It was the night before. I sat on the couch at midnight with my daughter close against me. I held her in the most conscious, present way possible. This was the moment. This moment would never happen again in the same way. Transition. Life happening. My baby girl about to make the formal transition to her next chapter – heading off to college.
Holding her, I fought the tears. I can’t let her see me wail. I can’t dump my own feelings of loss and heartache onto her, or cause her to feel guilty for doing what all young adults must eventually do. Stop the clock. I want to get off. I want to scroll back in time to each precious moment I may have missed. I wanted back all the times I took her and our connection for granted. I longed for her toddler years, for those moments in the wee hours of the morning when she would climb into our bed and place her tiny soft hand gently on my cheek, just to let me know she was there. I longed for all of the times she looked at me over the years, filled with love and admiration. My daughter sees me in a way no one else has. She thought I was magical, and perfect. During the teen years, she still looked up to me, even though she had learned I was not in fact magical or perfect. We never went through those adolescent years with the savage fights, or very many hateful words. We always somehow managed to work through the hard moments, through her need to rebel or to disagree, the rolling of the eyes, the harsh words exchanged by both of us.
Her empathic demeanor always knows when I’m in a bad place. So many times I tried to shield her from whatever upset or misfortune befell me, but she always knew. She knew, and she felt my pain. How I wished I could have lifted that from her in those moments. But my soul was bare to her. She saw and felt everything.
I wanted to hit the pause button and allow that hug to go on and on. Because, tomorrow, she was going away. And I was proud and bursting with excitement for her. But that night? In that moment, I wanted to holler STOP! It’s too soon. I’m not ready. This is happening way too fast. I hadn’t considered all of the tiny little bits I would miss each and every day. And now, I would have to be reminded of them without her there. The photos of her open happy face. The smell of her hair. The touch of those beautiful comforting hands. Those crazy toes that move in different directions all at the same time. That long gorgeous hair mixed with so many natural colors.
And that smile. That smile that reminded me who I was to her, and therefore reminded me who I was to me. The really good and loving parts. The parts that could power through and prevail, no matter what life brought my way. She trusted that. She believed in me. One look from her and my priorities shifted. One look and I could more easily cut to the chase about what was really important in life. Of course this wasn’t forever. Of course we will see each other. Of course this isn’t the end. Well meaning friends and family tell you this is a wonderful thing. I must be so proud. Great job! Off to school. But I wasn’t prepared for all of the other stuff boiling up inside. No one really talks about the pain. At least, no one ever did to me. You hear how moms and dads are sad after, but it passes. In fact, I can remember thinking, what’s the big deal? It’s just college, they’re not dying. What I wasn’t prepared for was the deep cut of transition. There was a finality to this I didn’t expect. It’s the recognition that when she comes back for a break or during summer vacation, it will be different. She will be different. Perhaps when she graduates, she’ll live at home for a bit. Maybe then it will be like it was? Probably not. Because, in this moment I recognize, the adult is fully setting in. She is more of the world now. She is drinking it in, and there are things to do, experiences to have, love to find, more moments I won’t be there for, but will hear about after. We are forever connected, I know that. But in this moment, as I hold her, I am experiencing an agony I’ve not felt. She is my baby. The last one to leave the nest. With my son, it was agony, mellowed by the fact I still had my baby girl at home. I had 5 more years of her, so when he went away, my heart ached, and I got through it, but this time it’s different.
With this daughter, it’s different. In some ways, it forced me to feel my age, to feel time passing way too quickly. It’s a wake up call reminding me how many precious moments I let slip by, without noticing. I refuse to let the regrets seep into my consciousness for too long, because, what’s the point? Those feelings of regret, or stress, or angst, or distractions were what caused those other precious moments to slip by unnoticed. Recognizing that is what is getting me through these days. If I dwell on those thoughts, I’m missing the present. I’m missing what’s happening now that I may live to regret later. A vicious cycle when I think about it. What robbed me of those precious moments was my own spin about events, challenges and difficulties that are now mere shadows of what they were. The things that yanked my attention through the years and pulled me out of living in the here and now are nothing. They passed, I didn’t die, I didn’t crumble. I got through it. To stand in this moment and embrace all that is good in it, every opportunity to connect, to love, to enjoy, to drink up every drop…that’s the lesson. I am grateful to be reminded in a much more gentle way than perhaps others have experienced. I don’t want to wait for the death of a loved one to snap me out of my own drama and annoyances. I want to cherish things more, and sweat about other things less. I want to stand fully in the present.
Once again, it is my daughter teaching me a powerful lesson. In many ways she has been my teacher. She knows my soul. She knows my heart. In many ways she was the one who woke me out of my fat coma. She helps fuel me on this weight loss journey. There have been a few slips during this trying time, but nothing to take me completely off the rails. When I slipped, I was very conscious that the food wasn’t going to help. I snapped out of it in minutes versus days. I do this for her as much as I do it for myself, because I never want my daughter to hate any part of her body, to use food as a way of coping during the tough times, or struggle with binging and dieting. I never want her to doubt herself or her gifts. But our children learn by our actions, not our words, so I stay the course. I stay on this road. Because these moments are precious. Because I want more of them. Because standing in the light, even through these tough, painful, rip your heart out moments, is so much better than numbing out. Because no matter what life throws my way, the stronger and more resilient I am, the easier it will be to move through and past it. No matter how many mistakes I make, I must let them go, learn the lessons, and try again. Because, she is watching. She watches me maneuver. I am several miles down this road, looking back, holding out my hand, and saying, let’s do this. I am paving the way, passing on the lessons I’ve learned, the hard lesson of forgiving myself when I don’t get it right. Our journey isn’t over, it’s simply taking a turn, with a change in scenery. It’s a new chapter. And my vow is to embrace and cherish all that will be, and when I don’t do it perfectly, to bounce back, to stay present.
Because I don’t want to miss any of it.