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First daughter

WHEN I married your dad, you were 15 and I was 43. As a mother of sons, I was used to toy guns, bats, and footballs. At first, you and I were wary of each other. I was uneasy over getting an instant daughter; and you, who had been the woman of the house for so long, were hesitant to share that place with me. Your food, cosmetics, and habits bewildered me. You ate peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches for breakfast and fried eggs half an hour before dinner. You polished your nails from plum to white, colored your hair from dark blond to ash, and bought every bottle of suntan lotion on the market.

That first summer you tanned to a golden brown, tied your shirt up at your midriff, perched a jaunty blue sailor cap on your head, and biked to the movies or the beach with Tom, or Jim, or Bob, or Harry. You were in and out of love at least once a week.

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You dreamed out loud about love and marriage; but you didn't wash the dishes, clean your room, or put out the trash. You never shared my enthusiasm for cooking. That is why I treasure the memories of those carefully iced cakes you made for Mother's Day and my birthday.

You loved shoes, particularly clogs. The boys called you ``Little Feet,'' because you wore a size 5. But little or not, those clomping clogs sounded like 12s when you were angry.

You and your friends brought giggles and gossip, fashion magazines, and romantic novels into my life, which, until you came along, revolved around professional sports. And although you never knew it, you became a lighted window of my own girlhood. ``But why do I have to be home at 11 o'clock?'' In my answer I heard my own mother's voice. You told me about your boyfriend, and I touched base with the long-forgotten girl in me who first fell in love seated by a lake in the moonlight, listening to crickets.

You also brought new kinds of crises into my life, like the time you refused to go to school because we had run out of cream rinse. Then there was the day you announced that it didn't matter what we or the school might say, you were not going to go to gym because your legs looked too fat in gym shorts.

Usually you wore denim to school, but occasionally you dressed up, mincing out the door in high heels and a denim skirt. Could you be the same girl who, the day before, pedaled her bike up the hill wearing her bright green, yellow-lettered junior high basketball shirt? Or the girl who slept on the floor in her brother's room the night she saw a scary movie?

You were so many people wrapped into one - a little girl who still kept stuffed animals on the bed; a teen-ager who refused to speak to any of us for three days after your father grounded you; a dreamy romantic who read paperback love stories; a competent young woman who made all her own dentist appointments; a homemaker who was happiest hunched for hours over her sewing machine; and a young sophisticate who wore a black silk dress to the senior prom.

And sometimes you weren't a girl at all, but ``one of the boys'' who insisted that there wasn't anything wrong with hitchhiking. You even preferred mowing the lawn and changing the automobile oil to cooking and cleaning.

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There were battles and skirmishes, retreats and partial victories over curfews, the car, rock concerts, parties, school, boyfriends, and your allowance. It seemed that you never had enough money to pay your phone bill. You and that bill were never more than a cord apart. You stamped around, said we were unfair, back in the dark ages, and out of step with the rest of the world. But you got a baby-sitting job to pay the phone bill and an after-school job in an ice cream shop to pay for extra clothes.

We all survived and cheered you, wept for you and hugged you, especially the day you donned a white cap and gown and received your high school diploma.

Then you got a job in the bank. At first your dad shook his head, bewildered that ``people trust you with their money!'' Later he boasted about his daughter, the banker. You stopped dyeing your hair, cut your nails short, and went to work each day in a conservative skirt, blouse, and sweater. You knew all about mortgage and interest rates and the rule of 78s. And one day you called me with the same lilt in your voice that used to herald a new boyfriend, only this time you said, ``Guess what, Anne, I've got benefits and health insurance.''

You used to tell us that you were grown up and could do as you pleased. But now that you really are grown up, there is no need to say it. You are leaving as I always knew you would, and yet there is an ache in my heart for the little girl in clogs who slipped away when our backs were turned.

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