Our family changed yesterday. This had happened before, but yesterday was by far the hardest.
Six years ago we moved from Florida to Pennsylvania leaving my then fifteen-year-old stepdaughter behind with her mother. It sucked, but it was necessary for our financial well-being and her social well-being. The job industry was tanking spectacularly so we had to relocate to avoid spiraling down the proverbial drain with everyone else suffering from the recession. At the same time, my stepdaughter spent every weekend with us and six weeks over the summer. This schedule was great for a while, but now she was a teenager and anxious to socialize with her friends on the weekends, but far too polite to voice her desire. By moving, we freed her to have that time without the guilt.
I missed her. All the time. She called and left a message that I kept and listened to every day. When little more than a year later my husband deleted it thinking it was just an old message, I fought the urge to cuff him upside his head. And how could he know? How could he know that I listened to that message daily because I missed the sound of Samantha’s voice, her snarky humor, the sing-song way she said most things?
I got over it, mostly. I still think about it, yes. She’s almost twenty-two so it’s probably time to let it go. Frankly, I have bigger things to fret about now.
Like how we moved our middle daughter to North Carolina where she is paying rent, sharing a house with my mother. She’s off to college and establishing residency to save money. This means she won’t be home the way traditional college students will. She’ll get a job and they’ll likely expect her to work holidays so she won’t be home for all the traditional college breaks that most other college kids and parents enjoy.
We registered her car for her in NC, we paid for her car insurance, and we took her to get her new driver’s license. Then we high-tailed it to multiple stores for paint, furnishings, bedding, and a TV to set up her new room, in her new home, away from me for the first time since I was nineteen years old and brought her home from the hospital.
For the next several days, I was locked into a whirlwind of activity. Renovating has a way of doing that. But eventually the renovating was done and it was our last night in NC with our girl. My hubby went to bed early to get some sleep so we could hit the road at 4 am. I finally went to bed a little after midnight, but struggled for sleep.
The thought that I was just leaving her there played through my mind in a constant loop. It was like her first day of school all over again, except I wouldn’t be able to pick her up at the end of the day. I would get in my car, drive ten hours north of her and finish taking care of the bits of her life she left behind. An empty nightstand, dresser, a half-made bed, a step ladder used to remove her posters and awards, garbage bagged up for the compactor, and bags of clothes for donating.
So we drove home and I tried not to think about it. I donated her clothes and tried not to think about it. I took out what was left of her garbage and tried not to think about it. I listened to our poor cat Willow, who lived to hang out with her, howl outside her bedroom door and tried not to think about it.
Ariana moved on with no plans to look back. She looked forward to shedding her parent’s rules. To make her own decisions. She insisted she wouldn’t miss us…at least not for a while.
…and then it happened. Her first night without us, she sent us both a text to say goodnight before she went to bed.
…and she called today after telling herself she wouldn’t call us for two weeks. She vented over the high price of groceries, proud to say she bought all generic to give them a shot since they were so much cheaper. Also, she needed me to pick up her final paycheck and deposit it for her. Finally, she needed to know what to say to the college when she called to make her appointment for her placement tests.
So, yeah, our girl is gone, but she still needs us and still reaches out when she’s unsure, the same way she did when she took her first steps. And just like then, it’s only a matter of time before she stops reaching out at every uncertainty. She’ll gain her footing, feel more confident, and take off, just like she did before she was even a year old.
And then she’ll fly.