There’s only four months left until graduation. Seven months left until she leaves.
I said I’m excited. It was true then; it’s still true, now. But it’s so soon. It’s a door on the horizon, and we’re almost there.
What does a “normal” kid go through in 18 years? That’s an entire childhood, even on an uncomplicated trajectory. What do “normal” mothers and daughters go through, together, in that time? I don’t have a good basis for comparison. I only have us.
I have good years and hard years and murky years and years I wasn’t sure we’d both live through, and then just-like-that I have now, which makes the rest of it feel like not just a different chapter, but perhaps a different book altogether. This story, this one happening here and now, no longer feels high-stakes or terrifying. It is, I suspect, a common tale of mother and daughter on the brink of change. It is unremarkable. It is normal. It is ours.
It is punctuated by pulling together and pushing away, and it is always a surprise when the system heats up from friction, even though that is, after all, how the system works.
Pull: “Mom. Mama. MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIR! Do you wanna—” watch Neflix with me, go shopping with me, look at this thing I made, color with me, help me with this problem, cuddle? We laugh and laugh, most of the time.
Push: “Can I—” have friends over, go out with friends, stay out late, go by myself, handle this on my own, make this big decision, just be left alone? I say yes, almost always. As much as I can. Our time together is dwindling and I know I need to bless those new wings of hers, over and over. I really am thrilled, most of the time. Go! Have a life! You’ve earned this time; enjoy it.
It works, until those moments when it doesn’t. “Sorry, cancel your plans. You said you’d do your chores and you didn’t.”
“But I have time to do them before I go!”
“That’s not how this works. I’m tired of chasing you to get it done.”
From there, things devolve.
Push: It’s disrespectful to tell me you’ll do it and then not. It’s disrespectful to leave messes around when you live with other people. I don’t want your roommates next year to hate you; you have to learn to clean up after yourself.
Push: But I was going to! And I didn’t hear you! And you’re being ridiculous. Also thanks for just making me feel crappy, mother of the year. It’s not going to get anything done but at least I feel bad now.
Push: I’m not trying to make you feel bad, I’m trying to make you considerate. But thanks for saying that makes me terrible.
Push: I just meant… ugh. Never MIND.
We face off, me still holding a tiny shred of power, already unsure of whether this is too much, or not enough, or what. Our tempers flare in tandem. Apple and tree, no doubt. Time—far less time than we used to need—cools us down.
Pull: It’s fine, I’m coming straight home, I’ll take care of it.
Pull: I’m sorry about your plans. You can throw me under the bus. Tell your friends your mother is being unreasonable and is also a jerk.
Pull: Do you need help with that?
Pull: Why don’t you see if you can reschedule for tomorrow? They can come here, if you want.
As quickly as the heat rose, it’s gone again.
Chores get done. And she disappears, for hours, busy with her friends and other parts of her world which don’t include me. I resist the urge to knock on her door. I do my own thing, while she does hers, and try not to overreact when I get a hug out of nowhere. Play it cool, and all that.
She is lovely and perfect and maddening and unfinished and I am going to miss her so, so much. I already miss her, I realize. When I say “You’re grounded because you didn’t do your chores,” I wonder if she knows it’s because I can’t say “You’re not ready, not yet, don’t leave me until I’m positive you’ll be okay without me. Until I’m positive I’ll be okay without you.”
She’ll be 18 in three months. She’ll graduate in four months. She’ll be gone in seven months. My oldest. My only daughter. The one who walked through fire and came out even stronger.
Push. Pull. Let go.