On March 29, 1999, I watched my daughter Stephanie Paige Steines take her last breath. She was born with a neuromuscular disease of unknown origin. It is something that stays with you the rest of your life, only time makes it hurt less; I no longer cry starting a month before her death, and that day, sometimes it passes without recognition. I always remember though.
While her health deteriorated, her muscles became weak, her breathing difficult, her eating nearly impossible, I had a weird dichotomy of experiencing the other side, the wonder of her twin, my daughter Kayla, as she grew stronger, hit her milestones, thrive.
But with each milestone achieved, there was something not completely right, there should have been two reaching these ‘normal' goals.
There was always a whisper of sadness through everything that Kayla did and though I promised myself that Kayla would never have to live her life because her sister died, she'd only have to live her life because Kayla was, the whisper, the hint, a piece of the whole was always there.
I hadn't realized Kayla experienced that emptiness until almost 17 years later. Seeing other twins at school hurt, she wanted to scream out, “I'm a twin too!” I will never forget the time I was in a room with four other adults, and three of us gave birth to twins. As the two moms spoke of their twin issues, I wanted more than anything to chime in. But to talk of the loss carries a dark cloud over the conversation and it's not always the right time or place.
The loss is not just my loss, it's also Kayla's. Even though she were 11 months old when Stephanie died, we both feel it especially during great achievements, a great moving forward, always knowing, someone else should be there too.
I feel it now as Kayla is ready to graduate high school, as she's ready to enter college. I'm not just sad because my baby is all grown up. I'm sad because we are missing someone.
There is so much pride for all Kayla has been able to accomplish. Overcoming crippling anxiety, scoliosis, ADHD. She's graduating with amazing grades, a high ACT score and was accepted into three colleges. She'll be attending this fall on her way to full adulthood.
Time makes it less difficult and there are less tears, but it can never wipe away the sadness. I only hope I can make through graduation without the ugly cry.
She makes faces when we ask her to drive, she runs and hides if its time to text a friend. I worry about the future of my daughter, the smart and funny girl who no one realizes is smart and funny. It's because of crippling social anxiety. It occurred to me this summer that she only had two years left of high school and then it would be college and job interviews and moving away. I began to wonder, had we held her hand too long? Is it time to push her out of the nest, let her stumble and fall with our open arms waiting to catch her?
My goal isn't to have a child with 50 close friends. My objective is to make sure she's able to speak with her teachers and professors if she has an issue, to be able to walk into a class and find someone to sit and chat with, to go on a job interview and deal with her boss should something come up. Sometimes we're programmed to be able to handle these relatively mundane activities and sometimes, fear grips us and we're frozen.
Whether she admits it or not, she needs to be pushed. She needs to not make any more excuses as to why she can't do something. And she should no longer be able to tell herself she's fine the way the situation is, she doesn't need any friends. I know she's lying. There are those times she's upset she wasn't included. She gets angry when she thinks she should be in Honors classes and isn't. Deep down its there. And as a parent I know what's coming.
It boils down to the desire to not grow up. To remain a kid forever. But we all know that's simply not possible. The kid gets great grades, works two jobs, is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. She's almost already there and yet her preconceived ideas block her from moving forward.
Medicine isn't the only therapy for someone with severe anxiety. We learned that pills can only do so much. There's a rewiring that needs to go on, and learning and understanding that fear is nothing but the lies we tell ourselves. She tells herself plenty. And that's why I've chosen to be the mean mom, force her out of her comfort zone and make her face the things that scare her. She will learn one of two things: the first is, that wasn't as bad as I thought and I was being really goofy or she'll learn how to live with the anxiety and learn to maneuver through it so that she doesn't end up alone and hiding in her house with twenty cats.
I keep telling her life is more fun if you share with friends, if you go out and experience anything. She still doesn't believe me. I hope someday she'll understand. Reluctantly she's been trying. She's been texting, we've had her driving. It's a struggle, its work, but in the end, my goal is to raise a child who can live in the world, understand what frightens her and hopefully she'll have those magical tools in which to pull from to help her through what's hard.
It breaks my heart to throw the kid out of the nest, to watch her tear up when it becomes uncomfortable, but after some time, I know, I'm not here to be her friend. I'm here to be her parent. I still know what's best for her. And whether she likes it or not, adulthood is looming around the corner. If I dig my heals in a little deeper than her, she'll be alright.