And She Goes
Friday, August 28, 2009

When she was three, she used to stand at the screen door of our little house watching the dusk
come upon us. Unable yet to fully comprehend time, she would turn to me, mystified, with her
achingly beautiful brown eyes and her blonde pigtails and say, "Whatever happened to our
beautiful day?"

It would kill me every time.

Even then, I knew the bittersweet depth in those innocent words. I could feel the passing of
time, there, in her question. And I knew our days together were entirely too finite. I knew our
days together would rush by us and all the motherly strength I had in me could not slow them 
down, no matter how desperately I tried.

But, oh how we lived our days together.

She and I, so much alike and yet so different.

She is my first. I learned to be a mother with her.

No matter your good intentions, the first one gets all your idealism. You get tired after that first 
and let the other ones watch a lot more TV and eat the bits of food they find off the floor. (At least 
I did. I don't know about the rest of you, but I was really tired, man.) But with that first baby, you 
teach them their ABC's the minute they begin to speak. You read Goodnight Moon until you can say 
the words in your sleep. You make sure that each moment is a teachable, purposeful one in their little life.

But as diligent as I was with her, she still taught me so much more than I could ever give her in 
return. She taught me about patience and selflessness and a love so big, so insurmountable that 
nothing, nothing in the world could ever alter it.

The first four months of her life were filled with colic. This is me, standing in the bathtub with her, swishing the running water around, the only thing we found that helped pacify her somewhat.

She had screaming bouts of misery that went on and on for hours, almost as if she was trying to tell me in her own way, that this would not be easy.

And it has never been easy. It has been at times, harder than anything I've ever done.

From the early days of her infancy when I would stand under the shower at the end of the day, sobbing my heart out, my shoulders tied up in a throbbing knot, thinking I would never be able to do this; wondering how the world still carried on, when colicky babies were this hard, all the way through her painful struggle with the shyness that sat on the periphery of her soul, constantly threatening to consume her.

My Hubby has always labeled me a mother lion guarding over her cubs with ferocity and it was with that ferocity that I stood beside her every day, helping beat back that awful beast of shyness, no matter how heartbreaking it was at times for her and for me with every loving push I gave her.

When she was first learning to speak, she kept repeating this one phrase over and over again. To me, it sounded like, "Au Jus." She would dance around at my feet and repeat it, "Au Jus. Au Jus."

I would say to her in frustration, "Baby, I'm sorry I don't know what you're saying."

I would tell everyone, "I don't know. I guess she's a gourmand like her dad, letting me in on her appreciation for the au jus either that or I got a French kid by mistake."

But, then came a day where I picked her up and she snuggled her little blonde head into my chest, 
miring her little body into mine and sighed with perfect contentment, "Au Jus."

Hold you.

It was all she wanted. It was all she needed to make her world complete—her mommy.

It was that way for a very long time, longer than most girls hold on to their moms. Her shyness kept her close to me, close to home. We shared secrets and hugs, giggles and songs, promises and love. She and I anchored to one another, never straying too far.

She grew. Adolescence hit and we had our troubles and fights and screams and anger that I hope do not linger in her heart. We had too much between us and sometimes that got in the way of seeing the big picture. As a mother, she infuriated me one moment and slayed me with her love the next second.

And somewhere along the way, she started walking away, the normal course of things. But, it was hard for me. I wandered around, her last year with us, constantly saying, "When is she ever coming home?"

My darling Hubby, my touchstone of common sense, reminded me, "This is how it's supposed to be. This is good."

And I knew it was. I knew that. But still, I missed her. I missed her little blonde head, nestled against my chest, the two of us, sweetly content with the love between us.

And now that day has come. My first day without her.

I am reassured by all my dear friends who have crossed this threshold before me, that it will get easier with every passing day. But, right now, all I feel is as if my heart has been ripped out of my chest, crumpled up like a transparent piece of paper and tossed into the trash. Nothing up to this point—colic, high fevers that brought delirium, her debilitating shyness, injuries, adolescence, driving, her two car accidents the first week of driving, can even come close to this kind of difficult.

