Every day we would drive from our tiny apartment in Seaside, to the Daycare Center at the Defense Language Institute. Along the way, to distract her from her sadness, we would say, “Look, Emmy! There is the big tree! And as we passed it, we said, “Hi tree! Bye-bye tree!” “Look Emily, there’s the ocean! Hi Ocean! Bye-bye Ocean!” And our favorite was, “LOOK! The Car Tunnel!” As we drove through it (the last thing before entering DLI), we would call out to the lights in the tunnel, “Hi lights! Bye lights!” She learned that those things would remain there while she was in Daycare, and we could do the reverse routine on our way home. To this day, I’m not sure whether Emily does this or not, but I still whisper under my breath when driving through any tunnel, “Hi lights!, Bye lights!” Unfortunately, one of the worst Firsts she had to put on her list was that we worked such horrible hours in the hotel industry, and she was always the First to be dropped off at Daycare and last to be picked up. Through it all, though, she managed to keep her sunny smile and we enjoyed our days off together.

I was a bit overprotective of Emily. I remember when we met my husband, Markus, for the First time; he was shocked that I wouldn’t even let her climb the slides at the park. He proceeded, over the years, to teach her how to climb trees and how to ride a bicycle, She had her First adventures because he entered our lives. My girlie girl in the ruffled dresses suddenly became rough and tumble and trailed after him like a puppy. He became her First idol.IMG_5059

Eventually, after dating for a year, we flew to Markus’ hometown in Bavaria to meet his family. We were so nervous. The only advice his parents gave him before going to America, was “Whatever you do, don’t fall in love with an American Woman!” They’d had bad impressions from another American Woman through a different member of their family, and wanted to make sure Markus didn’t make a similar mistake. Well whaddayaknow, not only did he fall in love with an American Woman, but she was a Divorced American Woman…with a Child from her Previous Marriage. Oh the scandal! Needless to say, I was incredibly stressed, ready to jump down anyone’s throat who dared to say anything unkind to my baby. I shouldn’t have worried so. Emily worked her First magic spell that day at the Munich airport. One look at her, and Markus’ mother fell to her knees and exclaimed, “Call me Oma!” Emmy celebrated her 3rd birthday during that enchanting visit, returning home having wrapped each family member around her little fingers.FullSizeRender

Emily’s First time at a wedding was when we all got married. I say “we” to include her, because we recited our wedding vows to her, promising to love her always and to be a family together for the rest of our lives. I don’t know if she fully understood the solemnity of our promises; she spent most of the time swinging from our joined hands; about all that can be expected from a 3yr old.1935903_1236780639152_630307_n

Oh, let me not forget to mention another First…On the morning of our wedding, I went to get my hair done, and on the way home suddenly fell ill. I may or may not have pulled over into the parking lot of a 7Eleven and, being too embarrassed to get sick on the pavement of a parking lot, I barfed all over the inside of my car. I made it home, a smelly mess; shaky and feverish. Markus cleaned up the car, cleaned up his bride-to-be, dressed Emmy, fixed up her hair, and whisked us away to Monastery Beach, in Carmel, to be married by our good friend Colette. At the wedding dinner at Il Fornio (fancy for the 3 of us), I sat, white as a sheet, while Emily and Markus tucked in and devoured their meals. All of a sudden, Emily sat up and picked up the barf baton, and she ran with it; right there in the restaurant dining room. Markus made it almost to bedtime before he succumbed. I
think we had only one day off before returning to work, and we spent it taking care of each other; in sickness and in health, indeed. I could say that was Emmy’s First family drama, but I decided to pass that over, and instead chose: First Time Learning What Not to Say. That weekend, I brought my car to the car wash and asked them to detail it. I was in the middle of pointing out the gunk in the gaps between the gear shift and the seats, when little Emily popped her head in the door and squealed, “YAH! We gotta clean that UP! Mama barfed ALL over the place – it was SO GROSS!” I wish I could say that was the First and last time Emily has made me want to laugh (or cry!) and the last time I’ve wanted to pretend she was someone else’s child because of her “oversharing.” We’ll not reminisce about the pitchers of “Painkiller” potion that we imbibed in the Caribbean, after snorkeling last year, and the cute young man that enchanted her…and how she thought she was whispering her admiration of him to us, as we trailed behind him back to the ship, but she forgot to turn down the volume…ahhh, good times.

