It happened again.
I watched my daughter get out of the car, sling her backpack over her shoulder and run after some friends. I watched as she crossed the busy street to the inner sanctum of junior high. She was laughing, face to the sky, hair flying in the wind, so beautiful that time seemed to stand still just for her.
I sat in my car watching, waiting for her to look back in my direction, if even for a second.
She did. She always does. A smile and a secret wave saying, "Bye, I love you."
This time, I couldn't hold it back like the others. I couldn't swallow it down and hold my breath until it went away. This time I didn't have a convenient obligation to distract me from the lump that swelled in my throat. This time, the grief overtook me, as if being swallowed whole by something black and filled with death. Something bittersweet and completely out of my control.
I didn't want to feel this way. I wanted to feel happy for this stunning girl that has earned every right to smile at life and wave her hidden little goodbye to me. Everything in the world is out in front of her. Life, love, loss, joy and heartbreak.
For days I've tried to talk myself through this morning ritual (her being happy and me wanting to cry.) I've told myself that this is just part of the growing up process. I've told myself that this is a good thing. I've told myself that there is nothing to be sad about. (For the record, none of these thoughts worked.)
Grief can't be dusted off or filed away. Grief has long legs and deep roots. It moves slowly, it will not be ignored, and it definitely isn't meant to be convenient.
Grief arrives to help us cross to the other side. It is a passage through which our soul must navigate. It helps us mark the end of one era and the beginning of the next. It is a companion to help us release what we have lost so that we may be fully open to what life wants to offer next.
It shows up when we have no choice but to let go.
That's exactly what I've been trying not to do. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm keeping alive the little girl who comes home and plays with her dolls. I'm holding onto the little girl who held my hand across to cross the street. The girl who hugged me and kissed me goodbye in front of her friends. The little girl who wanted me to do her hair, hold her on my lap, and sing her to sleep. The girl who called me Mommy. I've been trying to freeze her in my memory so that I don't have to let go of her.
So that she stops growing up.
Just five seconds ago, she was a little girl with pigtails learning to ride her bike without training wheels. She was wobbly but committed and I ran with her as far as I could.
Eventually, she out-paced me and I had to let go. And I have to now.
Acknowledging that this is an end of an era makes room for the possibility that a new era is beginning. It allows me to step over the threshold into a new relationship that we will share. It allows me to choose if I want to haunt my past or if I want to let go and live what life is offering now.
This sadness, the bittersweetness of motherhood, it is beautiful and good and it isn't supposed to be only laughter and joy. If we don't grieve a little when the child moves out of the crib, or off of the training wheels, or out of their car seat, their childhoods simply bleach out to nothing. The memories will erase themselves from our minds as if these moments didn't really matter.
The bottles. The diapers. The strollers. The backpacks. The lunch boxes. The size 6x's. The stuffed animals.
They did matter.
And isn't this is what parenting always ends up being? A series of moments where we finally feel like we understand our role. That brief moment where we finally know our kids, only to find to our surprise they've already moved on to being complete strangers.
And once again, we get to meet them and get to know them over and over.