When My Big Girl Was Little …

big girl lede
Stormtrooper kicks it with a Warren Wilson owl. – EP

It’s two days until Moving Day.

She’s eaten her way through a Farewell Tour, met with friends and brought home boxes of Zaxby’s and cups of Krispy Kreme coffee. Her stuff’s all packed. She’s dumped off all the “visit us!” college pamphlets on one sister and stole a bottle of lotion from the other.

I envy the forced minimalism, to be honest.

You’ve read enough about the girl who stops shots brilliantly and paints pictures beautifully. We’ve learned and lost and loved together. She’s in her room now, packing, probably singing the same chorus to a familiar song over and over.

When my big girl was little …

She took my breath away. Not just the time she racked me as I sat in a recliner, but right from birth. Seeing her face – I fell down in my duties as birth coach when I covered my mouth with both hands. She looks just like me I thought and fortunately I was off the mark.

flowers4When my big girl was little …

My dad let out a fierce “Woo!” when I called him on the morning of Nov. 19, 1997. It’s what you do when you first become a grandpa. I wanted nothing more in life than to be a dad, but had no clue. I wanted it more than I did a summer home. With Summer Sanders, even.

When my big girl was little …

“Coshes” meant sleeping because it sounded like snoring. Every bird fit the classification “Cacanyanya” because that’s how a rooster sounded. She fiddled with her fingernails when nervous and shuffled her feet when blissful. I loved to see that.

When my big girl was little …

We called her Mad Dog. There wasn’t much Mad about her game. Mad Dog stopped playing with her ponytail, and started to play more with the ball. She scored her first goal with the Red Raptors and recorded her first tournament shutout with a team called Froggies.

When my big girl was little …

We saw burning apartments on our drive home from school. “Stay put!” I told her and ran down the hill past growing flames in the grass and chimney. I pounded on doors and helped people get out. I returned to find her hiding her face by the car seat.

“I could hear you and see you at first, daddy,” she said.”Then I could hear you, but not see you. Then, I couldn’t see you or hear you.” She cried, and we went home to wash off the smoke smell and have a snack  and saw the fire on the news.

When my big girl was little …


She championed the recovery of a duck she named Chip. The fish hook snagged on the back of his head distinguished him. We called a nature center to help, and a man in a kayak captured Chip to take him to surgery. We never did find out how Chip fared. If you see a happy mallard with a spot on the back of his head …

When my big girl was little …

She wrote a post about life as a girl soccer player. She saved a last dance for me. She took off on a bike without my permission and she stopped the shot of a kid named Chucho. She gifted me my dinosaur writing muse, and transformed my life with six words: “Daddy, I want to play soccer.”

Then there was, “give me the keys” and “find me a little school in the mountains where I can play soccer.” (10-4, and 10-4.)

Just as she’s learning when to push the gas and when to pump the brakes and when to expect people to not let her out in traffic or speed around her because she has the audacity to drive the speed limit, she’s also doing so with a learner’s permit for life.

She’ll unpack in a dorm room in two days and will sit down to dinner with her new team and drift off with a roommate across the room and not a sister. She’ll report to camp and walk to class and in 12 days, stand between the pipes against her first collegiate opponent.

“You’re tiny,” her new coach said when she stood next to her. She is little, for a keeper. And as my girl. But just wait.

She’s about to come up. Big.

big quote



  1. I’ll reblog this in 8 years when Crash is about graduate and move off to university. Beautiful post, man. We, too, grew up and moved away but it’s somehow different when it’s our kids doing it. Wish her luck “between the pipes”. Size doesn’t matter so long as she’s got the fight 🙂

    1. It’ll be here before you know it, brother. Thank you, Eric. When it was us moving and growing, we had everything before us. She’ll be fierce and fearless between the pipes. I’m so proud that she’s playing in college without having any club experience.

    1. Thanks. I lived with my dad during college, so it was different for me. The emotion is here, will always be here, and most of it, the vast majority, comes from love and pride.

      So glad you liked this post.