I have promised myself, I'll limit my phone calls and it is killing me. My first thought this morning when I woke from the lovely blankness of sleep was she now lives somewhere else, away from us, away from me.

I wanted to reach for the phone and make sure she'd not fallen out of her bed that her father positioned at its highest level so she would have extra storage space in her matchbox of a room. I wanted to make sure she'd taken her vitamins and not been her usual hurricane of a mess, ruining any kind of relationship potential with her roommate. I wanted to hear her voice. I wanted my girl.

But, I didn't pick up that phone. I didn't have to. It rang within the hour. We both jumped for the phone when we saw her number. She was panicked. She couldn't find her blush. She was pretty sure it was in my car and she wanted her father to drive the hours between us to bring it to her. He was laughing so hard, she could barely hear me as I instructed her where to find it. I had unpacked her room and organization is not a term she's very familiar with.

I breathed, her biggest problem so far, a lack of makeup.

An hour later, she called back again in an even bigger panic. She couldn't find her phone charger and her phone was about to die. I calmly pointed her way over the phone. It was in her desk drawer, in a special spot for all her phone equipment. Like I said, she doesn't do too well with organization.

I assured her that it would be okay if she couldn't find it, we could still talk on our Macs through IChat.
She informed me that she wasn't worried about that. She had plans to meet up with some of her new friends later and she wouldn't be able to find the party if her phone was dead.

She's fine. It's me that's hurting.

I didn't cry through the whole day of move-in yesterday. We were too busy, raising her bed, connecting her TV, computer and printer, hanging her big, paper light with the kaleidoscope colored light bulb, making her bed with her satiny, Asian themed comforter, setting up her multitude of pillows, hanging her wall art, arranging all of her girly accoutrements and pink themed decor. My friend Debbie says it's a combo of Elle Woods and Barbie goes to college.

I didn't cry because we were far too busy tricking out her new home.

My sister gave her these stick-on frames that mount on the wall, all various shapes and sizes. There was one that was massive—portrait-sized. Before we left the house for college, she took an inordinate amount of time, (time that should have been spent packing), selecting pictures for her frames. The majority of the pictures she chose were her friends and her dog, so I was taken aback when I watched her put this picture in the portrait frame.

We went to dinner after a long, exhausting day of tricking out and it wasn't until we walked her back to her dorm, her father wanting to make sure she knew how to use her key, that I broke down.

She said goodbye to me last, hugging her father and sisters and then she put her arms around me.

In fancy terms, I lost my shit.

She patted my back like I was a puppy as I cried, holding her tiny frame close. I swear at that moment, it felt like just yesterday she was the one holding on, pleading, "Au Jus."

I knew I must have been killing her with the awkwardness of the situation, so I finally let go with a firm nod as I tried to staunch the flow of tears. She put one hand on the doorknob and started to go. But in that one moment, she hesitated. She turned to me with her soft brown eyes and said, "Bye Momma."


That word had left her vocabulary years ago. Momma, the word that adhered me to her. The first word she knew. The first love she had. Momma.

I burst into tears again and she raced back into my arms, no longer patting, but hugging me fiercely.

God, I could use a sedative or morphine or maybe even heroin, because right now every fiber of my being is throbbing in raw pain. But, I'll just have to ride this one out. Catholic School made me too afraid of drugs.

I will go to bed in the knowledge that every day without her, I will feel her absence less. Every day without her I will see how lovely it is that she is finding her own way in the world.

My Girl, Olivia.

I am almost finished with her and I have a few regrets, but for the most part I am satisfied with the job I've done.