 

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More relevantly, Emily’s First day of school was epic. Markus and she walked to the elementary school just a couple of blocks from our house, a few days before school started, just to get the lay of the land. She was hopping up and down from excitement. One of the classroom doors was open, with a teacher working inside, and Markus told Em, “This is a kindergarten classroom – this might even be YOUR classroom! Doesn’t it look fun?” Emily, jumping up and down, “oh yes! OH YES!” The teacher came to the door, smiled at Emily, and asked her, “What is your name?” And Emily, in classic Sound of Music style, marched one step forward, said, “Emily!” and marched one step back, grinning her front-teeth-missing goofy grin. The teacher, Ms. Wendy Tuffli, fell in love with our silly girl, and after they went home, she did her own marching into the school office and told them, “That girl? Emily Something? I want her.” They transferred Emmy into her class, and Ms. Tuffli became Emily’s First teacher. You should have seen the glorious look on Emmy’s face on the first day of school, when she found out who her teacher was. Ms. Tuffli was Emily’s First inspiration (and Goddess to be worshipped). She was not only someone Emily adored; but she was, and still is, the ideal teaching model for Emily to aspire to be. I hope that one day in the future, a few days before school starts, when Emily is getting her own classroom ready, she gets a knock on the door from Ms. Tuffli.  That would make another perfect First day of school for Emily.

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Emily’s First time becoming a big sister happened while she was in kindergarten. She adored her baby sister, Hanna. But again, another unfortunate First came along. Emily caught the chicken pox and passed it on to 2 week old Hanna. Emmy had head-to-toe itchy scabs, but Hanna only got one giant pock mark on her jaundiced forehead; it made us giggle to see them together.

Emily met her First lifelong friend, Natalie, while we lived in California. They met at the swimming pool and it was friendship at First sight. We actually moved to Pacific Grove because of that little lady. They both went to Forest Grove Elementary School together, and celebrated their First Communion together. Last year Emily flew out to Arizona to cheer her on as Natalie graduated from university. First Besties are the best Besties.FullSizeRender

Before we moved to Pacific Grove, we also have to note that Emily had her First, and only, Around the Corner Friend. My friend, JJ, lived around the corner from our house, and Emily and her daughter, Emma, played together almost daily. We called them Em&Em. JJ introduced us to the Friendship Sandwich, and the girls shared their First friendship sandwich together; a very cool thing. You take a giant loaf of French bread, like a baguette, cut it open and load on everything you could ever dream of in a sandwich. Then, the 2 friends chow down on their respective ends of the sandwich until they meet in the middle. It was a big hit in our house.

