We returned from our vacation in Maine one person short.
Despite having numerous conversations with my husband all summer long wherein I pontificated on all the reasons why I thought Ittybit was still too young to be away from us for five days (six nights), when her grandmother suggested all the fun things she had planned for the cousins the following week, my reasons seemed ridiculous.
"Can I stay, mom? Can I?"
How could I say ‘No?’
The decision was made early in our week-long holiday that Ittybit would stay on with her aunt and grandmother. As the week went on the magnitude of her first extended separation eluded me.
But on the last night I could barely sleep.
The what ifs were shouting at me.
What if she gets hurt?
What if she’s afraid?
What if she decides that she wants her mommy … and I’m four hours away?
The answer was always the same: We’ll figure something out.
Isn’t that what it’s all about? Figuring?
The day we left, she was gangly in her grandmother’s arms with her newly sprouting limbs getting ready to take a grab at kindergarten. She waved amid tears as we pulled away.
"I’ll call you in a few minutes," she shouted after us.
We’d decided that she could call us as often as she wanted to hear our voices.
But the phone didn’t ring.
As soon as our car had rounded the corner, and her cousin had called her to help him build some imaginary contraption that was sure to feed the squirrels and relegate the red ants and mosquitoes to their rightful place in the belly of some beneficent bird, she’d forgotten her momentary homesickness.
It wasn’t until her usual bedtime, which coincided with our unlocking of the side door and unceremonious dumping of suitcases and gear onto the laundry room floor, that the phone call, complete with uncontrollable sobbing, came.
"I wanna come home, I wanna come home, I wanna come HOME. Can you come and get me now? How about tomorrow morning? Can you come and get me tomorrow morning? I miss you. I miss daddy. I miss my brother. I miss the dog."
Aw, I thought, she misses the dog! … the senile, old, incontinent dog. She must be overtired.
I was right. Her grandmother called back a short while later to report that it took only one book to transport the weepy child to the Land of Nod.
There was only a small part of my inner voice warning me that leaving her might result in an inopportune eight-hour round trip rescue operation, but mostly it reassured me: she’s my daughter.
I was only a little older than her when I stayed for weeks at a time with friends at their summer cabin. My father always felt bad when I cried … as he was picking me up to take me home.
Now that I am a parent, I know how he felt.
I want her to be confident without me, even though I want her to need me. I want her to have fun but not more than she’d have if I were there. I want her to miss me but not enough to warrant a rescue mission.
It’s a delicate balance, easily toppled by a sudden expulsion of held breath.
Reach Siobhan Connally at firstname.lastname@example.org