  2. Very touching post … and so happy for you both! Our younger son moves in to college in two weeks, with a parent’s ‘welcome party’ hosted by alumni parents next weekend. Our other son starts his sophomore year a week later (honestly not looking forward to double-parking in midtown Manhattan for that again!!) … and off we go to empty nesters! Amazing how fast it has all happened!

    1. Thanks, Mike! Brilliant idea to build a party around such an occasion. There’s not much need for us to double-park in Swannanoa, N.C. – this is just what she ordered, and I couldn’t be happier this will be her college home. I know you’ve enjoyed your journey. Great to see you.

  3. Ah, this really got me, Eli. Your little-big girl is definitely come up big – thinking of both of you as she embarks on his new adventure!

  4. My big boy starts class on the 22nd! It’s all so very surreal!

    Beautiful post my friend! Best wishes and lots of luck to your girl as she embraces the world!

    1. It won’t be long now, Tiff. What a fitting word to describe it – surreal. Thank you on the post. This time tomorrow, she’ll be wondering what’s for dinner with her teammates.

  5. What a beautiful tribute to your big little girl! She’ll do great because of the foundation you’ve given her. Can’t wait to read about your first parents’ weekend visit or first game where you see her wearing her college colors!

  6. OH. My heart just shredded with the pride and love you have for your beautiful girl. Congrats Daddy and Daughter. So many adventures ahead. Thank you for the glimpse into your nest Eli.

    1. Thanks, Nix. It’s been an adventure with that first kid. I’m so proud of her. I talked to her for an hour this morning and it feels like she’s right where she belongs.

      Thanks for taking the time to read this!

  7. This is a beautiful post! I read it with two fingers pressed to my lip and a knot in my chest. There are some things that run so deep, the words barely begin to scrape the surface. Tomorrow must be the big day! I am wishing you all well! ❤

    1. Thanks Lulu! It’s amazed me that it’s got this reception. These are all the things i think of when I see my girl.

      Moving day went well, and there were no tears. Not even mine!

  8. Your heart is about to burst and bleed, Eli. It’s hard to see our little birds go, but you will both get through this and your love will be even stronger. Hard to imagine, I know! 🙂

    1. I’m ready for all of it, Jenn. I had a long talk with her this morning and it felt great to hear that she’s adjusting so well. It is hard to imagine when just yesterday, it seems, she could ride on my shoulders.

  9. Amazing post and tribute to your big little girl. So sweet, and beautifully written. This day is about 8 years off for me with Sam and I honestly don’t know how I’ll make it through! Best of luck to her with her new school and team.

    1. Thanks, Ashley. I just closed my eyes and let certain memories come to me. So many to choose from.

      You’ll love him and see him grow and wonder out loud what’s in store in this world for Sam, and you’ll also wonder what’s in store for this world FROM Sam. It’s going to be amazing.

      Can’t wait to watch my girl play, too.

  10. I held it together until reading the final quote. Oh how we wish we could shield our kids from the terrible things but we know we can’t. Instead, we can encourage them to soar, to make for themselves a life that they love, and to fend off fear like a skilled goalie. Best of luck to your daughter!
    By the way, that story about the fire – WOW!

    1. It felt the most fitting, Mo, that quote. I know that she will also handle the horrible with courage.

      She’s going in with so much to give and so much to learn and experience. Thanks for the good-luck wishes!

      We don’t talk much about that fire day …

  11. I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, Eli. (Got pretty busy earlier this month with preparing for and attending Writer’s Digest Conference.) And… wow. What a touching tribute to your daughter and to your relationship with her. And the quote at the end is so appropriate, and so true. This post also made me wonder what was going through Mom and Dad’s heads when I moved into college, the memories they were thinking back on – their version of “When Their Big Girl Was Little.”

    Thank you for sharing this, Eli. 🙂

    1. Good luck, Sara – I’d so love to go to a writing conference. Someday.

      I’m so glad you liked this post. I was happy Elise read it and liked it, too. I lived at home during college, so I didn’t get this experience you and my daughter have. I’m grateful its part of her college experience!

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