This might be the best First of all. From the time we married and I changed my name, Emily was the only one left in the house with the surname Pierce. For a time, her birth father permitted us to hyphenate her last name, after she became sensitive to the family name differences while learning how to write in Kindergarten. But instead of making things better for Emily, things became harder for her. Hanna was born…Johanna Treppenhauer. Then Simon was born…Simon Treppenhauer. She grew sadder and sadder. Back in preschool, one day, one of the preschool teachers insisted that Emily needed to refer to Markus as her “Stepdad,” instead of “Papa Markus.” Emily argued that  she had 2 Papas: Papa Scott and Papa Markus; and what was a Stepdad anyway? After the complicated list of all the proper labels for different members of families of divorce was explained to her, and after being told that, according to her stupid stupid stupid preschool teacher, Papa Markus was not actually blood-related to her, she came home a sobbing mess. Why wasn’t she blood-related to Papa? What WAS blood-related, anyway?! Was Papa not her Papa because he was a Stepdad instead? That was Emily’s First heartbreak. I can’t say I reacted well. There was much inner-cursing of the preschool teacher, much outer crying for the loss of happy innocence. We tried to tell her that labels were not needed in our family, and that Papa was Papa because of the love in our hearts, but she could not be consoled. Sudden I remembered my father, when I was little, swearing himself as Blood Brother with a close friend, and the ceremony that was involved. I jumped to my feet and cried, “QUICK Emmy! Peel your knee scab! Markus, peel that scab on your arm!” And I grabbed their limbs and squished them together, scab to scab. Gross, but effective. I now pronounce you Blood-Related. And that alone could have been the best of all. But there is more. When Emmy was in kindergarten, things began to develop into a very difficult and messy situation with her birth father. She began to have nightmares after a couple of years. When we could not find a way around things, we took legal action to protect her. In the end, her birth father gave us permission for Markus to adopt her. She was turning 10 at that time. She spoke to her birth father and thanked him for giving her the greatest birthday gift she could ever have asked for; to be able to share the same last name as her brother and sister, and to finally feel 100% part of the family. Emily’s First day as a Treppenhauer was a great day.FullSizeRender

Years passed, our family grew, and we moved to Hawaii. The Big Island was the First place we ever lived where Emily blended in – she had a wonderful 5 years there, living like an island girl, making friends and loving the sun. I think she may have left a large part of her heart back there.

When she was halfway through 10th grade, we moved to Banff. Her First time in a foreign country; her First time learning the importance of being diplomatic (“Whaddaya mean I can’t loudly argue with my social studies class about America? We’re GREAT!”). And another not so great First. For the First time, Emily struggled with school. She struggled so hard that she started to hate it. It took just one inept teacher, and the damage was so bad we worried she wouldn’t make it to university. Not surprisingly, Emily decided to take a gap year before going on to college. She felt so awful about school. I may have thrown a few tantrums about her decision. In hindsight, it was good for her to take that break. She worked in town and tried to save for college, all while growing bored and looking forward to the changes university would make for her life. Then, Markus was transferred to Jasper. All of a sudden, Emmy would have to live on her own for the First time. This was also the First time our family had to move to a new town, leaving one of us behind. Broken-hearted, we still urged her to stay where she was and to see it as practice for living at university in the Fall. She was brave. She was braver than I have ever known her to be.

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And she did it! All of a sudden, it was Fall and her First day of school all over again. I drove down from Jasper to help her move into her dorm. Car packed to the ceiling, we made that journey together. I thought I couldn’t possibly be prouder of her than I was that day.MqfU7WEHRwybSiJSyEVl9g_thumb_48b3

I’ve never been more wrong. Today, I look back at her life and think, “she’s accomplished so much! How can she ever top this?” But she already has. Through Emily’s shining example of perseverance in the pursuit of a higher education, I have been taking my prerequisite classes for nursing school, with a goal to start next year. Markus is going to enroll in university this Fall, to work towards his MBA. Hanna is finishing up her first year at the University of Washington. And Simon will begin his Junior year in high school this Fall, with an aim to start university in 2019. There is going to be a brief moment over the span of the next two years when all of our lives will align, and every single member of this family will be enrolled in a university at the same time. Emily is my First inspiration. I know this seems like a lot just to say, “Happy Graduation,” but there is so much more I didn’t even have time to include. One day, I want the opportunity and time to sit down and write out all the bright details of her wonderful life. From her giant gap toothed smile on the first day of kindergarten, to this, her beautiful, serene smile on her last day of school; what a transformation. Whenever that time comes, I just know there will be a mountain of new adventures to share with the world. Emily will be off to her Master’s program at the University of Calgary in the Fall; one more First day of school. Please join me in my cheering: BRAVO EMILY!!!

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Two visitors taking a shortcut to my back yard, over the lake-turned-ice-skating-rink.

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Waiting for Mr. Tumnus

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