“I’ll be back at Thanksgiving and I know it’s Dad’s holiday but I’ll come see you, too!” She spritzes herself with girl smells, maybe something fruity?, and checks her lip gloss in the visor mirror, then snaps it shut, shoves it back in place and turns her 100 watt smile at me. “Don’t worry!” she says, and grabs her iPod.
Traffic is light and the weather has been perfect for a quick road trip to Grandma’s. The premise is that my mom has a Bosch and a Kitchen Aid sitting in the basement and I get to borrow them for an indefinite amount of time. The reality is that I’m soaking up every last second of alone time I can before she leaves in August and becomes someone new again.
It’s one of those moments when the feeling in my chest becomes almost too big to hold and I’m bursting with emotion, a mix of happiness at who she is becoming and pride at her learning to love and accept her body as it is and worry that the world will take her emerging confidence and slap her down and love at everything she is and everything she was and everything she will be.
We talk about relationships and what the guys might be like at college. She tells me how she’s grown to love and appreciate her step-dad and that she can’t believe she was once so cold to him. She talks about her brothers and how she didn’t know she could love them so much and how she’s going to miss them. About how she’s been trying to spend time with everyone at home before she goes because when she comes back, everything will be different and it might never feel like home again. I know she’s right and that coming back home as a person with time experienced elsewhere with new friends and new places and new learning experiences that no one at home knows about changes you and you never feel like you quite fit in again until you make your own home. And it makes me sad and a few tears slip down my cheeks but I don’t stop smiling or singing along with her to Beyonce’s If I Were a Boy because really I’m so happy for her. And I cry.
“Mom!” she says. “Did I tell you what happened with T.? No? Oh my gosh, you have to hear this.” And she begins a tale of this boy and that girl and the beach and Los Angeles and New York and while she talks she uses her hands to text three friends back and forth and never pauses in the story, a few smiles on her lips when someone texts her something cute or flirty. And when she’s done with that story she seamlessly launches into a new one and although I don’t always understand everything that is happening or her reactions to some parts of what happened, I listen and listen and shake my head in agreement because it’s so fun to watch her animated gestures and listen to her dramatic voice. She’s on a stage and I’m her audience. But then she asks for my advice and suddenly, I find I do have something to say. And she accepts it, just like that. Mostly, I think, because it’s exactly what she already knew.
I watched her sing a few weeks ago at her graduation ceremony in front of the entire town.
Thousands of people. And she did it with confidence and sounded great. People whispered behind me that she sounded wonderful and I smiled a tiny smile, knowing she was my daughter. I imagine she could do that on a stage professionally someday. I wouldn’t be surprised. But I would probably be on pins and needles until she finished each performance, just like I was that day.
Suddenly, the mood changes in her and she searches her iPod for something upbeat and loud. She finds Avril’s Runaway and sings at the top of her lungs and her infectious energy fills the cabin and creates a glowing halo around the car that surely, everyone must be seeing. She’s practically hovering over her seat. She grabs the camera and begins to shoot random shots.
Then she decides to turn the camera in a circle and see what comes out, all the while singing and laughing.
Then she declares that shots taken of a rounding corner of the road are the prettiest.
Her mood elevates even more into a slap-happy stage where she makes silly jokes and funny faces at me until I’m laughing. And crying. But mostly laughing.
At Grandma’s she doesn’t go off to a corner and read a book or spend time sighing in obvious boredom as a teen is sometimes wont to do. Instead she sits by Grandma, who is showing me some new stitches, and asks if she could learn how to embroider, too. My mom whips out a dishcloth and sets her up with some thread and a needle, molding her amateur fingers into the most advantageous position. And my daughter sits at the table for a long time, learning how to keep the needle on top and how to make a pretty leaf and flower petal, only taking out her phone for texts a few times, smiling that small private smile. And I know she’ll remember this moment as one of the last before she grew into a full-fledged adult. She mentions to my mom that she wants to learn how to sew and had there been time, I’m sure she would have come home with a skirt made with her own hands and much coaching from Grandma.
I talk to my brother and his wife and for a moment, look up and find she’s gone. I look in the backyard and there she is, swinging on the small swings where many years ago she used to pose for me and ask me to take her picture, her blond streaked hair in ringlets being blown in the wind and her small mouth and tiny teeth and one leg posed this way and one arm posed that way. “Take one this way.” she’d say with a little lisp. She’s going higher and higher and looks up to the sky and her eyes tell the story of someone trying to capture a moment long ago and put it in a bottle for later, when she needs a pick-me-up. And I remember her at sixteen and fourteen and wonder what twenty will look like.
Back in the car on the way home and she’s somewhat serious. She’s contemplating how a good relationship works and where and what she wants to be in the future. She asks me if I know what she’s talking about and yes, I do. She wants me to share back with her some things that are hard for me. So, I do. And I tell her things I wouldn’t normally mention but it feels right right now, at this moment. And she comforts me and gives me advice and I’m amazed by her depth and wisdom at such a young age. And I realize most of it is the same advice I gave her yesterday and I’m glad she’s said it because now I know she knows it. And that’s a comfort.
Then out comes the sunshine on her face and she’s ready for some Kelly Clarkson. We sing together at the top of our lungs, complete with hand gestures and mannerisms in a choreography we created five or six years ago, often looking at each other and trying not to laugh when I sing a bad note. And I know that this is the moment I’ll tuck away in my heart in a tiny pocket that is reserved for when I miss her. This memory will get me through some days when I long to hold her and whiff her hair and smell that girl smell, fruity, and watch her telling me about this guy or that girl and what happened next. And I’ll take it out and remember her on that day and cry a little. And be happy.