I cradled your hand.
He cradled your head.
We’ll cradle your heart.
When I laid my head on my pillow Saturday night, for the first time in eighteen years, five months and twelve days I didn’t know exactly where you were. Revisiting the final moments before I left you at college for the first time brought tears to my eyes and the watershed would go on for hours that night and bleed into the next day.
Intellectually I knew there were other short periods of time, times when you went to sleep away camp or leadership camp, when I didn’t know where you were at any given moment. During those short experiments, I knew you were coming back. This time I had to accept that you were on a road of your own making, enveloped in the first phase of your own life journey. An excursion filled with dreams and decisions that are rooted in a story we started long ago but that only you get to write the important chapters too.
I cried some more, feeling as if I’d lost you. I mean, I knew physically where I’d dropped you off. I had the empty boxes, the leftover bedding wrappings, and the dwindling bank account to prove that it really happened, that you were living on your own. It was as if by depositing you in that tiny room the size of a walk in closet that I’d given you to the world.
There’s no other way to describe the overwhelming feeling in the pit of my stomach, it is nostalgia tinged with acute loss. Not a loss as severe as some, but where’s the roadmap for what we’re going through? And today, in the light of the day after, I realize that the pieces and elements of this loss may last the rest of my life. You will never be completely and utterly ours, you are your own person.
What are the stages of letting go? How to you give up the child you’ve created out of love, the child you’ve dedicated eighteen years to making strong, resilient and capable to the world with only the whisper of hope that the world will embrace her in a kind and gentle way?
In the weeks leading up to our separation, all I could think about was the day you were born and that when they put you in my arms you raised a tiny fist. Less than twenty-four hours after your birth we brought you home from the hospital. You hadn’t made more than a peep in the hospital nursery and all the nurses commented on how good you were compared to the boy babies who all cried in unison. I should have known that was the first example of the determined personality just waiting to shine through. No, you would not follow the boys and cry, you’d cry and fuss on your own terms or not at all. Once we were home you were hungry, nothing else would soothe you and with my lactation production not up to your standards you let everyone know you were not pleased with the shabby accommodations.
The only way we could get you to stop crying was to hold you, so your dad sat on the corner of our bed and held you. I can still see his large hands, one cradling your head and the other cupping your tiny body. Exhausted, I fell asleep, lactation production really takes it out of you. I woke up five hours later with your daddy still sitting in the exact same spot, his hands in the exact same position. He hadn’t moved, afraid if he did that one or both of us would wake up.
Sometimes I watch your dad when he’s looking at you, seeing the young woman you’ve become and I know he wishes he could protect you the way he did that night for the rest of your life. In some ways, we both wish we could go back to the beginning and do all those little things that you never knew about over again because many of them molded you into the kind, thoughtful, loving person you are today.
There were many sleepless nights with you, when being held was the only consolation that you’d accept. No one held you with more dedication than your father, walking in circles with you cradled in a papoose. Then you discovered the binky and things became better for us, easier, but still determined to feel secure, you always had one in your mouth and another one in that small fist, so the back-up-binky and it’s many shenanigans began. Frankly, I thought I’d never pry those tiny security objects loose from your skillful hands. They held you safely assured until you were about three years old when the binky bugs came for them. You didn’t seem especially phased by the tiny holes the binky bugs mysteriously ‘ate’ into the rubber nipple, making the sucking action obsolete. You didn’t even cry. Surrendering the plastic covers of the binkies when all the rubber had been ‘eaten’ away by the binky bugs, one scissor clip at a time. But by this time you’d found the power of your own words, the inexhaustible lure of questions you posed and let’s not forget the inexplicable power that Pokemon held over you.
In your quest for the world to lean your way there were little hiccups along the way, the intolerable Mrs. H., the substitute teacher, you just couldn’t deal with on Halloween in second grade. Of course I came to school and saw you through it, holding your hand and reassuring you. The disappointment when you weren’t put on a sports team in junior high, only to play that sport in high school, starting out on JV as a Freshman and playing at the varsity level three years as an all conference athlete. And finally, your last colossal melt down, funny, but that was about food too! Because you were determined to have BBQ shrimp as your first meal on our vacation to South Carolina and the four star restaurant at Biltmore didn’t have it! You spent a considerable amount of time throwing a tantrum in the bathroom. I went down to the bathroom and found you talking to yourself, giving yourself a pep talk about the fact that the battle wasn’t over. I laughed about it then, but now looking back it reveals something about you that is your core strength. You are the MOST strong-minded person I’ve ever met, you set a goal and you see it through, and the most awesome thing is that you’re not afraid to stop along the way and help others, you’re not self-centered or destructive about it. You just put one foot in front of the other until you meet the goal and you never complain along the way because you’re to busy giving yourself a pep talk to bother with anything negative.
You’re like your daddy sitting on the edge of the bed, focused on the goal of waiting for the new day when the crying will be over. Waiting for the next opportunity to present itself, to prove your unwavering adaptability and drive. I can be content in the fact that I know you won’t let yourself down, you know where you’re going and you know where you’ve come from and we’ll always be here, our arms open wide to hold you when you’re just not sure.
So I’m letting go a bit at a time, I’m lessoning the touch. But I hope you can feel it, our love, on you today all those miles away, just as you felt it cradling you that night eighteen years ago.
Mom & Dad