Both truisms especially describe the past two years.
On August 31, 2009, Bob and I did the final walkthrough for our brand new house here in Florence, AZ. It was a huge step toward our dream retirement. Although we had eight more months to work in Los Angeles before we could retire, our home of 29 years to sell, and a major move to make, closing on our new home here was a major event for us.
But something of even more importance to our family happened that very same day: my brother Mike and his wife Amp welcomed their daughter Grace Elizabeth McCoy -- nicknamed Maggie -- into the world.
She was the child my brother -- who didn't marry until he was 58 -- never imagined he would have. She was the precious daughter Amp -- and her thrilled parents in Thailand -- had longed for since Mike and Amp were married in 2007. And she was the niece we welcomed into a nearly childless family. My sister's Nick had been the only child in the family for 19 years and was quickly growing into young adulthood. Maggie was our second chance to experience the wonder of watching a child grow up.
And grow she has! How quickly a baby becomes an independent spirit -- the sweet infant becomes the toddler in what seems the blink of an eye. And there are hints of a childhood and young adulthood to come. She isn't a girly girl. She doesn't like dresses or Princess stories or dolls. Her favorite possession is an old iPad which she navigates with confidence and amazing skill. She likes to build things with Legos. She has an ability to focus sharply and at length on a task. She has no patience for baby talk or, in fact, much talk at all.
My brother worries that she hasn't spoken yet and looks relieved when reminded that I didn't speak until I was two-and-a-half. Then, after a lifetime of silence, I burst out with my first words in the check-out line at a supermarket, pointing at the man standing behind us and announcing loudly: "That man is picking his nose!" My sister Tai started speaking at about the same age, in full sentences. Her first words, yelled at Mike, were: "You get out!" Since both Tai and I went on to become champion talkers, my brother is reassured.
So even as her second birthday rolls around, Maggie is keeping quiet for the moment. But her spirited, bright presence has made such a difference. Mike, always a bit ambivalent about fatherhood after suffering so much abuse at the hands of his own father, has found a vast reservoir of tenderness and love in his relationship with his edgy and passionate little daughter. He has more patience than he ever imagined. He finds incredible joy in every day living with this little one. He and Amp, always close and loving from the moment they met, feel even more connected, more a family, than ever.
And I am still struck with wonder at Maggie's existence and with uncertainty about how our lives will intersect and how we will build a loving connection. I would love to be an aunt like my beloved Aunt Molly. But Aunt Molly was 27 when I was born. She was my father's never-married sister who spent all of her vacations with us and, after she moved back to L.A. from Ohio when I was in my early teens, every weekend with us as well. Growing up with an alcoholic, violent, mentally ill father and a terrified, depressed mother, there were times when Mike, Tai and I clung to Aunt Molly as the only reasonable adult at close range in our lives.
Maggie's young life has been very different: she has devoted parents who dearly love her and each other. She has a mostly elderly extended family here in the U.S. I am 66, Bob 67 and Tai is 56. She doesn't yet know quite what to make of us -- these occasional visitors in her life -- her aunt and uncle who live in Arizona, her aunt who lives in Seattle.
At the moment and perhaps for always, her favorite McCoy relative is her cousin Nick who is 21. It makes sense: she and Nick have so many years to share, so many life experiences to come, long after the rest of us have become mere memories.
She has a large and loving and significantly younger Thai family, including paternal grandparents who are not quite 50 and Amp's beautiful young sister, a recent college graduate, just turned 23. Maggie is at home in two very different places -- Los Angeles and Bangkok. She is growing up bicultural and bilingual. She already has a good understanding of both English and Thai. However, she seems happiest and most relaxed at their home in Thailand where they spend several months a year.
I wonder how we will all fit into her life as she grows up, how we can let her know, each in our own ways, how much she is loved and valued.
I wonder what her life will be like and how much of her growing up we will live to see.
She's tall for her age -- and slim as toddlers go. I can see her father -- who is 6'4" -- in her height, in her fierce intelligence and attraction to computers. Mike is an M.D. and also an IT professional who is a faculty member at Harvard Medical School and USC Medical School. From infancy, Maggie has been fascinated by her father's laptop and iPad, eagerly watching at first, then getting more hands on. Now she has inherited his old iPad and it's her favorite toy.
But I also see her lovely mother Amp when I look at Maggie. I see Amp in Maggie's face, in the sense of peace she finds in her projects, in continuing Thai traditions. Maggie responds most readily to directions and endearments in Thai. Her favorite foods are Thai. I imagine that, while she has dual citizenship, the country of her heart will be Thailand.
She will grow up with a global perspective, with technological expertise from toddlerhood, financially secure and surrounded by love. What path will she follow? What will she be like at 5? Or 15? Or 25 or 30? Will she follow her father into medicine? Or surpass his talents in technology? Or find her own career path -- perhaps a calling linked with a world and technology we can't even imagine?
More important, will she feel the love all around her? Will she find a special person with whom to share a lifetime of love? Will she enjoy not only the caring and nurturing of her family across two continents, but also the treasure of good and true friends? Will she be happy? Will she find peace and contentment in a rapidly changing world? Will she find joy in little moments, in simply living every day of her life?
There are so many things that are unknowable on this, her second birthday. But I wish so very much for her today and forever.