We danced together every night during her colic stage, until she would drop, both of us beyond exhaustion. We read Goodnight Moon and Little Bear and Lily's Purple Plastic Purse and Where the Wild Things are, and a thousand other books with great joy, not because I had to, but because I loved helping her discover her own beautiful love of reading. We sang "Wheel's on The Bus" and My Fair Lady's "I Could Have Danced All Night" and U2's "One." We baked cookies and ate more dough than cookies. We held hands until I let go, watching her take her first wobbly steps. And even after she had her own legs to stand on, she would reach for my hand. We played together in the park, not me sitting watching while she played, but the two of us sliding down the slide together. We read easy readers together, me holding my breath as she painfully sounded out the words. We met new moments head on. Me, giving her courage, even sometimes when it was harder for me than her with a gentle push and a "You can do this, my girl." We cried together when life was overwhelming. We fought and squabbled and always made up. We swam and vacationed and talked and shopped and played and snuggled and laughed.

How we laughed.

We had our fill of black beans and yellow rice, (her favorite), but we could never, ever get enough of her sister's amazing guacamole.

We had enough screaming matches, but we could never have enough of the gentle, sweet times.

We had enough shoe and makeup stealing, but not enough time spent talking together as we put on our makeup in the same mirror.

We had enough of the studying, but never enough of the learning, together—how to be mother and daughter, as we went along.

We had enough of that awful shyness, but never enough of the moments when we kicked its ass, she realizing she was stronger and braver than she ever realized.

We had enough of the bad moments, the punishments, the crankiness but we could never get enough of the "I love you's" and the goodnight kisses and the tooth fairy and the ballet dancing and the plays and the Disney princesses and the pink and the joy and the splendor that is Olivia.

And we never had enough of the sunsets. Her father is a huge propopent of witnessing the day's end. Sunsets in our world are a message from God. Sunsets, in our life, are a sit-down-and-watch-the-day-give-its-farewell tradition. And of all these things we couldn't get enough of, we never had enough of the beautiful sunsets and all those treasured days the sunsets brought to a close.

Whatever happened to our beautiful day, my darling, precious girl? They were there all along. We just could never get enough of them.

We are so very proud of you Olivia and as you go, know that your father and I consider you one of the three most precious gifts God had ever bestowed upon us. We are grateful for you every day. Thank you for teaching me how to be a mother. Thank you for giving us an incredible adventure into the sweet life of parenting.

You will do wonderful things in your life. This is your first step into that amazing journey. Stay strong and brave. Keep that shyness under lock and key. You have battled the beast with your own fierce strength and won. Know that every day, you are bigger than it can ever be. Keep your steps purposeful, honorable, joyful and in your own indomitable style. And know that no matter how far you go, if you look behind you, we will be there, watching you go, picking you up if you fall, and letting you know that you, my darling, darling daughter are an amazing spirit and my dearest wish come true. We love you so very, very much.

Update: I wrote this piece the day after we brought Olivia up to college. The wounds were still fresh and undeniable and the grief I held in my heart was so powerful, I was shocked at its stealthy punch. It was as immediate and potent in its strength as the fierce love that washed over me the minute they put that squalling little girl in my arms for the first time. Both opposite moments left me in awe of the mighty grip that unconditional love takes over a heart.

The first, few days were rough with some homesickness and more than a few teary phone calls, once the reality of being away in a new place, set in. This was the worst part of things for me. It is one thing to have your child away from you, happy and loving their newly found independence. It is another thing altogether when your baby is sad, missing home and lonely. Here, I could kiss her and make her grilled cheese and always get her laughing. It was heart-wrenching to have her out of the nest, alone for the very first time with nothing to give her but the comfort of my words over the phone. I spent a few days with eyes so swollen I could barely see.

But, I am happy to report, she is finding her way. After the tears, she walked into her brave, new world head-on, going to class, sleeping without all of us under one roof together, meeting people, making friends and having dorm parties. On her first breakthrough, she'd been studying in her dorm commons area when another girl joined her. They started talking and the sound of their voices brought out other girls and pretty soon the commons was filled with all the freshmen girls who'd just been waiting for someone to make the first move. She said, at some point, they decided to go to the boy's side to see what was going on there and before she knew it, it was the early morning.

