She could only have been born a few months ago. At least that’s how it felt.
A handful of months ago, I’d eased her into the baby seat fastened in the back of the car and driven to our house, keeping absurd distances from other cars. I carried her grizzling into our hallway, hunched over to protect her from cold. I put her down to sleep, her warmth remaining on the insides of my arms.
Yet now, here I was, watching her cradling a box down the front pathway toward her own car. I had no idea about the mysteries rattling inside it, only that she was leaving home.
They tell you it’s gone in a moment. Your kids grow up so fast it’s like time travel. I nearly missed it.
For years I worked long hours. I didn’t arrive home with the dirt and paint spots of people laboring on construction sites. But I walked through that front door with spreadsheets, overspent budgets, negotiations, and the responsibility of teams stuck to my shirt and through my hair.
Over the years, she learned to read while tipping slightly into my side as she studied pictures and later the words. I wrapped towels around her after she thrashed in the bath, did up her buttons as she squirmed, and fed her: first bottles, then mashed solids, and later, precisely cut, small portions of what her parents ate.
I didn’t realise at the time that this was when we lay the foundations of our closeness. The way we spoke and listened back then enabled how we communicate now. Every banter, question, debate, and affection echoes what happened between us back then.
Not all our times were easy. I remember a night out during a comedy festival in my city. How ironic on a night of hilarity that her parents were called to a hospital. An event of overindulgence had led her to an ambulance trip, arriving in emergency and requiring treatment for alcohol poisoning. I felt so guilty whilst others lay in beds around us because of car accidents, allergic reactions, food poisoning, and family violence. Here we were because my daughter overindulged in a newly discovered love of vodka.
We’d experienced other dramas. Uneaten and hidden school lunches. Driving lessons resembling stunt driving. Slamming doors during tantrums. Along the way, exams came and went. With it came the parent-teacher meetings and the tailored discussions about academic success, or lack thereof.
University followed. University was as impersonal as the sweeping, characterless asphalt plains around the campus buildings clumped together. She ground through the assignments and lectures, submitting assignments so last minute I could only hope the power and internet would stay on, plus the microwave providing those late study cramming snacks continued to work.
I tried to be there for her. I strived to not be another lecturer in her life, but instead listening, guiding, facilitating, and, at times, deciding I could do no more.
If the truth is told, I didn’t really want her to move out. I knew I’d miss her love of cooking finding its way to our dinner plates. Her humor, often as cynical as mine (as if we spoke a similar dialect only we could understand), her slow starts to the day a sure sign of my DNA, and her exuberance at the sports we both followed. But it was everything I brought her up for.
Finding your independence can be as surprising as reaching an island you weren’t sure was even on the map. And the guiding tides of her upbringing helped press her toward it.
I often see her contentment. It’s in her visits, her joy in greeting us, even our greyhound as he bobs his head for a pat. The house seems to glow with her stories, commentary on life, and talk of recipe successes.
Parenting comes with many responsibilities. One of the greatest and most important is building independence. Every small step you help them take is one small step away from you. And eventually, there they are, taking more of those steps, carrying that box of belongings down your path to their next address.
You miss them already. And you wouldn’t have it any other way.