I’m the mother of four sons and only one daughter. Growing up a tomboy surrounded mostly by brothers, I was well prepared to be a tough-and-tumble kind of mom—the kind that could play catch, rollerblade, and wrestle with boys, and my sons would probably agree that I have, indeed, been that kind of a mom. Raising boys has been mostly a “What-you-see-is-what-you-get” experience—very fun, sometimes funny, and often very physical. No big surprises there. On the other hand, being a mom of just one girl has been full of surprises.
My first surprise was KaRynn’s red hair, ever a reminder of what would emerge as her fiery personality. Although I laughed a lot at her antics, until she could finally verbalize her thoughts, the girl drove me a little crazy. She pinched and bit; she threatened boys with rocks; she jumped off beds recklessly, ending up in the emergency room for stitches; she even pulled out her own brother’s hair leaving bald spots—three times! Exasperated and desperate, I told Ken that if KaRynn kept up her trail of violence, I was certain to be left with no friends of my own.
Given such early signs of independence, I shouldn’t have been surprised by how early she wanted to make decisions for herself—and sometimes for others, too. To my horror, by the time she was barely a year old, she crawled out of her crib and booster seat and never went back. By the time she hit preschool, she insisted on fixing her own hair and picking out her own clothes. Once I got past the frustration of not being in control, I started liking her do-it-myself approach. Have at it, I thought; I’ve got plenty of other things to worry about.
Even though she was usually the youngest in her grade, being in charge came naturally, so she was often the friend others turned to for fun and leadership. She was the one who, at age seven, when we were building our home, led her younger brothers out the second-story window, showing them how to slide (not climb) down the ladder to the ground. She was also the one who concocted the harebrained idea of waking up all her young, sleeping cousins in the middle of the night so they could eat treats with abandon and chat without adult supervision. She was also the one with courage and backbone enough to speak up for what was right. In high school, when dance standards were slipping to a nasty level, she stood virtually alone against her peers and called on administrators to do their job enforcing the rules. This same grit showed up when she played sports. When she first joined the water polo team, one of the older teammates tried to bully her with put-down comments, and KaRynn gave it right back. At games, parent spectators would marvel that she could be “such a nice girl,” yet, once in the water, she would take on the meanest of players. No worries; KaRynn was undaunted.
I was surprised by how graciously she blended this “Don’t-mess-with-me!” side with her deep compassion and her ability to reach so many people. As a teenager, she confided in me that a certain, very quiet girl and her family had no food, and she wondered if we could we please share some of ours. Another time a young man didn’t have money to attend an important school event, so she and her friends pooled their funds to help him buy a ticket. More than once she helped teachers who were, after all, also human and sometimes just needed a break. One day she insisted a teacher-friend who felt sick go home while she wrote the class notes on the board. She also spent long hours listening to others who seemed to sense in her a kindred spirit.
I was also surprised how she moved so easily among groups of friends—from girls to boys, from young to old, from popular to shy. I once walked across the high school campus with her, amazed at just how many people she knew by name. A few years later, just before her mission, Ken and I were on the BYU campus with her and had a very hard time getting from point A to point B because she kept running into people she knew and seemed to love dearly.
Even though I was given just one daughter, I’ve always been so glad that daughter was KaRynn. During her 18-month mission in New Zealand, I’ve continued to be both surprised and delighted by her faith, her optimism, her courage, and her increased love and compassion for everyone she meets. New Zealand will miss her, but today I’ll be so happy to have my only daughter back home in my arms.