18 Years of Getting Through the Day


The photo above is of my beautiful only daughter, Bliss, who is so named because that was exactly what I felt when she came into the world. I had dreamed all my life of having a little girl, and she was that precious dream come true–a gorgeous infant and then an adorable toddler. I couldn’t leave the house without strangers remarking about her. She was better than a doll come to life, and I loved being her mama. I still do.

Early childhood brought some challenges, though. I had married Brian (her step-father) and the two of them didn’t get along. Also, though her preschool teacher had felt that she was gifted, within the next few years we learned that sitting quietly and focusing on reading and writing was a near impossibility for Bliss. At the end of a day I would come to pick her up from after-school care, wanting only to hug her, but so many times, some conflict would intrude. Some misbehavior would be reported. Or if not that, we’d make it home and work our way through dinner and bath time and bedtime in a house with a man who seemed to wish this annoying kid would just go away and stop needing his wife’s attention. (Note: that’s my take on how it felt–Brian would surely express something different–and I only mention it now because they have worked out their differences and the past has been forgiven.) What I’m trying to say is that in spite of my immense love for my daughter, I wasn’t able to hold hands with her and skip through a rose-garden life. There were those extra challenges, on top of the ordinary adult responsibilities of working, paying bills, keeping the house, caring for pets, planning time with grandparents, and trying to give our marriage its fair share of attention, among other things.

Middle and high school were variations on the same theme. Though she and I both love to sing, I was never enthused about attending chorus concerts at the end of a long day. The expenditure of my time and resources for science projects and the like was so irksome. Ferrying her back and forth to drama club commitments (though the high school was just a few minutes down the road) was just an annoying pain. I want you to understand that I didn’t berate her about these things; I merely sighed and displayed my reluctance. It breaks my heart now to realize that she asked for so little and demanded absolutely nothing.

Several years ago, we decided to move to a different state. Bliss, then eighteen,  didn’t want to leave her boyfriend, and as it turned out, she had a final angry confrontation with her stepfather and unceremoniously showed up with a truck and some friends to move her things out, just days after her high school graduation. I didn’t even know that her last night at home had been her last. She and I were not angry with each other, but there was no heartfelt goodbye scene, either. I had already known she didn’t plan to move with us, and I didn’t blame her for wanting to get out of the war zone of living with Brian.  I didn’t let myself get emotional; I had enough drama already at that moment. I kissed her when she left, and that was that.

Some days after her departure, as I continued with the task of packing up the house to move and sorting through what we wanted to sell or donate, I was culling through my lifetime collection of books. I ran across my Little House books and some other ones from my childhood that had special sentimental value, and I started to cry. I had saved these books, even while I was still a child myself, with the thought of sharing them someday with my little girl.  It suddenly struck me so hard that this imaginary dream-girl had actually been born, and she had lived with me for eighteen years, and now it was all over–my time of raising her was ended, and she was gone. I didn’t remember if I had read her those books, or offered them to her. I didn’t know if she even realized they were there in the house, because I had spent eighteen years just getting through the day.

I was so wrapped up in my own to-do list. I loved Bliss–I loved her–but it had always seemed to me that my job was the main responsibility of my life–the non-negotiable thing that I had to do–followed by all those other responsibilities (including, eventually, a little brother) that had to be attended to. I had so much on my plate that I wanted only to get through the work day, get through the week, get through the winter–whatever. I was constantly focused on getting something over with, reaching some vague goal that moved away whenever I got near it.

That day on the floor of my office with the books, I realized with grief that I had truly “gotten it over with, the very thing I had dreamed of and looked forward to all my life: the raising of a little girl. That season of my life is finished now, and though I would give everything I have to go back and start over again–to do it differently, to do it better– I cannot have one day of it back.

KB Tenn


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