She’ll always be my baby no matter how old she gets…
“Mama, when I’m in fifth grade I get to go to Washington, D.C. with all the fifth graders… And NO parents.”
Yep. Those last three words made it hard to keep my enthusiastic smile from changing to an all out break down of tears and panic. But, I kept cool and nodded with glee. After all, it wasn’t for another year. Maybe by then she won’t want to go.
Cut to the following year…
“Mama, the best part of finally being in fifth grade — I get to do the Washington school trip. You know, the one where no parents or cell phones are allowed and you’ll have to wave goodbye to your baby at the airport as she boards a plane for thousands of miles away for 8 days…”
Okay, she didn’t say the last part but she might as well have because that’s all I heard in my head.
Yes, it was finally here. The big school trip. I had no excuses not to let her go. I had a job that could afford the price of the adventure, I had a child who did so well in school that she earned all her points to go and, most of all, I had a gut that told me time and time again that being a good mom means letting go.
Since September the Washington trip has been alive and kicking in our house. From school assembly’s about it, letters home with updates, kids picking their roommates, what to pack, how to pack, and how the parents can follow the journey on twitter.
Yep. Because the children are not allowed cell phones our only way of seeing their faces and what they’re doing is by following the incredibly-courageous-chaperone’s-who-have-taken-on-the-responsibility-of-caring-for-our-children-and-dealing-with-a-bunch-of-neurotic-parents on twitter.
It still seemed far away. Until it wasn’t. Until it was right now. Happening.
My girl and I packed her suitcase with outfits put together for every day of the week in one gallon Ziploc bags with labels. Clothes for warm weather, cold weather, in-between weather. We went over how to deal with money, how to carry it, how to spend it at gift shops, how to remember to wait for change!, how not to lose it. We discussed her hair needed to be braided at night or she would end up with a head of knots and tangles that would require shaving her scalp when she returned. We went over the rules, look both ways before crossing the street, don’t talk to strangers, don’t run, don’t wander, don’t, don’t, DON’T!
It was as if I was doing a crash course in raising a child in one evening — reminding her of all the lessons I’ve taught her along her 11 years of life and hoping that for 8 days she could remember them.
And through it all I made sure she knew how happy I was for her. How proud I was that she was doing this trip. How incredible this adventure would be.
So, at 4 in the morning on a Tuesday we got up and left for the airport to meet all the other travelers.
The scene at LAX of parents with iphone’s taking pictures of their children getting their boarding passes, children checking their luggage, children going through security, children leaving up the escalator towards the gate… well, we were like the worst, most desperate paparazzi group ever and our children might as well have been Elvis Presley literally back from the dead and we were determined to get the money shot.
But just before I kissed my girl good-bye she said,
“Mama, I left you something at home on your ipad.”
On the drive home I thought about my girl. How being her mother is my greatest joy, proudest achievement, biggest blessing.
We carry them in our bodies for nine months and the minute we give birth we realize, oh my god, this is how it’s going to be… this delicate balance of loving and letting go. Loving and letting go. Loving and letting go.
I got home and picked up my ipad. I clicked it on and there was my girls little face popping up. She had left me a video.
“Mama, if you’re watching this I’m already on my way to Washington but I just want you to know how much I love you and if you find yourself missing me just watch this video.”
I’ve watched it every day. Sometimes twice.
I’ve also followed her every move on Twitter — those teachers really have been incredible about taking pictures and filling us in on what they’re doing. And in the pictures I’ve seen of my girl… she looks happy, alive, curious, interested, joyful.
She’s also worn the same sweatshirt every single day and her hair is in complete tangles.
Something about that tickles me. Maybe because it makes me know she still needs her mama just a tiny bit.
(this column was originally posted May 6, 2013)