I told My Hubby, I've never been more happy to see a kid not get enough sleep.

And so we begin a new part of the story. I think we'll all be fine.

Today's Definite Download: For Today, a little more than a song, a video made by me. I've never done this before and it involved scanning and compressing and uploading, terms that make me more than a little nervous. But, in the end, I made a rather amateur slide show of the Odawg and her life with us. It is accompanied by the always magnificent, Dixie Chicks' tune, "Lullabye". A beautiful song, surely written by a mother. Enjoy.


ProudSister said...

I was there for all of this & I can't believe how fast its gone by. What a beautiful girl & what a beautiful story. I'm weeping in realization of how quickly time will go with my girls. This was amazing.

Theta Mom said...

This post is AMAZING and I have tears running down my cheeks in front of my computer screen right now.

SO MUCH of what you wrote resonasted with me - the fact that raising an infant is not easy (and that's where I am right now) but the love we have for these human being cannot be put into words - so I can only IMAGINE how hard it would be for a mother to let her baby go...

Your daughter is beautiful on the outside, but I know she is also a beautful person inside because of the MOTHER who has raised her - throughout this post and based on the descriptions, I could picture your life and conversations - and she is one lucky girl.

Thank you so much for sharing this with me - excellent post that I will be writing before I know it.

Amethystmoon said...

Wow! Amazing post! My eyes were watering after the first paragraph, but this line sent me into full out waterworks "She is my first. I learned to be a mother with her." I felt that deep inside me. You truly have a gift!

Cheryl said...

Followed the link over from Shell, and I'm so glad I did. This is beautiful. Beautiful, yet terrifying, too. My kids are still little (me eldest is 6 1/2, just finishing up kindergarten) and I'm already dreading the day when they all leave me to go out on their own. Olivia sounds like an amazing young woman.

Jenny said...

I have tears rolling down my cheeks not only from your writing but that song! It definitely caputred all your beautiful pictures.

It just made me think about my little man and I how I need to treasure every moment with him.

So beautifully written!

Grace said...

I sent one to college last fall. It was tough, but I'm so proud of my girl!

jayayceeblog said...

I am weeping into my coffee cup with a big goofy grin on my face. Bittersweet is the only way to describe this absolutely amazingly perfectly wonderfully beautiful post and THAT VIDEO!!! Thank you so much for sharing ...

Joy@TPMG said...

You made my eyes fill reading about you having to say goodbye to her. I have a long way to go before sending off my oldest but I know I will be the same way. What a beautifully written post.

Tree said...

This was simply BEAUTIFUL!! I can completely understand and sympathize with many of your feelings. My oldest girl will be 16 this year...still at home, but this line hits home for me too:

"As a mother, she infuriated me one moment and slayed me with her love the next second"

When our oldest son left the house....I remember feeling those same worries...tears constantly after he left. Worrying about how he would manage. He is back home with us now for a short while due to a car accident that left him unable to work, but he is now ready to leave us again with his family (fiance and our 2 granddaughters), and it will be bittersweet to say the least!

Thanks for such a wonderful have gained a new follower! Love your writing!

Tree (aka Mother of Pearl)
Mother of Pearl It Is
Mommies Faves Top Sites and Blogs

Mrs4444 said...

Good Lord, Woman! Your book is half written in this post!haha Still, as a mom about to send a son (one who was colicky for several months) of to college, I loved it.

And when you feel your heart is going to break, I have some perspective for you; my best friend lost her 17-year-old son two years ago. A co-worker lost her 17-year-old son yesterday. Our children, though they may not be near us, are still within reach. We are more than blessed...

Laura Everyday Edits said...

Wow, your olivia and my ashley sound like twins separated at birth by two years. ash would always say, "hold you me, hold you me" (wanted me to hold her). How we struggled to pull her out of her shyness... lovely post.. thank you for helping me find my blog voice..

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