Marcia pulls up my jacket on my bad shoulder for me as I dial the cell phone. “Emma,” I say. “We can’t find the car in this garage. Do you remember where we left it?” Now this is a remarkable situation. All those years that I conveyed my children from one spot to the next, all that driving and how did it come to be that I need advice from my youngest on how to get out of the parking garage? When she began driving, she was the one who usually got lost (and I was so thankful for cell phones).
Now I follow my daughter’s advice and am able to get out of the garage.
For a lifetime I led and she followed. That is what mothers do. I chose her clothes, picked out sheets and matching coverlet for her bed. I chose camps and activities for her: Girl Scouts, horse-riding, singing lessons, CYT. I homeschooled her and taught her etiquette (start your letters with something nice you like about the gift – do not start with ‘thank you for’). I cuddled her every morning for too many years (we had to stretch out on a recliner as she grew taller and taller).
“Someday you’ll grow up,” I used to whisper to her, “and stop hanging out with Mommy.”
“Never!” she’d tell me so adamantly that my heart clenched.
Now I watch as she races out the door. “Sorry, Mom, no time to talk. I’m late.”
She is growing up and ever faster and faster. The gulf between us grows. This is how it should be. How it must be. I know that. Yet watching her flip her hair out of her jacket and grab her keys and purse make me want to time-travel back to the days when Emma would catch my eye and smile at me, blatantly in love. I was so wise then. So funny. My stories were interesting enough to listen to over and over.
These days I stand at the bottom of the stairs and yell up to her room, “Want to watch Survivor with me?”
“I’m on the phone,” she answers.
“Can you spend 15 minutes talking to your old mom?” I ask when she comes home from work.
“Can’t,” she tells me. “Bible Study tonight.”
As some girls are, Emma is sweet and thoughtful. Sometimes she plops down on the sofa next to me and orders me to put down my book. I do. And we spend glorious moments in girl-talk, until a text-message happens on her phone and she is gone again, into her new world, where mommy does not rule as queen.
Emma and I have been best buds since forever. She always trusted me and clung to her family, even through those scary times in Africa. She held my hand numerous times when I had to have another surgery or even have blood drawn. She was brave, smart and goofy, just like we liked her to be. Time passed and Emma grew into a beautiful young woman—still brave, still smart, but now, spunky. And we love her even more.
I watched in admiration as my adult daughter (working at my husband’s dental office) led an anxious patient into the operatory, soothing her fears and comforting her. When did she stop being a child and become this responsible, caring adult? I continue to watch as she dutifully cleans up another operatory, setting out the instruments my husband will need for the next patient. As I work, I hear laughter between them and including the patient. In wonderment, I realized that she has become all that I intended for her.
“You’re a good dental assistant, everyone says so,” I tell her. I want to add: You’re a good daughter. A good person. But I know better than to gush. Worse, I might cry if I actually say what I am thinking.
The next day I pick her and her fiancé up at the airport. We take him to his home and then she and I plan to eat lunch together. “Mom, I am so glad to be home. I missed you so much,” she begins. Then she concludes, “You’re the best mommy in the world!” And my heart soars again – maybe life won’t be so bad as an empty-nester after all.