Now I have a date, an actual day that my daughter’s childhood will end. She will move into the University of Portland dorms on August 16th, assuming all goes as planned.
Today I was alone, changing the sheets on Bella’s bed, and without warning tears filled my eyes. How many times have I performed this mundane task and not particularly enjoyed it? Many times for sure, but today I savored it. As I pulled the sheets off her bed, I glanced around her room at the objects scattered about. Slipped between her National Honor Society certificate and her softball cleats are the ghosts of our past, real and imagined. There is a CD of songs she used to play to soothe herself at night when I began sleeping in another house on some nights of the week without her. There is an album of photographs from the various trips she took with other families, because ours had come apart, and I couldn’t give her some of the things I wanted her to have. I know I couldn’t have anyway. I know this, but it is still hard to reconcile.
A month or so ago I decided that I needed to allow myself to yield to every bit of the undeniable grief that is so ready to ooze out of me at the most unexpected moments. My theory is that when August comes, I will have grieved enough that I can let her go gracefully. She will leave whether I do this or not of course, it’s really about how comfortable the transition will be, for me, for her, and for the others around us.
For my first-born son, leaving the “nest” has been a protracted affair, fraught with challenges. His departure doesn’t seem to have prepared me at all for the way that Bella’s leaving is feeling so abrupt and delineated. For so many reasons, my process around his departure has been completely different from this one. He didn’t leave to go off to college, in fact, he left high school early and against all of his father’s and my best efforts to keep him there. After my children’s father and I split, he came and went from my house many times during his teen years, never really settling in. He lives in Seattle now and we talk nearly every day. He is slowly emerging from the cocoon of his adolescence, breaking his way out of it one day at a time, wet wings and all.
Transitions were never easy for him. In fact, as I wrote about in my very first post in this blog, he transitioned from the womb with some drama and resistance. His awe and bewilderment at being alive was clear from the moment he emerged. Newborn babies aren’t supposed to lift their heads up and look around the room with eyes wide-open, are they? In some strange way I have always felt that he held me responsible for having to be born. When he was a feisty three-year-old and Bella arrived on the scene and was content to sleep through the night from just a few weeks old, it began to dawn on me that some of what was going on with these kids had nothing to do with me. They were very different from one another with unique personalities and missions from day one, and my third child Nicky only confirmed this further.
After much struggle and many failed attempts to control my oldest child’s behavior, I’m learning to surrender, to detach with love, and of course this has informed the ways in which I’ve parented the other two. My first child taught me that any attempt to control him with willpower or force would be futile. He had way more time and energy than I did, and he was willing to teach me that again and again in the service of his own autonomy and freedom.
Bella was different. She hardly resisted, whether it was sleep, school, or nearly any other endeavor. She transitioned easily from one thing to the next, and if she’d been my only child I would’ve believed I was some kind of genius parent from day one. I can only take so much credit for her apparent successes. I know that I have been a strong support to her, but again, much of her destiny is driven by something mysterious inside her.
The divorce was a transition she couldn’t enjoy with her normal gusto, but it was one which made her stronger, more independent and resourceful, and in a sense, I can’t really judge it at all. It happened, we navigated it, many do. We have all moved forward and onward with our precious lives. No doubt she will have some work to do around her childhood in her own time and in her own way, some further processing perhaps, but don’t we all?
So with this departure, it is feeling much different. It is a cleaner and easier transition than her older brother’s has been because I know where she’s going, and it will likely be a good place for her. She won’t be couch surfing. She probably won’t be cold, hungry, or riding a Metro bus all night long. She won’t be leaving on an angry note, nor will she be leaving with no plan in place and nowhere to go. And of course, she’ll be back, she’ll only be three hours away, and if I want to, I can drop everything and drive down and see her.
It’s just that I can’t believe how fast it’s gone, and how much I still want to do with her. It’s hard to think of her tiny body bundled up in a fleece sleeper next to me in the bed, the sweet smell of her skin and hair, and how I felt it would last forever then. Her childhood a gift to me, uncomplicated, happy, enthusiastic, and complete enough for this transition. There is nothing to “make up”, nothing I should have done but didn’t, perhaps any more than there was with her older brother. I did the best I could with what I had available, and I continue to, learning from my mistakes just as they do. The only thing that will never change is my unconditional, unwavering love for them, no matter where they are in this world or in the next. To leave that behind is a transition they will never have to make.