She's twenty-one years old today, as old as I was when she was born in 1987! I guess she is still my little girl for a few more months, until she becomes Mrs. Sam Wirgau at the end of May. Tim McGraw's emotion-tugging song notwithstanding, it won't seem quite right to think of her as my "little girl" once she's married. Already I am trying to figure out when and how it happened that she turned into the very grown-up, stunning and sophisticated young woman that she now is. I look at her and listen to her talk, and I am utterly amazed. I contemplate her accomplishments and consider her plans, and inwardly I pinch myself to recall that she is not a figment of my imagination, but my once and future princess, my blonde-haired, blue-eyed Beanie Belle.
I've often reminisced about her bug-watching as a toddler, but there are lots of other memories along the way, lots of other stages in her growing up that have astonished me so well. I guess she's been amazing me all along, from the first time I got to hold her in my arms and look at her. At twenty-one now, she's more responsible, mature and ready for the world than I was then, but I became a Daddy with her arrival, ready or not, and I've learned along the way what that means and requires.
Everything was brand new and often daunting in those early years. It didn't help that LaRena and I were both going to school and working full-time jobs, nor that our little DoRena was colicky (not that we even knew what colicky was back then). Late nights and early mornings when nothing else would console her, I'd put on some hard rock or heavy metal, especially Van Halen or Judas Priest, and dance with her around the room while the steady beat would literally rock her back to sleep. Oh, the tricks of the trade that one learns as a parent. When she was older, and I had both her and Zachary to care for while LaRena was at work in the evenings, and I needed to read and study for my seminary classes, I'd put the two of them in their car seats and drive around Fort Wayne until they fell asleep; then I'd sit out in the parking lot and read until it was time to pick their Mommy up. What a life it was, but we did our best to cope with the challenges.
Many of my most vivid memories of DoRena are from when she was little. Sadly enough, after I began at Notre Dame and then became a full-time pastor, my time with her was significantly curtailed. As I was finally finishing my doctorate, she was already beginning to spread her wings and fly. She spent her junior year in Savannah, Georgia, as a nanny for my little niephlings, Adam & Anna. She was back in South Bend for her senior year, but was also working throughout that time. Then she was off to I.U. in Bloomington. Now she's about to get married. Somewhere along the way, she transitioned from being a child to being an adult, and I have to say that she's pulled it off beautifully. Her poise and confidence are striking, but tempered with feminine grace and charm. I stand in awe of her, as I do of Zach, and marvel that such a lady is my own daughter, once upon a time my baby girl.
The location of our new home means that I routinely drive past the little community theater where my Beanie played a part in the Secret Garden; it must have been almost a decade ago by now. She performed in a few plays while she was in Savannah, too, and I was so pleased for her and proud. She's always been such a go-getter, and never shy about jumping in with both feet. She took piano for a number of years and excelled at that, and has played the recorder extensively, as well. She's raised rabbits and birds, done some really neat things with scrapbooking, and even learned how to be a clown with 4-H. She was gung-ho about race walking, back in the day when a group of us were doing that together. She's done great with learning Russian, which proved to be her favorite subject in college. She knows how to cook and clean; she's good with children; she's done well with the different jobs she's had over the years. Sometimes I find it easy to imagine that there's nothing she can't do.
What pleases me best is that DoRena is so conscientious, pious and faithful. Her college search began with the priority that she would have an orthodox, confessional Lutheran church to attend, and she's been tremendously active in the life of University Lutheran Church in Bloomington these past several years. Her life really centers in the means of grace and the liturgical life of the Church, so the prospect of being a pastor's wife should suit her well.
This isn't the first time we've been apart on her birthday. For a number of years, it seemed as though I always had to be away from town on this date, much to my chagrin. Nowadays, she's the one who's away from home, though she's never far from the surface of my heart and mind. Hopefully, I'll have the chance to call and chat with her today. There's one of her birthdays, in particular, that comes to mind when I think of calling her. I'm thinking it must have been her thirteenth birthday, and I was on a cross-country train trip (reading, reading, reading for my dissertation, from South Bend to New York, to Florida, to Los Angeles, to Chicago, and finally home again). I happened to be in Los Angeles in-between trains for a half-day layover on the 21st of January, and managed to get myself out to Hollywood to see the sights. I hiked my way up the hill, as close as I could (legally) get to the famous "Hollywood" sign, and then back down again. It was on my way down that I managed to locate a pay phone outside a little shop, and I called up my newly-teen-aged girl to wish her a Happy Birthday from L.A. I can still picture it in my head, like it was yesterday; as I can also recall taking her out to T.G.I. Friday's for her sweet sixteen in 2003. I'm wishing I could take her out tonight for her twenty-first birthday, but that privilege appropriately falls to her Sam; I'll have to settle for raising a toast in her honor.
She was born and baptized "DoRena Christine," but she's gained a couple extra names along the way. When she was confirmed, I gave her the Blessed Virgin Mary as an example of faith and life, and suggested that she could use "Mary" as a second middle name (which she readily did). Later, I discovered that the early young martyr, St. Agnes, is commemorated on this very date of DoRena's birth. Hmmm. It was sometime thereafter, to her surprise and amusement, that she found herself named "DoRena Christine Mary-Agnes" in the family's Christmas letter. It seems to me that the Lord must have given my children a good sense of humor, not only to put up with me, but actually to enjoy and appreciate my quirks and idiosyncracies.
Along with her good sense of humor, her sparkling smile and ready laugh, there are so many things about my DoRena-Beana that never cease to delight me. She's a sweetheart, sure enough, stylish and savvy, spirited and spunky. She knows her own mind, and she's an independent soul; she shares those firstborn traits with her Mom and Dad. She's got more refined tastes than I'll probably ever have, but she's not haughty or condescending. She's down to earth and business-like, well-ordered and organized, but not oppressively so. She giggles and gets silly with her girlfriends, though she's no ditzy blonde. She can dress like a million bucks on her shoestring budget (she's more thrifty than I'll ever be, too), but looks comfortable and casual, sporty and easy-going in her jeans and sweatshirts. She's very discerning and particular, but can also be as spontaneous and impetuous as I am; overall, though, she's more measured than me.
Whatever she's inherited and learned from me, she's making her own mark on the world and charting her own course. She's often been identified as "Pastor Stuckwisch's daughter," but I expect the day will come when people think of me as "DoRena's father." That'll be alright with me. I'm torn between letting her go and thrilling to see her soar, but I am celebrating her life on this anniversary of her birth. You've come a long way, Beanie, but the best is yet to come!