I was holding her close to my chest, swathed in a lavender colored knit hat, teeny tiny mittens, and smelling like newborn. She was hours old and perfect. My husband had left the hospital to get some rest and my mother had fallen asleep in the chair beside the hospital bed. Here we were, the trifecta of generational divine. Me, my mother and my newborn baby girl.
I think about that moment a lot these days. I think about the silence in the room, watching my mother and my newborn sleep, and me content with the silence, revering in the moment of how we come to be as mothers, as daughters and as women. It’s that taunt and strong fiber of knowing that has kept me sane in the darkest and weakest moments.
My mother almost did not make the birth of my daughter. She was on her way to meet her friends, they called themselves the feisty four, on their yearly trip to Eleuthera. Eleuthera is an island that was dear to my mothers heart. Eleuthera was a place and a possible of people that repaired pieces of her soul throughout the years. The feisty four had been taking the Eleuthera trip for decades. It was a ritual of sorts.
My daughter was taking her time in getting here. She was ten days late and still not ready. To this day, she takes her time and does not do things until she is ready.
Go to Eleuthera, I said to my mother. Go.
But then, my daughter decided she was ready, sort of, and within 24 hours, my mother had changed travel plans, and booked a flight to Rhode Island. My husband and I had already picked out a name for a girl, though had not been able to come up with a name for a boy. My mother hopped on a flight and at some point between the 18 or 20th hour of labor, my husband dashed off to pick up my mother at the airport. There she was waiting with her book, a list of boy name combinations, just in case, and a cup of coffee.They came straight to the hospital where she waited for her first born to give birth. She would not have had it any other way. It would take hours.
We don’t need to worry about a name for a boy, he said. She is perfect. She is perfect. I just held her and she is perfect.
This is what my husband said as he poked his head into the waiting room where my mother sat reading her book.
Though I can’t confirm, because I was otherwise detained, I am told they both cried and held each other as I was in the mix of post birthing business. True to form, my daughter waited a little too long with her decision to arrive and the decision was made for her. 22 hours of labor and an emergency c-section. My mother said I had the total experience. My mother stayed for three days and then made her way to Eleuthera to join her feisty three.
That was a blink of an eye ago. My mother and my husband are no longer living. My mother passed away from multi-infarct dementia nine years ago, and my husband took his life nearly six years ago. Milestones have come and gone and my daughter and I have navigated them together. Some have been easier than others. One of the biggest milestones is days away as my daughter prepares for moving onto her college campus.
Time and decisions play tricks with our day to day, year to year and take us on pathways we did not intend. We learn to make other decisions and we learn to take what is in the here and now. In life, my mother was always there. For all of her children. She was in the front row of every production, at every concert, soccer and football game, she trekked to parts unknown to show support for whatever her children were invested in, given the season or passing phase. She sat in many waiting rooms, she attended weddings, parties, dinners and events and she let us go our own way.
I did not think about her heartache when I packed up and drove off to college and watched as she waved goodbye as I pulled out of the drive way. It’s what mothers do. I did not think about her heartache as she listened to my dreams that would take me away and keep me away. I did not think about her superhuman strength when she let me make the choices she knew I needed to make to live my life. She watched me leave many times. And each time, she gave me what I needed and let me go. Hurricanes and a bitter divorce would not stop her from making a home where we could return. There was always a way. She knew how to gas up the car and get to where she needed to go, until that horrible day, she called me from a grocery store parking lot, only miles from where she lived and could not remember how to get home. We stayed on the phone, direction by direction, until she pulled into her driveway. Until that day, there was not much that could stop her from seeing her children, wherever we were. She took joy in seeing where we landed, and pushed down the pain when the landings were hard. She let us go and she visited often.
Here I am, days away from packing up my daughter to move her into college, in the middle of a pandemic. There is uncertainty and chaos. I imagine there was a little of both when I was packing up to go too. Though unlike my daughter, I had not dealt with a life changing pandemic and the emotional changes of complicated loss and suicide.I did not have to think of why my father abandoned my life to take his. I did not think of my father and wonder why he chose to make the decisions he made. I had my own stuff to work out with my father, and while it has taken me a long time to do so, I have been able to do it. She will to. I hope it doesn’t take her as long. The past 18 years have been a mix of love, grace, goodness and devastating sadness, each year has given my daughter the lessons and pathways she needs to go further in her life. It has not been easy. She is feeling all the things she should feel, and then some. The living room looks a little like Target and dorm life threw up all over the place. There are updates and restrictions and testing. There are books to order, schedules to check and nerves that need soothing. We are crying and laughing, and easing into the day she moves into her dorm.
We will pack up the car together. We will load in and load out. We have two hours to set up her dorm room and then I will leave. I will drive out of the parking lot and leave her in the midst of something new, in the midst of a pandemic and in the midst of creative chaos. She will begin to write the chapters in her own book of life and she will figure out ways to tell her story.
In retrospect, my mother did the same for me.
She gave me everything I needed along the way. She let me go. She gave me wings to fly and reminded me to keep my feet on the ground. She provided a place to come home to when I needed to, and she reminded me to live in the moments-to take an extra walk on the beach, to always have a good book, to do what good you can, to be mindful of education and learning, to do the right thing, to slow down, to travel, to love. Even when the doggedness of perfection stopped me from doing so.
It will be hard to drive away and leave my daughter. It would be harder not to. So, I will. And I will cry.
Mother am I ready?
Yes. You are.
Mother may I?
Yes, you may.
I will be right here.