Whenever I hear Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” I always get sad. Not because it’s such a beautiful piece of music(which it is), but for other reasons. Reasons I’ll explain momentarily.
Way back 15 years ago, a day after we had our first child, I had called my grandma Hubner to tell her that she had a new grandchild to adore and shower with the occasional compliment. After saying how happy she was for my wife and I she asked me what her new granddaughter’s name was…
“Oh, how lovely. Just like “Clair de Lune”. That is one of my favorite songs. Did you know that?”
“Well if my granddaughter is even just a bit as beautiful as that piece of music then we are indeed lucky.”
I pretended I understood and hung up the phone a few minutes later. I had indeed heard of Claude Debussy, and of “Clair de Lune”, but I couldn’t tell you what it sounded like. But the old gal was pretty impressed with our name choice for our firstborn, so I assumed we’d done something right.
Up until grandma Hubner passed away in 2004, whenever she’d see our Claire she would hold her affectionately and would at least one time during her visit mention “Clair de Lune” and Claude Debussy. For my wife and I it stuck. I’d since gotten a copy of the song and would play it often and it would do something to me whenever I heard it. It was both a feeling of happiness and melancholy. Happiness at the beautiful daughter I helped to create that was the song’s unintentional namesake. And melancholy for my grandma Hubner, a woman that had a reputation for being “difficult” to put it mildly. But when she spoke of this piece of music I could see a happier soul in her eyes that had long been buried under years of forgotten dreams and unfulfilled aspirations.
For me, “Clair de Lune” is very bittersweet.
So over the weekend my wife and our oldest Claire(now nearly 15 years old) took a day for themselves and headed to Indianapolis for some mother/daughter shopping time. Sunday morning as the wife and I enjoyed some coffee she told me that Claire had asked her about the Indiana Academy. The Indiana Academy is a school on the campus of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. It’s for only Junior and Senior age high school kids and is for the very brightest. I won’t pretend to know all there is to know about this school. All I’ll say is that when I was a Junior in high school I wouldn’t have been smart enough to even look a brochure for this school.
My oldest is more than smart enough to go to this school, but up to this point she’d never even shown any real interest. It’s set up like college. Kids stay in dorms and are there all year, coming home for holidays and weekends. She’s pretty tight with her friends, so I think at first the idea of not being with her pals(her family, ehh) bugged her. But for some reason this weekend something changed and she was telling my wife all about the school, the requirements, all the different classes available, like she’d been putting some thought into this thing. My wife said they talked about this all the way to Indianapolis and the thought of her going there was getting her very excited. But on the ride home the idea began to really sink in that our baby may actually do this and leave us, two years before she normally would.
You see, my wife has known about and longed for our daughter to go to the Indiana Academy since Claire was 5 years old. Yes, my wife was looking into this place when our oldest was just going into Kindergarten. Granted, even at that age it wasn’t a strange concept to think that our Claire was going to be something special. We knew she was smarter than the average kid right after she’d turned 3 years old. Just a day after bringing our second oldest home from being born, Claire, at 3, was reading. Just out of the blue she started reading flash cards. It was the most bizarre and wonderful thing. Friends were over to see our new baby and Claire picked up these flash cards and began reading the words on them. It was like some crazy parlor trick, or finding out your kid was a mind reader or something. It was nuts. So for my wife to be looking that far ahead into the future wasn’t all that nuts. She couldn’t look far enough into the future to do her hair and get dressed so we could make it to the movies in time, but she could see the potential in our 5 year old. That’s good, though. I’m good with the worrying about the now, and she was good with the later.
So what did I think of all of this? Well, as much as I was excited at the thought of our daughter going to a prestigious school and becoming something great in the future back when she was still in Osh Kosh B’Gosh, the fact that the reality of that situation is only a little more than a year away put me in a bit of a existential funk. I know she’s older, and I know she’s incredibly bright and that the Indiana Academy is probably the right fit for her academic future and intellect. But Christ, where did the last 15 years go? It wasn’t supposed to go by so quick. My “Clair de Lune” wasn’t supposed to get old so fast. One minute I’m playing with Thomas The Tank Engine with her at the Hallmark store looking for a candle that we both like the scent of, the next thing I know she’s speed reading Douglas Adams and asking to borrow my Wes Anderson movies. Jesus, I’m middle-aged and my baby girl is not a baby anymore.
I had this dream once. It was probably ten years ago. I dreamt that I had three kids, and they were all standing in front of me, all older and looking at me as if I was insignificant. You know, they all had that look in their eyes like they had better things to do than be wasting time with their old man. In this dream it hurt me. It hurt me bad. Then from behind these kids(they were all girls…before we had our son), my Claire appears in her Dora nightgown and she tells me “It’s okay Daddy. I won’t forget you. I”ll always love you like this.” I woke up crying like an idiot. It was at a point where I was noticing how much older my little girl was getting. The dad’s fear of becoming not as loved and needed. Losing that bond a father has with his little girl. Christ, she was only 4 or 5 when I had that dream.
Anyways, that dream has stuck with me ever since. I still get choked up thinking about that dream. I know this growing up thing is just a part of life, and as far as for me growing up and losing my hair, turning 40, turning middle-aged, well I could give a shit. But knowing I’ll never have those moments with my kids again when they were little and amused with dad’s made-up bedtime stories and bizarro sock puppets made with dirty old gym socks, well that’s a harder one to swallow.
So what’s all of this have to do with Debussy and “Clair de Lune”, you ask? Well today I happened to play it at work and all those feelings came back to me. Not so much about my grandma Hubner, but of my little girl. The reality that yes, she’s not a baby anymore. The reality that yes, she’s looking into her own future and wanting to do something to make that future brighter. I listened to “Clair de Lune” three times in a row and I remembered all of these things Claire and I did when she was little. Like driving around in my truck with The Burden Brothers’ “Buried In Your Black Heart” blasting and she just kept yelling “Louder!” Or me pulling out my Star Wars action figures for her to play with when she was sick. Or taking her to her first movie(The Spongebob Squarepants Movie). Or buying her a goldfish on a Friday and having it die on a Sunday and how heartbroken she was(she still remembers that damn goldfish…she was barely 2 years old.) Today, listening to that song and thinking about how fast time goes I realized I’m just wasting time getting sad about it. It is what it is. My little girl is getting older, smarter, and more beautiful every day. I shouldn’t be down, I should be proud and happy. And I am. And I will be, regardless of where she goes and what she does. Cause despite the ever-so-quick passing of time, and the fact that Claire is as tall as me(if not taller by now), she’s still my little girl and she still looks up to me.
No, I’m not crying. I’ve just got some Debussy in my eye.