Wednesday, March 4, 2015
My little girl is frosting. There is nothing in this world to describe her perfection except frosting. Perfectly sweet, but not too sweet. A little mysterious, full of layers and depth. Faintly firm edges that melt when loved but all soft in the middle. My little girl is absolute perfection.
A few weeks ago she went to a friend’s birthday party. She was worried about me dropping her off at the party and leaving to run errands. Usually I stay at parties with the kids, but this was a friend’s house who we’ve known for a long time, in our neighborhood, and Ella has been to her friend’s house for playdates by herself. So I knew that it was just nerves about the party.
When we arrived, the door was open and already little girls were giggling and running off to play. Ella saw her friends and joined right in. I whispered to her that I would run to get the dog from the groomer, go get groceries, and then come back to get her. She said ok, and then skipped off to play. The nerves were soothed. She walked away from me happy and comfortable.
At the party, there was an amazing balloon-animal maker who taught the kids to make a balloon dog, and made each of them an animal of their choosing. Ella got a rainbow-colored octopus that had to be 4 feet wide. When we pulled into our driveway after the party, despite having just been with her friends for 3 hours, Ella begged to go across the street to another friend’s house. I agreed that would be ok.
I unbuckled Ella’s seatbelt and helped her get out of the car. Then I untangled her inflated loot from where it had landed during a turn on our drive home. In my arms, I held the beautiful, crazy balloon octopus, a brown paper bag with my daughter’s decorations all over it that held her candy from the piñata, and the doll she had borrowed from her friend. My arms were full of Ella’s treasures.
I told Ella I wasn’t sure our neighbors were home because one of their cars was gone, but that she could go ring their doorbell and see. As usual, I said I would watch her walk across the street.
I stood at the top of our driveway watching the perfection that is my daughter. It was one of those moments I wish I could freeze. I wish I had my camera. I wish I could remember it forever, just the way it was in every minute detail. It was just my little girl walking to her friend’s house, but it was a moment of Mama clarity and adoration.
My sweet girl had curls in her blond hair- that’s how we do our hair when we REALLY want to be fancy- we curl it. She had on a beautiful long blue dress that swished when she walked. She had her furry, soft white coat on, white tights, and pink sparkly Mary Janes. The muted rays of winter sunshine shone around Ella as she and her curls flounced down the driveway. She got to the bottom, turned around, tilted her head and said “Wait. What time do I have to come home?” Then she painstakingly looked both ways for cars and crossed the street. My beautiful girl’s aura was full of glitter and innocent happiness. Her day was full of friends, hearts, curls, and carefree contentment. I wanted to freeze that moment forever, her beauty and perfection.
I thought about how many moments I have spent watching my children walk away from me. Walking into something new, or something scary, something exciting or unknown. I’ve watched them walk into their first days of preschool. I’ve watched them walk to the school bus for the first time. I’ve watched them walk to a friend’s house alone for the first time. I’ve watched them walk down the sidewalk to the park with friends for the first time without me. I’ve watched them walk to the microphone at a spelling bee, and out the car door and into a school dance. I’ve watched them walk up to take their first Communion. Part of the unwritten contract you sign when you become a parent is that you will let your children walk away. But there's nothing that says you can't peek from around the curtain as they walk away. They don't have to know you're watching, even as they walk into newfound independence.
Some times it’s easier than others to do that. I volunteered in Ella’s Kindergarten class for Center Time one day. When I got there and started working with the kids, I realized I really wasn’t feeling well. I was working with Ella’s table, and she had been looking forward to me coming in so I didn’t want to disappoint her or the teacher by leaving early. And anyway, it’s always fun helping the kids.
When it was time for me to leave, Ella started getting a little anxious. She sat on my lap and put her head in the crook of my neck and said she didn’t want me to go. I held her close and rubbed her back, and told her she would come home soon. Her sweet friends gathered around and told her it was ok, they were there for her and would make her feel better. But Ella’s anxiety turned into tears, and she started crying quietly. I stood up to get my coat, hoping a teacher would be able to help me out with my sad little girl. I put my coat on with a lump in my throat as Ella cried next to me. I tried not to fall apart. I kept reassuring her and rubbing her back. When Ella’s teachers saw this wasn’t going to be an easily fixable situation, one of them came over to help me. She talked to Ella and tried to calm her down. I gave Ella one more hug and turned away, telling her it would be alright. Ella’s face crumpled into grief. She hesitated, turned toward her teacher, and then back to me in one desperate attempt to be with me. My heart completely broke into a zillion pieces. I knew I couldn’t fix this for my little girl. She had to stay at school. But I was broken. I gave Ella one more hug as I felt my tears in my throat. I gave her to her teacher and tried to exit the classroom as gracefully as I could with tears falling down my cheeks, without sobbing out loud.
It’s hard to get out of a school without making teary eye contact with anyone. It’s impossible, really. I was just overwhelmed. I was completely devastated at the sight of my daughter walking away from me, her face crumpled in a sadness that I couldn’t fix.
Granted, I wasn’t feeling well, and the week had been stressful because Alex was out of town, and I was exhausted and burnt out from parenting alone, so possibly my grief was an extension of my vulnerability. But in that moment, it was what it was. It made me think about how many times, and how many ways, our children walk away from us. And it’s the rule that you have to let them go. Even if it breaks you.
I got in the car turned it on, and like a jagged knife twisting in my raw heart, Ella's favorite song by Rihanna "Stand under my umbrella, Ella, Ella…" was on the radio. I let the tears roll down my cheeks and the sobs engulf my body as I drove to meet a friend for coffee. If it had been anyone else, I probably would have canceled. I hate crying in front of people. I rolled down all the windows in the van and let the freezing wind numb my red, swollen face, hoping the cold would disguise my sadness. I texted my friend, told her what had happened and that I was fine, just sad. And NOT under ANY circumstances should she ask me about it because I would start crying and I wouldn’t be able to stop. She agreed to my terms. And let me bring my sunglasses into the coffee shop in case I needed to wear them to hide my tears. That’s true friendship.
This is one of the things I love and loathe about parenthood. I loathe watching my children who are hurting, scared, or worried have to walk away from me, knowing I can’t fix whatever they’re walking into. And I love watching the perfection that is my children walk away happy, sweet, and full of life, into the next exciting adventure that comes their way.
As I held the giant rainbow octopus from the birthday party, and the Elsa doll, and the carefully decorated brown paper bag, I watched my child walk away from me- on to the next thing, over to a friend’s house. This time she wasn’t crumpled in grief. This time she was flouncing away in curls and a sparkly, frosting aura. I much prefer the flouncing.