I blinked.

Ready to test out her wings....in Mongolia!

Every new mama is warned at some point: Don’t blink, they’ll be grown before you know it.

I tried so hard not to blink. I had been warned. I tried so hard.

In the beginning, we napped together and I reveled in the days you nursed and I could do nothing else but rock and watch your tiny mouth suckle. But laundry soon beckoned and eventually you napped better in your crib than in my arms.

I blinked.

Solid foods came too soon, but we played as I spooned the pureed sweet potatoes and carrots (your favorites!) into your mouth. Once big enough to sit in your highchair, I could answer phone calls or check emails.

I blinked again.

You started with finger foods but soon you were feeding yourself, and there were manners to be taught, toys to be put away, and naptimes and bedtimes to be maintained. Even faster came the days of “Mom, can I borrow some money to meet a friend at Starbucks?”, “Eat without me, I’ll get something later,” and “I should be home by 11.”

I blinked, but failed to notice. Had it become easier?

School started, and even though your school days have been spent at home with me, pages of scribbles evolved into practice penmanship pages which gave way to a blur of research papers, math exams, and literature assignments that “just needed to get done.”  Your dolls and toys were boxed and your shelves now bulge with your beloved books. Leaving behind your Girl Scout years, you committed yourself to volunteering at the library you so love, the 4-H archery team, dreaming about your future, and meeting with college recruiters. Just yesterday, you were so small,  and now, with only 7 weeks before you graduate high school, your childhood years are shadowed by a fast approaching future.

Why, oh why, did I blink so often?

18 years ago, my first born was placed into my arms shortly after 2 in the afternoon and I looked into the eyes of the little one I already loved so deeply. She was perfection swaddled in a cotton blanket and topped with a striped beanie. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. After 23 hours of labor, I fought to keep my eyes open; I wanted to absorb every detail of her face, her toes, and those perfect little fingers that grasped my pinkie finger. I had never seen such beauty before. However, exhaustion is a powerful foe and with her tucked safely in my arms, I drifted off to sleep. It would be the first of many “blinks.”

A little over a year ago, I began writing this blog with the unavoidable awareness that I was beginning my journey towards the empty nest years. Though I’ve had my days of feeling that “it’s all happening too fast” over the last year, I’ve also come to realize that this journey actually began on the day she was born. All along the way, she and I have taken baby steps towards her independence, as well as my eventual independence. It’s what a mama is supposed to do: teach and train and coach and guide her baby bird to the edge of the nest so that both can take new flight when it’s time to leave the nest for good. Sometimes, between the blinks and the lessons in manners, and homework, and first jobs, and extra-curricular activities, etc. we forget to see our child, really see who they have become while we’ve been helping them prepare to take flight. We focus on the areas we fear they lack readiness and often fail to see all the ways in which they’ve already tested their wings.

My friend, Cindy Skerjanec, recently shared with me her story of sending her oldest off to college for the first time last year. I had asked about her “pre-flight” emotions and  fears. Yes, they were there, but there was also a sense of peace, she had said. Throughout her daughter’s senior year, she had stayed conscious of the fact it was their last year together at home, and together mother and daughter prepared for the next step. By the time the summer ended, Cindy knew her daughter was ready to fly, and she was ready to release her. It has been a smooth transition for both, in a large part because of their many conversations, their joint preparation, and Cindy’s awareness that this is what we, as mothers, are supposed to do; release.  Both mother and daughter knew they were ready for the next chapter, and both celebrated that transition when it arrived.

