Madeleine sleeps quietly now, nearly buried under a down comforter on the couch. I tiptoe through the house, trying to stay quiet and allow her the sleep she deeply needs now to recover from her fever. She’s such a good patient, a patient patient. She rarely asks for anything when she’s sick. I have to remind myself to offer her water, snacks, otter pops, a book, another blanket. Otherwise she’ll quietly suffer, keeping to herself.
It’s not easy for me to sit still with her while she’s sick. I’ve got my gram’s jump-up-and-do-one-more-thing-before-I-sit-down genes. The to-do list in my head adds to itself while I sit, frustrated, and I don’t get to cross anything off of it. The plants need watering, the laundry in the dryer is just about done, and I should really take out the recycling and empty the compost bin. And then I should put a few toys away and straighten up the kitchen counter where everything without a home seems to land. And look at that dust! I just don’t feel useful if I’m not crossing things off that list.
But it’s a blessing, too, when I have to slow down. If Madeleine hadn’t gotten sick yesterday, I would be working today. It’s nice to have a quiet day at home with her even if she is sick, and it was nice to have the opportunity to take Arden to the bus stop this morning. There is a feeling I get, I’m not quite sure how to describe it, but it’s something like pride mixed with wistfulness that envelops me when I see my daughters take that big, giant step up onto the school bus.
Arden, at six, is independent enough to navigate this mode of transportation on her own, to know which bus to board, to remember at which stop she should step off. She looks so small, there, next to that big yellow bus. And yet she looks so big too.
And I wonder if this wistful pride is what I will feel when my daughters board an airplane without me, or drive off for the evening in a car filled with friends, or turn away from me as they embrace many milestones that lie ahead. Places that I cannot go to with them, for if I did, it would defeat the very purpose of their going.
Madeleine turned ten this spring, and that number astounds me. Eight more summers remain until she takes that very big step towards college and true independence. She has less time left as a child than she has spent so far on this earth. Just ten quick years ago, she was dependent on me and her dad for everything. And somehow, and oh, so soon, she has learned so many things, and can do so much for herself. And this certainly is the goal: independence.
I am learning to let go, and learning to let her be, and let her do. But it’s not always easy, because it often seems that when she wants independence, I want her dependent because I can see a better way than the route she’s choosing. And when she wants dependence, I wish she would stand on her own. This balancing act, this push and pull, this tightrope walk that is parenting. How do we negotiate these acts? How do we know when to say when? When to trust and when to protect?
My sister-in-law has been in the midst of potty-training her son these past few months. Another of my sisters-in-law delivered her son to a university campus on the far coast this past fall. At times I feel so far from either of these two milestones – like I can barely remember the former and can’t imagine the latter. But I know the clock is ticking, and that our time together, like this, is limited.
And so, after she awoke from her nap sweaty from the fever breaking, I agreed to give her a bath instead of sending her off to the shower. And I wondered how long it has it been since I’ve bathed her? Since I’ve rinsed the shampoo from her hair? This intimate, stolen day that we spent together, just the two of us. How many more days do I get to spend with her before she’d rather be with friends? Or with boys?
It seems that children are always in the process of separating from the parents, and that initial closeness isn’t ever truly regained. After they’re born, nothing feels quite as close as those kicks and nudges from within. And after they’ve weaned, there’s no other closeness quite like that skin-on-skin contact. Yet, there is such a sweetness in the return, in holding hands as we walk together, snuggling on the couch, the smile and hug after school. And I can imagine the sweetness in a peck on the cheek as she leaves to go out with her friends or the joy when she visits home from college. The letting go isn’t always easy, but I can always anticipate the sweet returns.