Today, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I said good-bye to my teenage daughter, got in my truck and waved to her as the vision of her in front of her apartment door faded behind Bryant-Denny Stadium at The University of Alabama. For nearly two decades I have dreaded this, and now this day, carrying with it the moment of parting, has come and gone. I’m driving back home to Fairhope and am already wondering about her.
Just north of the town of Greensboro, I pass a tractor plowing a field for a fall crop to be planted, and think of my daughter flipping through her new recipe book as she plans on having some friends over for dinner. I wonder if I bought her enough food and supplies yesterday.
I cruise through the village of Linden and don’t see the quaint downtown because in my mind’s eye, I see my first child as she runs errands to get ready for her job interview tomorrow. Seeing a storefront display with business clothes for women, I find myself wondering what she will wear.
Heading toward my hometown of Fairhope, I drive across the causeway which takes me over the Tensaw and Mobile Rivers and see the sun shining on the bay. But in my memory I see the sun as it shone on my daughter’s hair that first morning as she lay in my arms, a newborn.
I’ve got the news on the radio but instead of paying attention to the debate on health care reform, I’m wondering if I left my daughter enough prescription asthma medicine. I think back to the first time I became aware of her as something separate from me. It was a strange sensation, a feeling akin to a flutter of tiny wings inside me, and I felt a surge of joy at her first movements. Now again I feel butterflies inside, but it’s the wings of worry that I know will never totally go away.
I remember when I watched her take her first steps, and think of her now walking around her own apartment, totally independent for the first time.
I remember teaching her all the things a parent teaches a child, sometimes without realizing we’re teaching. One night, as I was reading to her when she was only two, she pointed to the “squiggly black marks” on the page and asked what they were, and I realized this was the beginning of her learning to read. I think now of all the things she will be learning without me, and that in some ways she will become my teacher.
And she’s still my child, but she’s grown and gone.
Oh, sure—she’ll be back for holidays and long weekends. But an era has come and gone, and a new one is in its place.
Once I recover from the shock of seeing the finality of this day arrive, I will begin to find joy. But for now, I will grieve and allow myself this luxury, one I’ve put off ever since I discovered she was coming into my life.
And I also think of the millions of parents and others who gave part of their lives to raise another human being, and know that this season holds for us all the same pride, the same bittersweet sadness, and the same hopes. I know my child will go far, and I today have given her her wings back…the same ones I felt inside me, so long ago it was only yesterday.