Sunday, 15 March 2009

Told Her A Thousand Times

There is a pile of clothes on the bathroom floor, left there by our eldest daughter. It's all tangled together, the undershirt inside out, the socks still balled up, abandoned there, willy-nilly, for everyone else in the house to step over. There it is, reminding me of my daughter's cheerfully inconsiderate sloppiness. She knows better: I've told her to pick up her clothes at least a thousand times.

Up until yesterday, the pile of clothes would have made me seethe. Just the sight of it would have had me drawing in a deep breath and sighing it out slowly, on a count of ten. This morning, though, it has an entirely different effect on me as I stare down at it: our beloved Eldest Daughter has struck off on her own. She is now over two thousand miles away from us, staying with friends, excited about her new life, waiting to start university in a mere five months.

We put her on a plane to Istanbul yesterday morning. We waited in line, all of us tense and tearful. To distract myself, I studied the people ahead of us in line: a family of six men, one woman, and a baby. All of the men were bearded and wore scull caps. The eldest man had on a long greatcoat of some thick material that resembled velvet; it was bottle-green with a fur collar and looked about a hundred years old. With his deeply lined face and flowing white beard, he exuded a patriarch's confidence and bearing. He and the younger men were all clutching prayer beads, similar to the ones I'm always snatching away from my students (who tend to play with them, to the detriment of their English acquisition). The woman, young and svelte, was dressed in blue jeans and a jacket; her baby had brown curly hair and reminded me of our Eldest, as a toddler. As a group these people were so compelling that for a moment I almost forgot what we were there for.

"You're sure Lucy's mom is picking you up in Glasgow, right?"

For once, Eldest Daughter doesn't roll her eyes. She knows what the subtext is here: I love you. "Yes. I checked," she says quietly, with remarkable forbearance.

"And you've got all your documents? You don't need us to send anything?"

There's a different subtext here, one she knows well: Are you sure you're really together enough for this? Don't you still need us around, holding your hand, making sure you've got everything you need? My mother used to ask me questions like this too, and it drove me as wild as my questions drive my daughter.

"If I need anything, I'll write to you." Buzz off -- I can look after myself.

In front of us, the bearded men are joined by a tall Asian man with glossy jet-black hair. He greets the patriarch Turkish-style, right hand smacked over the left side of his chest, and they begin a spirited conversation -- in Russian.

"My suitcase is way over the limit," Eldest moans. "What if they charge me?" I may be independent, but I still have some anxieties.

"I've got enough to pay for it," I tell her. "But you'll have to pay me back." I told you not to pack all that crap; you're independent now, so you pay for yourself.

"You'll be in trouble on the London to Glasgow flight," warns my husband. "They're notorious for charging you for extra luggage."I'm not sure you're up to this. There's so much you still don't know.

Eldest takes a deep, long-suffering breath. "If I have to pay for it, I'll pay for it." I'm my own woman now; I'll figure it out.

The young woman ahead of us shifts her baby from one hip to the other. One of the men chucks the toddler under her chin and croons to her, and the young woman smiles, though her face is tired. You've got this all ahead of you, I feel like telling her as the family's luggage is checked in.

Our Eldest sets off the alarm as she walks through the metal detector. She removes the contents of her pockets: Turkish lira, Euros, hair clips. The patriarch, behind us now, sets off the alarm too: he ends up having to take off his hat.

"How cool is it that you're on a flight with guys like this?" I whisper to my daughter as the Turkish-Asian-Russian family reunites and begins a long ritual of chest slapping and hugging. We watch them saying goodbye, prayer beads clutched in their hands as they kiss each others' cheeks. "What nationality do you think they are?" Let's try and pretend we're not really saying goodbye.

"Do we all have our passports?" asks my husband anxiously. "Can we go through passport control to see her off do you think?" Let's put this off as long as we possibly can.

All of us have our passports, but we can't go through. We all take turns hugging her, our daughter, sister, friend.

"Fighting!" cries Acquired Daughter, trying to joke away her tears. She brandishes her fists, attempting to mimic the actors in the Korean dramas all three of our girls follow so passionately. "I'll miss you!" echoes Youngest Daughter, hugging her. I love you, I love you.

"Write to us," says my husband, pressing his lips together to keep from crying as he hugs her goodbye. "Take good care of yourself," I add. We love you.

"We love you!" we all tell her.

But she already knows that: we've told her at least a thousand times.


Christy said...

Oh oh oh. Have you stopped crying yet? I hope that she has a wonderful summer - and that she has enough sense to call her mother.

Jacqui said...

Beautiful. This is the best kid leaving for college summation I've read.

Must remember to my hug six year-old tonight lots...

Charlie said...

"Parting is such sweet sorrow."

Don't believe it.

t said...

It'll be awesome for her. Leaving is the best thing -- because once you're gone, you appreciate what and who you've left behind you. And you could do with some appreciation, right?

Mary Witzl said...

Christy -- She'd better call me! If she wants to eat any more of my mabo dofu and chocolate chip cookies, that is.

Jacqui -- Yes, go and do that right now: you only have a few years left on your hug-meter when your kid is six! I've got a 14-year-old who is bearing up pretty well, absorbing totally superfluous hugs for a week or so.

Charlie -- Parting sucks all over the place. It's high overrated on all counts. Not everything Shakespeare wrote was a pearl of wisdom, eh?

T -- It will be awesome for her: I agree. And I could do with truckloads of appreciation, but right now I'd settle for the company of a certain grumpy, slovenly 17-year-old. Sigh.

Julia said...

