A lot can happen in a few days

My wife and I came back from vacation to find a different daughter than we left behind

Coming home from a mom-and-dad-only vacation requires unpacking, catching up on laundry, maybe picking up a pet – and figuring out what happened to your child while you were gone.

My wife and I recently went away for four days, and due to a confluence of circumstances, had to leave our daughter behind with very loving and responsible family members. There was some slight unhappiness on the child’s part – in no small part because the trip in question was to Walt Disney World. (It’s not as bad as it sounds. It was work-related. No, really.)

The “overwhelming guilt” column is for another time, however. This is about how my wife and I came home to a slightly changed 9-year-old.

My daughter and I had a talk when I was dropping her off at her grandparents’ house: “Try not to be spoiled, OK?” I said. “If Grammy offers you something, that’s OK. But I don’t want you asking for anything.”

She said she understood. And she may have. I’m just not sure her grandmother did.

I realize the job of a grandparent is to spoil grandchildren. And in my daughter, my mother-in-law has found a kindred spirit. That is – a fashion-focused kid. I think the shopping gene must skip a generation. My wife loathes picking out clothes and shoes. Our daughter, however, is a retail champ.

We called home one day to say hello to the little one. “I went shopping with Grammy,” she said, to no one’s surprise. “I got new Crocs, seven Jibbets, new sunglasses, some hair ties…” the list went on.

She was having a blast, which made me feel better. But I could see the return to normal would be accessorized.

She was just getting started.

For the middle part of the week she went to stay with her older cousin – who is really more of a big sister – in New London. My wife and I returned to our hotel fairly late one night and attempted to contact her on instant messenger.

“Ryan, can we Skype?” I typed to her cousin/my niece.

“She’s on stage right now doing improv,” Ryan answered.

I looked at the screen again to make sure I read it correctly. I looked at the clock. Then back at the instant messenger again.

“Did you say improv?” I punched into the keyboard.

“Yes,” she answered.

I was a little surprised that my daughter knew what improv was, let alone had the ability to perform it on a stage at Colby-Sawyer College.

“She’s not going to want to come home,” my wife said, laughing.

I knew she was right. Doing her homework, putting the dishes away, violin practice and making her bed was going to seem rather mundane after living at college and performing with a drama troupe late into the night.

When we met her at the airport upon our return, there was something different about our little girl. She seemed just a little older and wiser. Maybe it was the gold drama pin on her jacket – the one she earned for her acting skills at Colby-Sawyer. Maybe it was the grown-up sunglasses. There were no cartoon characters on the rims and the frames weren’t a color created by Crayola. We had come home to a little girl who had grown up a little while we were gone.

In one moment I could see how quickly kids can change and grow, and suddenly Disney seemed a little unimportant. In the end, I can’t say I didn’t get some sort of satisfaction when we discovered she left her stuffed bear in New London and she was upset. She may have looked and acted a little older, but under it all she’s still the little girl we left in New Hampshire.

Bill Burke is a writer who lives in southern New Hampshire with his wife and daughter – who he promises to never leave behind on a vacation ever again if she promises to stay 9.

Categories: Dad on Board