(My post, The Last Week: Part Two, will be up by the end of this week to sum up some overall thoughts and decisions I’ve made. The following post describes what’s going on in our household at the moment…)
I miss my oldest child.
Last Sunday, we dropped her off at a camp 3.5 hours away and by “we” I mean all 7 of us drove a total of 7 hours in one day just to drop #1 off at camp. The drive was full of various incidences of tomfoolery which I will describe another day. This is the longest span of time where I have had no contact with her. It’s tougher than I anticipated. She’s been away from us before: overnight school trips since Grade 1, staying over at the grandparents, and when she was 3, Ever-Patient and I had gone away on a vacation. The difference is the length of time (1 week) and the fact that we can’t call her to see how she’s doing.
It’s been tough on all of us. We are a close-knit family. The 7 of us love being together. #1 slept in the same room as her younger sisters for 1 week before she left. Ever-Patient and I encourage the siblings to spend a lot of time bonding so much so that I’ve restricted social contact with friends this summer so that they become even closer. There probably isn’t much that makes me happier than to see them taking care of each other.
As we said good-bye to her at camp, we all hugged her tight but #2 had to turn away to hold back the tears. As soon as we all hopped in the van for the drive home, there was a chorus of “I miss her!” already being shouted. #2 sat in #1’s spot and when we got home, she went to #1’s room and grabbed one of #1’s favourite necklaces and wore it. The next day, #2 used #1’s world atlas placemat and sat in #1’s spot. She never said a word about how much she missed her sister but it had become quite obvious.
#3 was setting the table for dinner that night and placed a setting where #1 sits. I said, “Honey, she’s away remember?” And #3 replied, “I know Mom. But it makes me feel like she’s here.” For the last couple of nights, #3 has cried at bedtime because she misses her sister.
As #2 and #3 moped around the house only 2 days after their big sister had gone off to camp and talked about what she would have eaten for breakfast had she been home, #4 looked up from her book, glanced around, and as if to only notice said, “Oh! Where is she?” Of course, she was referring to her biggest sister and we had to remind her that she hadn’t actually been home since Sunday.
#1 was so excited for this trip. She is incredibly independent and self-sufficient and the type to always go-with-the-flow, adapting to any surrounding. She packed all by herself and had no anxiety about being away from home. I just couldn’t believe that this time had already come. This time that I had always foreseen in the back of my head but never wanted to really face. This time that I thought would only happen when she went off to college/to travel/to work. It was time to let go. I realize the flaw in my previous thought that letting go would only happen when she left home for good. Letting go happens slowly with small baby steps. Unlike a mama bird who pushes her baby bird right out of the nest to teach how to fly, we as humans (most of us anyway) extend the boundaries bit by bit until they dissolve completely. We extend the perimeter further just like when we removed the baby gates or let our children walk a bit ahead of us as they are learning to walk. At some point, we trust them and we trust in how we raised them to venture farther, beyond our reach, beyond our safety nets, beyond our capacity to catch them.
Although sending her off to camp may seem like a first step in letting go, there were many little steps before it: her first sleepover with the grandparents, her first sleepover with friends, biking to school, playdates without me at a friend’s house, walking home from school, letting her decide how she wants to use her time, letting her decide how she wants to spend her money, respecting her need for solitude and her need for support, giving her a grocery list and money (while I wait in the car with sleeping children), and more.
Having children in multiple developmental stages, I must admit that there is nothing more difficult than the stage she is in right now where there is the constant challenge of assessing her level of maturity and readiness for various responsibilities – basically, when to let go and in what circumstance. Sometimes I hold on too tight and I only realize it when she struggles vehemently to break free of my grasp. Other times I let go a little too soon and using non-verbal cues, she pleads for my guidance and for my arms to curl up in. At times, it’s a delicate game of balance, intuition, and observation. Most times, it’s guess-and-test.
More often than not, with her youthful optimism and exuberance, she is ready for more: more independence, more responsibility, and more freedom. I am not. I am not ready at all. I know intellectually that change is the only constant and growth is inevitable. I know that I should just enjoy each moment and be proud of the young lady in front of me. I know that ironically, if I hold on too tight or for too long, I will end up pushing her away. But I’m human and sometimes yearn to re-live moments, to re-visit the past if only for an instant, to stall the passing of time.
I miss her.
I miss her 2 year old self who loved chupa chups lollipops and loved it when I sang “Can’t take my eyes off you” to put her to sleep. I miss her 5 year old self who loved to make potions at restaurants and who loved Avril Lavigne so much she wanted to wear trucker hats in kindergarten. I miss her 9 year old self who started to love baking and was addicted to all things High School Musical.
I miss her presence. I take her for granted and how much she helps me in little ways like when I’m cooking and holding the baby at the same time, she notices and will always take the baby and play with him. She packs all the lunches and snacks when we have an outdoor excursion. She takes #4 to the washroom and applauds accordingly. She builds forts for the little ones and plays hide-and-seek upstairs so I can clean downstairs or vice versa. She writes down the grocery list as I dictate it to her in the car. She is a pure source of goodness in her house and cracks jokes at the perfect times.
As I lay in bed with the 3 little girls, we talked about how much we missed her:
#4: “I miss the way she sits beside me when no one else will.” (Then she glanced over at her other sisters with a look that could kill.)
#3: “I miss her helping me with my soccer shoes and my Converse. Mom, I think I’m going to cry because I miss her….No, I think I’m ok.”
#2: “I miss how she tells me what words mean when I read to her and when she shows me cool stuff in her room.”
#3: “Oh, yeah! I miss her reading to us at night! And I miss her sleeping with us.”
#4: “I miss how she used to help me brush my teeth when no one else will.” (Cue the scathing look at her sisters again.)
#2: “I miss how you (mama) and her joke around like that time she won a volleyball game at the beach and you jumped on top of her and kissed her and she was so embarrassed and she ran away from you and you chased her and climbed on her back! That was sooooo funny!”
#3: “Or that time she told you a knock-knock joke about farting!”
Me: “She never told me a knock-knock joke about farting.”
#3: “Oh yeah, that was me. But wasn’t that funny?”
They went on to discuss how they love it when she helps them make stuff, teaches them things like tying their shoes and reading books, and when she helps them with the dishwasher. They REALLY miss her helping with the dishwasher.
And the conversation ended like this:
#2: “I bet she has a lot of good stories about camp. I can’t wait to hear about it!!”
#3: “Can we call her tomorrow Mama?”
Me: “No, sweetie. You know we can’t call her. Let’s just send her all our good thoughts and wishes so that she knows how much we miss her.”
#3: “Ok. Now I’m going to cry…I can feel it in my nose.”
Cue lots of group hugs and kisses.
When we pick her up on Saturday, I will hug her and hold on tight enough for her to know how much I missed her and just loose enough to know it’s ok for her to start walking a little bit further ahead of me….I just hope she looks back once in awhile.