I watched her run inside, her wispy white hair flicking out from under her hat, feet pattering on the lino floor as she made the excited dash to show her teacher her baby doll. I took it as my cue to leave, already reassuring her I’d be back soon. We didn’t say good bye to one another. I just left, afraid of upsetting her. With every step I took away from her, my heart jumped further into my throat. By the time I reached the car I was crying.
This day was necessary. For us both. For her to stretch her wings and for me to stand back and watch. I knew it would feel the way it did. I knew it and I planned for it so I gave myself permission to cry over all the ridiculous things I did. Although our separation began the minute she emerged from my body, today marked its officialness. Today represented the first time I had ever said to the world: Here, she is yours. Please be careful with her.
I waited an hour and a half before I called.
“Oh Rachel, she’s doing so well”, she said. “She’s been making sandcastles and painting and she’s talking to every kid she sees.”
“She is?” I gulped.
“They’re playing with shaving cream at the moment and she’s loving it.”
I felt the familiar stinging in my throat and I sobbed into the phone, too disorientated to say much besides incessant apologies and then quickly hanging up.
I felt ridiculous. More than embarrassed. I was only leaving her for a few hours, only taking this process one step at a time. But you see, my heart wasn’t strung out for my daughter. I always knew she’d be fine. As I took those heavy steps back to the car after walking out, my heart said good bye to the baby who was once in my arms. The one who is growing up and away. The one who is the most glaring and shocking proof of time’s hold on us all. My heart was strung out for me and those questions flooded in like I knew they would. Did I appreciate those first years with her enough? Was I really present? Did I take her for granted? Did I participate in it enough? These questions, they’re not just about our children. They’re about our lives. Children simply allow us to see how wickedly fast time whips by, with those sobering end-of-life flashes that make us look back wistfully and wonder if we participated in life enough. If we took life for granted. If we were present.
I turned on the ignition and grabbed the steering wheel. Rachel, cut the cord, I said to myself. Cut the damn cord.
We’re taking baby steps over here, and that’s okay. Our journey is ever-changing, mine and Ella’s, and it will stretch and bend and twist around and around and around again, and there will be more beautiful tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. All we’re really left with is a very fast moving car, a seat belt and the decision to simply sink into our seats and go with it. Because what we finally realize is that we’re only in the passenger seat, anyway. What we finally see is that because we’re not the ones driving, our hands are free to hold not the steering wheel, but each other’s.
I love you, sweet girl. Maybe too much, but then again, I’m quite certain that’s just part of the job title.