Oh! *hugs*

Parting sucks... no matter how much the teen years prepare us to send them out into the world - it still sucks.

But, I know inside you are so proud of having such a wonderful daughter!

Tabitha said...

Oh wow, you've got to me such a mixture inside. Proud of your daughter, yet heartbroken because she's leaving. There's no way I'm ready for that yet...fortunately I've got many, many years until then. :)

Robin said...

That was so beautiful! I think you should submit it to some sort of short story/flash something or other contest. The real life and subtext were so lovely and true. She's going to do great! You've given her such awesome skills, and she's had such wonderful experiences. Congratulations! I'm toasting you in my heart.

Jessie said...

Oh my, that is just too much to think about - I've always said that as a mom I am trying to work myself out of a job - but it's really hard to not hold on to this position too tightly...

adrienne said...

Aw, Mary...I know I will be a mess when my turn comes - I get misty every time my 14 year old talks about college. And yet I'm proud she has such great goals...

That was very touching; I also thought the subtext rang so true.
I hope your daughter finds her way home often enough...probably bringing new piles of dirty laundry :)

debra said...

It's such a mixture, isn't it, Mary. Roots and wings kind of all jumbled together with a side of emotions.

Our #1 daughter is home from New York City for Spring break. She returns next Sat. And #2 will be going to visit her in a couple of weeks.
We will be home, in this old house, all by ourselves.


Kim Ayres said...

Make sure she's got my number. I know you have plenty of other friends also looking out for her, but another one never goes amiss :)

Carolie said...

Maaaaan...I have to be careful about when I visit your blog.


I'm off to call my Mommy.

(Wonderful writing, as always, my friend!)

Charles Gramlich said...

I wish I understood subtext as well as you do. I'm often amazed at this talen, which seems much more common in women than men. Although I have seen people misread subtext.

Mary Witzl said...

Julia -- Thank you for the hugs -- I need them right now! I am mostly proud of my daughter, but I can't say I'm proud of her housekeeping habits. What amazes me is the fact that I actually miss even her messiness.

Tabitha -- When our kids were still tiny, I remember meeting a woman with grown-up kids who told us rather wistfully that we should savor our time with our babies, that they were our best days. We were exhausted -- worn out from diapers and midnight feeds and tantrums -- but now I see that she was right. Now I find myself wanting to tell other parents to savor their time with their young children, and yet it seems like yesterday that I was on the receiving end...

Robin -- Thank you: I can use those congratulations. I keep telling myself that we've achieved a fine thing and my husband tries to do the same, but it just feels so odd not having all of the noise and confusion around. And all the dirty laundry too: only one sad little pile left, and no one has the heart to touch it...

Jessie -- Being a mother is the weirdest job in the world, isn't it? Unpaid, often under-appreciated, and not likely to get you any of the kudos so many lesser positions garner. And then boom, you're out of a job without a by-your-leave. (Sniff) Still, there are benefits: you get to join a huge club of like-minded people and whine to them about it all!

Adrienne -- We've got a 14-year-old too, and I feel a little panicky thinking about her leaving.

As for the laundry, even my chore-shirking girl might hesitate at the idea of hauling her dirty laundry 2,000 miles, but you never know: she might just do it; she really does take laziness to an amazing level.

Debra -- There is something so sad about that, and yet in a few years time, that will be my husband and me. My best friend and her husband went through this about five years ago; she said that the silence and sudden lack of chaos were eerie. I hope you don't find the transition too traumatic! I'll be thinking of you.

Kim -- Thank you! She will appreciate that, I know. And you may well run into her in your neck of the woods. Just follow a trail of dirty laundry...

Carolie -- I'm glad you're going to call your mother! Every mother goes through this; some experience far more painful separations. It humbles me just thinking about it. When my mother went through this with me, I remember being mildly amused by her tears. Now I could cry, just remembering what a heartless little so-and-so I was.

Charles -- I think you're right that women generally do better on sub-texts than men, though I have misread my share of sub-contexts in the past. Nevertheless I'm absolutely certain I got this one right.

Bish Denham said...

Whew...leaving the nest. Breathe in, breathe out. I bet she'll come back to visit, no matter where you are, and deposit clothes on the floor, for which you will be exstatic with joy.

Carole said...

Perspective is everything isn't it?

You have certainly given your girls the tools to be independent. Good parenting I say.

Nandini said...

Mary, Letting go is so hard. I'm sure she's picking up her stuff by herself now (and thinking of you). Heck, it's been decades since I left the nest and I still miss my Mum.

It's sad that she's so far away. At least you have the other two for a bit longer, and technology makes it so much easier to stay in touch.

Makes me want to hug mine (extra long) when they get home from school today.

Ello said...

How are you holding up Mary?

Mary Witzl said...

Bish -- Actually, now that she's gone, the house is really getting tidier! By the time she comes back, we'll probably be used to our new permanently tidy state, but I know we'll enjoy her company all the same.

Carole -- We hope we've done a good job, but we keep thinking of all the things we never managed to teach our daughter -- the things we probably ought to have told her but didn't. But there's no end to the things they have to learn. You've done all of this before me, too, haven't you -- three times over...It's mind-boggling.

Nandini -- You are so right about technology: we can 'talk' to each other on our computers, and that is great. Especially because the first phone call we made to her ended up costing us £25...

And yes: go and hug your kids as soon as they get home from school!

Ello -- Thank you, we're bearing up pretty well. We still miss her like hell, but there's plenty of hot water now. And the kitchen is so clean it's just eerie as all get out.