I miss her the most at night.
She’s been gone almost five weeks and although it’s been easy to fill the days with friends and exercise and work and even a little bit of travel mixed in for good measure, the nights aren’t such a simple story.
It starts creeping in around 5 pm, the time I’d usually begin preparing dinner. The witching hour, as parents call it. My mind almost audibly clicks over from today to tomorrow, and this is when I’d start to think about what to prepare for her school snack and lunch, about whether laundry was done or needed to be done, try to remember if it was a bath night or not. It felt like no matter how early we got started, it was always a mad dash from 5 to bedtime. Making dinner, eating and cleaning up, managing the jammies or no jammies, supervising teeth brushing, wheedling her in and out of baths. Brushing hair, stowing glasses on the nightstand. Negotiating the number of books, the number of chapters.
Finally (usually later than I hoped) we’d land side by side in her bed or in mine. She’d curl against me as we worked our way through Charlotte’s Web or Captain Underpants or Little House on the Prairie.
It’s the part that happens next, that I miss the most.
I’d put the book away, go turn off the light, and then return to lie down next to her. She’d nestle herself into the soft space of my shoulder, and as the dark and the quiet settled in around our still forms, she’d start talking.
A lot of the time she’d just sort of chatter – things she remembered, things she wanted to do tomorrow, silly jokes, that kind of thing. But often, this is when we really get into the heart of it. This is where the important stuff would filter through and she’d whisper confessions, or tearfully admit something that happened at school that had upset her. In the dark, she’d fling wide the door into her little world, where events which seemed inconsequential to me loomed large and meaningful for her.
It’s this time I miss the most. I talk to her a lot on Skype, and I send her letters. I’m so grateful to have the myriad ways of communicating that technology affords us. But without the dark and the stillness, that door remains closed. That inner world of hers has been lost to me these past five weeks. And I feel lost without it.
It’s indescribably strange to feel so disconnected from your own child, even temporarily. I guess this is part of the gradual severing you have to get used to as your kids grow. If you’ve done it right, they push you away to become individuals. That door closes a little more each year until your child is a wholly separate person.
If you have a good relationship they might still whisper confessions. They might still admit the things that upset them. Things will slip through.
But if you don’t have a good relationship – if time or circumstance or the teenage years push you too far apart – you just remain disconnected. The door stays closed and you just keep knocking and knocking, hoping one day they’ll answer.
It really is a relationship, this parent-child thing. It’s a relationship like any other, that requires nurturing and patience and loving someone even when you might not always like them. It requires investment and generosity and grace, the willingness to see the good in someone else and let that motivate the growth of the good in you.
More than anything, it’s a constant practice of letting go. Bucking the idea of love being a clutching, needy, suffocating thing you hold tight to your chest.
I’ve learned so much about relationships over the past few years. I’ve had some incredible teachers, and unforgettable experiences, but she’s taught me the most.
I miss my girl.
I’m so glad I let her go. I can’t wait for her to come back.
I can’t wait to lie with her tucked into my body, warm and familiar. I can’t wait to stare into the dark and hear her talk, listen to the words pour out of her. I can’t wait to peek through that door again.