Those of you who have been reading Middle Passages for a while know that in some regard, I experienced a rebirth last year. Climbing to my feet, I wobbled through a baby step and then smiled as I took another. Hand-over-handing the length of the low furniture, sometimes I fell down on a padded bottom. Forward progress still feels new and Saturday it occurred to me that just as I was beginning to understand the rhythm of the steps, someone increased the tempo.
Two days ago, I cracked the door to wake my teenager, our only child, who slept sideways on wrinkled striped sheets, one exposed cheek curved, rounded and flushed above a rose-colored blanket--her full lips parting slightly as she exhaled. As I gazed at the faint movement of her soft lashes, a sixteen-year old-memory surfaced, of holding her as an infant in a wing-back chair one evening under the muted glow of a forty-watt bulb. That night, she slept in my arms and I stared at the damp bud of a mouth that had just released an evening bottle and the wisps of blonde hair sweeping flat across the white skin of her head. Feasting my eyes with a swollen yearning to savor and save, I promised myself that I’d always remember the image of her at that moment, the pearled skin, a button nose, the hot hand that clenched my little finger.
It’s been clear for a while that our daughter is a young woman now. Yet, Saturday, as she sighed and stretched oblivious to me, the face that I recorded all those years ago slept there on her twin bed beneath brown hair escaping from a tangled ponytail, beside the pile of cast-off clothes dotting the pink landscape of her painted room. Once again, I caught myself aching to freeze time, to clench her image tight and hard in my palm. Only on this particular morning, she caught me, waking to wrinkle her forehead and ask “What?”
And then, once she was up and dressed, we traveled over the hills and past the boarded-up ocean cottages one town over so she could apply for a first, real summer job, for which she was hired on the spot and advised to check in later this week for her schedule. I drove her there knowing that a license test is scheduled for the immediate future and in a matter of short days she should have the independence to climb behind the wheel and drive the rutted roads to this seaside resort. In a few weeks, she’ll serve pizza and fried clams to tourists and sweep piles of sand from the ceramic tiled floor. She’ll bring home a paycheck and likely scatter with some of the freedom that money provides, and though this is what we want for her, this is how it has to be, I didn’t expect that as a result, I’d wake today with a lump in my throat, staggering under another earthquake of change.
Again, tectonic plates are shifting and I am grabbing for solid walls. For almost 17 years, this child, this beautiful, funny, clever, resourceful girl, so mature that we call her “The Littlest Grown Up,” has nonetheless relied on us. On top of which, over the last fourteen months, because of time carved out following my job elimination, she has partnered with me for afternoon coffees and drives to the beach and when homework and my lack of freelance work allows, clandestine trips to matinee movies.
Now, this gift of time with her that I never expected to get and therefore cherished and celebrated all the more for the surprise of it, is just about over. It's right that she takes these strong steps on her own. But my own legs are quivering because I’m scared I’m going to falter, now that this most important of jobs is almost over too.