As You Like It: A Perfect TenBy Joan Florek Schottenfeld
Every Sunday night I check my calendar for the week ahead. Any important appointments? Anything coming up that I had forgotten about? That’s why I check before the week starts — I learned my lesson when I turned the page too late one Monday and found that I had missed an early morning appointment. Mom keeps complimenting me on my good memory, and I keep telling her that it has nothing to do with good memory and everything to do with writing it down.
I write down birthdays, anniversaries, appointments, lists, names — everything. A few years ago I found my old high school diaries. As I read through them I saw a description of my first date with Steve. I decided to enter it in my calendar. Now every February 12 Steve and I celebrate our first milestone.
So last week, when I looked at my upcoming week, I noticed an entry that said, Mariel’s Bat Mitzvah. Fourteen years ago, on May 13, Mariel had been called up to read her portion of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament.) I remember how nervous we all were. When Mariel was 13 she was petrified of speaking in front of an audience. Though she had learned her portion perfectly, we weren’t sure that she would actually make it up to the dais to read it.
It’s a tradition, in most temples, for the family to say a few proud words after their scholar has covered herself in glory. Lisa and I decided to share the honors by singing the song “When You Believe” (Who knows what miracles you can achieve, when you believe) from the Disney movie “The Prince of Egypt.” At the time it was Mariel’s favorite song and we figured that it would be a miracle if Mariel managed to get through the morning. (She actually read beautifully.)
So now my little girl is 27, and within three weeks of her Bat Mitzvah date she will be getting married. I stood there looking at my calendar wondering how this happened. I mean abstractly I know how it happened. Day follows day, none of them really treasured the way they should be, and then suddenly you’re writing a speech that has to capture all the love that you have for your youngest. It wasn’t easy at her Bat Mitzvah and it’s even harder now.
Steve’s lucky. He’s been tapped to give the toast. He needs to be short, sweet and funny, a natural for the father of my newest wedding girl. But I’m speaking at the ceremony itself and that calls for a bit more gravitas. Somehow, in a few short moments, I have to call up the words that summarize all the joy that my youngest brought into our lives.
All I can think of is the moment she was born. Our midwife looked at her and pronounced her a perfect ten on the Apgar scale. Of course, in my eyes she was a ten on any scale. As I was brought out in a wheelchair from the birthing room where Mariel had made her entrance, all the nurses on the floor gathered around us and clapped. It was her first standing ovation. Steve and I were happily dazed. We knew that life with our newest daughter was going to get a lot more complicated.
And it was. When Lisa realized that Mariel was not a toy that she could play with, the shine wore off her new sister and it took a year to bring it back. But once Mariel proved that she could be a good playmate, the sisters became friends.
From the first Mariel took their friendship very seriously. She trailed in Lisa’s shadow doing everything she did. I would see her watching Lisa carefully so as not to miss a single thing, the better to copy everything her sister did. And no matter what she had, Mariel always wanted to share with Lisa. Even if Mariel and I were out shopping and I would buy her a treat for behaving, she would insist on buying one for Lisa. “But Lisa’s not with us!” I would protest. It didn’t matter. Whatever Mariel got, Lisa should get as well. That was her view of the universe.
It’s who my daughter is. Always worrying about other people, always wanting everyone to be happy. I warned her that it would cause her no end of grief to constantly put everyone else’s desires before her own, but she’s that way still.
I love her for her independent spirit. One year she decided that she wanted to go to a certain summer camp because her fourth grade teacher was a counselor there. She knew no one else at the camp, but that didn’t faze her. Off she went on the bus that first day, my heart in my stomach watching this little kid go up the steps alone. At the end of the day she was bursting with stories of all her new friends.
I love her for her insatiable curiosity, her love of the earth (and rocks!), her enthusiasm, her humor, her adventurousness, her innate goodness. She believes that people are good until proven otherwise and faces the world with an open smile and heart. She is still my perfect ten. And now I just have to figure out a way to tell her.
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