As I left the coffee shop, I wondered if I would feel that sense of peace when C walks across the stage on graduation day or packs up her bags when she transfers to the college of her choice in the next state. I tried to picture myself walking past her empty room. And then I remembered, I’d already done it. Last summer, I drove her to the airport early one morning; destination: Mongolia. I squeezed her tight before I said goodbye to her at the security gates, fighting back the tears that threatened to spill onto her shoulder. This was her time, and I wouldn’t spoil it with my tears. Our contact, I knew, would be limited at best until she touched down in the US again a month later. I returned to a home where the absence of her energy was palpable, but there was something else in the house, too. I could hear the echoes of her excitement and strength and joy from that morning and the days and weeks leading up to it. In her room, I found the paper remnants of her planning scattered upon her bed, next to the bear she has loved since she was only 3 months old. And, in that room, I found a peace that filled my entire being. I knew she was where she was supposed to be. She was ready to spread her wings and take a flight, and I was ready to release.

In the last 12 months, I have watched my once swaddled little bundle spread her wings in ways beyond my wildest imagination. In the last year, she has learned how to ask for and receive help and how to talk through her fears and defeat her demons. She has courageously accepted the diagnosis of an auto-immune disease and learned how to research, manage, and make her own healthcare decisions. She has pushed herself academically, applied for and was selected as a delegate for the State Department leadership development program in Mongolia, and in the process, she has begun to discover the women within. In the last year, I have seen glimpses of the girl I once rocked and nursed, but more often, I have witnessed the emergence of a strong, courageous, adventurous woman. And that has brought me immeasurable joy and peace.

18 years ago today, I welcomed C into this world, and I was warned not to blink; I would miss too much, it would all pass by too fast. And, though there are days I feel it has all passed by far too fast, I take comfort in the new relationship I am developing with the woman I am so very proud to call my daughter. I may have welcomed her into this world, but the truth is, she warmly welcomed me into hers.

I blinked, and she grew into an amazing woman.

Happy 18th birthday, dear C! May your journey always be blessed. I love you. ♥

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36 thoughts on “I blinked.”

  1. I know how it feels. Happy and sad at the same time/a very strange mixture.
    Mostly…lost. My whole life evolved around my children. They are successful and I am very proud of them and their accomplishments. I wanted them to grow into good adults. But, they have distanced themselves, also, and that hurts a bit, like I did something wrong. I don’t know. Maybe they just need to for themselves.

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  2. Both of my lovely daughters have left the nest and are learning how to live in their “new lives.” I hope my husband and I have prepared them well enough to deal with life’s ups and downs. They are faring much better than their mom, unfortunately. I am retired and therefore trying to make 2 major adjustments at the same time. I am desperately seeking advice and guidance as I journey through this stage of my life. Joining clubs and making “new friends” is the traditional advice handed out but it seems so much easier said than done. Many of my friends are still working and yet most groups seem to be for elderly seniors. This stage has become quite lonely and I still have not figured out how to navigate through the waters.

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  3. I love being able to read this from the child’s point of view… I am 22 and (pathetically?) still living at home until I can acquire a more plentifully paying job. Recently, I had an interview for a job a little far from what is now home and would need to have housing closer to the location. My father sat down with me and told me he’d leave my room exactly the same and it would always be here for me, and so would he and my mother. It’s strange and wonderful to get these glimpses of understanding and love from my own parents, and to think of the inevitability of the circle of life. 🙂 Thank you for sharing this story, and Happy Easter!

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  4. This is really beautiful, Mary. And thank you for writing it. My oldest turns 10 on Tuesday and I need all the reminders I can get to pay attention to her, to really know her. It was easier when she was wee. It’s more challenging now, and I need to be reminded. Thank you!

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  5. The young child we welcomed into the world just yesterday backed the truck he bought up to the boat he bought and spent the day with his friends fishing on the lake. This is the same little tyke who asked me to show him how to play baseball when he was three and who used to think the sun rose and set with me. I have a good relationship with my son, as it sounds you do with your daughter, but I do miss him sitting in my lap while I read to him. It was only yesterday.

    Tim

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  6. Beautiful piece. I remember those same warnings and, yes, it went by in a blur. My older boy started high school this year.

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  7. Beautiful piece. I remember those same warnings and, yes, it has gone by in a blur. My older boy started high school this year.

