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.
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. ♥