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  8. Yes . . . you’ve summed it up beautifully as usual! You’ve established some nice, strong roots, and now she’s ready to fly, Mama! Here’s to her new adventures . . . and YOURS! XO Cindy

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    1. Thank you, Cindy! I am so grateful for your honest sharing at tea that morning. Aside from all the work that goes into preparing our child to take flight, one of the best things we can do to help our transition, and our child’s, is to know that it can be handled with grace. You are a wonderful example of that truth! xoxo

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    1. Seconded.

      I’m early in the journey, but I already have moments where I can see how my son’s journey away began the moment he was conceived. Sometimes seeing it this way makes me feel sad; others, it reminds me to feel grateful for the moments I do have to serve as his usher through the world in his younger years.

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      1. I try to stay focused on gratitude for the moments/time I’ve had up until this point and not waste time on the “would have, should have, could have” moments I “lost” when I blinked. I’m embracing the here and now with her and her sister and recognizing that how we handle this transition will set the stage for our future relationship together. And, that is what this time is all about.

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  9. I blinked too trying to hold back the tears I feel welling as I read your beautiful post! We are at polar opposite places yet I feel your emotions as my minis go off to their first day of early intervention school on Monday. I wish you both much peace and excitement in C’s transition (and yours mama!) I am trying not to blink. Xoxo

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    1. I think it’s the “baby steps” like sending our minis off to school, or a sleep-over, or their first time doing anything in our absence that helps us prepare for their eventual separation. Each and every step feels frightening, yet exhilarating as we see our child grow in ways we could imagine. My thoughts are with you as you take a big mama step and the minis test their wings on Monday. Sending you big hugs, Shannon! xo

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  10. This is SUCH a beautiful, heart-warming post for your daughter as she embarks on her journey into adulthood (gosh, that sounds corny – sorry! LOL). She sounds so wonderful (props to your parenting!), and I absolutely loved your line, “I may have welcomed her into this world, but the truth is, she warmly welcomed me into hers.” 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Jules! Like I told Cindy (below), I’d love to take credit–but I really believe it is more her own doing than my parenting. I was simply an occasional tour guide, but she’s taken the journey.

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    1. Aw, thank you. As much as I would love to take credit for it–she came into this world with a heart of gold and the spirit of an eagle. Those are things you can’t teach. It’s been a joy to watch her unfold those wings.

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  11. Roots and wings, mama. I didn’t realize it until the day The Trailblazer left for college and I kissed him goodbye in the kitchen. Our real job is not to teach them how to play nicely on the playground. That’s the strategy we use to accomplish our real job, which is to prepare them for adulthood.

    That immeasurable joy and peace you’re feeling, that’s because you know you’ve done your job well.

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    1. Thanks, Lisha!

      “Our real job is not to teach them how to play nicely on the playground. That’s the strategy we use to accomplish our real job, which is to prepare them for adulthood.”

      Love this, and “roots and wings” So true!

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    2. I get the roots and wings and i get the feelings of gratification when you see your child thriving in the world on their own. But I used to wake up every morning to cheery children and then grumpy teens and looking on their beautiful faces every day was just one of the highlights of my life. So happy and so sad at the exact same time!

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  12. Wow, this one gave me super damp eyes. Actually, a wet face! Much needed perspective check…refreshing to read. I completely felt you were reading my mind and heart. Thank you!!

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    1. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your comment with me! I don’t think there is a mom or dad out there that would say this part of the journey is “easy”, but I think it can be made easier when we know we are not alone.

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  13. People mean well when they tell us it will go so quickly, but we (being newbie mamas know so much better, don’t we?). As my chicks are lining up on the runway, readying themselves for take-off, I’m SO thankful for every moment I’ve had with them–each plain, old ordinary moment, as I know you are, M.

    Give the birthday girl a big hug from us and thank you for this reminder to savor it all! xoxo

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