Thursday, July 25, 2013

Four Weeks


I've been spending a lot of time this past week staring at our refrigerator door. It's not because I'm silently wishing it would open and a container of leftover pasta or even a large piece of cheddar would fling itself into my open arms. It's because the door itself is barely visible.  There are pictures, magnets, lists, invitations, and receipts from 2007 stuck between each other on what has become a poster board of items that may or may not still have relevance.

There are letter magnets that little hands moved around the once shiny white door and formed simple words with many years ago. Tucked away for quite some time, they resurfaced one day a couple of years ago when I found a bag of strays in a drawer. Once in a while I'll find someone has formed a small word or silly combination, so they remain a part of the montage.

There is a photo of cousins huddled together on the jetty, and another of a cat sprawled on our former deck - not even our cat but a neighbor's that we had grown to love and had lost its life too soon to a busy road.

You may notice birth announcements for children of friends and family that are now two or three years old and are no longer swaddled in a blanket with the scent of powder, but toddling around and talking - a couple living nearby where we can see them rapidly growing and changing as babies do... a couple we barely know and who, sadly, would never recognize us.

It is a mish mosh of upcoming as well as past dentist and vet appointments, incomplete lists and phone numbers of contractors from as long as 15 years ago. It is disorganized and untidy, only occasionally getting the once-over and even during those times, "what if..." so we hold on to too much.

These days there is one thing that I sense gloating at me as I walk by in the morning with the all-consuming knowledge that this one item will soon be more important than anything else on this refrigerator, and possibly in this house. It is a school calendar from Susquehanna University. A calendar that has taken the place of high school announcements for chorus practice, e-mail addresses of teachers, and finally, the commencement practice schedule. It's not even to be "officially" used until August 1 when it starts, counting down the days until my baby girl enters a new world. I was not ready the day I chose to post the calendar where we can see it every day, and I'm still not ready to face the music of these final four weeks.

Four weeks. That's what it comes down to. Not even a month. Four weeks before we deliver a small college-dorm-size refrigerator, television, assorted containers of clothing and supplies... and a child into the waiting arms of college life. Four weeks before we drive away, just her dad and I, after moving a small U-Haul's worth of things in, trying not to hold my breath through convocation, and finally, facing a "farewell reception." After hugs and tears and silly jokes and reminders about washing her sheets and not eating too much junk food and please, please don't ignore my texts or calls every time, and a few more unabashed tears.

Right now I take a deep breath and recall a blanketed infant, barely two hours old, being carried across the hospital room by her big sister who decided on her own that sitting in a chair with a squirmy baby was not as interesting as delivering her to me, as I held my breath in shock and fear, willing myself not to jump up or say anything that might jolt a six-year-old on a mission.

Given the chance again, I would take a thousand pictures of the two of you together those first moments.

Right now something inside me resurrects memories of the three-year-old who sat in the backseat of the car and pleaded with me to ask her questions... name three things that are green... name three things that are round...  until my head swam and I ran out of three things of any combination to ask.

Given the chance again, I would ask you for three things all day just to hear the amazingly creative answers you never failed to come up with.

Right now I am seized with fear by the reality of not feeling her hug me as soon as she sees me and ask, "How was your day?" As if the trivial non-events that make up my life would ever matter to her.... but she asks as if it does, and she listens with sincere interest, which will make it that much harder to lose.

Given the chance again, I would lead a more interesting life so your eyes would light up with surprise and excitement at my recitation of each fascinating event.

Well, maybe not. Maybe I would have handled it all the same way because that's what parents do. We wing it. We make mistakes, we ask you to understand without always explaining, and we form apologies in our heads that may never be said. We waste precious time and we wish for more of it. Sometimes - but not always - we want you to grow up... but not out of touch... not out of reach.

On the day we dropped her sister off at college more than six years ago, she held one of my hands and her dad held the other as I stumbled between them off the campus grounds, ineffectually fighting back tears that blurred the path to our car. I tried to tell her yesterday that it will only be her dad holding my hand this time, but my voice caught during the conversation. There's a lot of that going around these days.

Four weeks.

At that time the spot on the side of the fridge where the calendar is hanging will need something new. Seriously, I could just move things around from the front and fill in the space, and nobody would ever know, there is that much stuff on our fridge. It might be time to remove the magnet letters for good, since there won't be anybody here to make up any funny little combinations.

It occurred to me in the early morning hours as I lay in bed thinking too hard about this anniversary of sorts, that there is no "again." I was given the chance once to make the decision - right or wrong - for her. This is now her chance - to stand on her own, form her own opinions, express her passions, welcome new experiences, and still ask questions.

Always ask questions, my girl.

Her sister, protective and very willing to play the part of older, wiser sibling, will be watching out for her from Philadelphia (it's a chance for the first born - our trial and error child who beat the odds of surviving our clueless parenting - to let her maturity shine through). Her cousin in New Jersey has already said she is available for emergencies since it's only a few hours away (less if she is driving). Two wonderful grandfathers watch over both girls from another world, I truly believe this. I am terrified to let go and yet hold on to a little bit of peace knowing there is a blanket of love surrounding her.

Four weeks will be four days too soon. I wish I had taken more time off in the summers to spend with her, and her sister before her. I wish I had let her take horseback riding lessons when she asked. I wish she hadn't had to grow up so soon during that dark period when her sister was away at college and her dad worked incessantly, trying to make up for a lost income as I fought the cancer demons off. I wish I could believe that she never felt like I wasn't paying attention, and I wish... that I had paid more attention sometimes.

I hope she will still look forward to coming home between semesters, that she won’t be asking too soon to live anywhere but here during here breaks, or work anywhere but here for the summer. I hope she will still want to watch movies with me. Tonight the feature is "Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron." I can get through this, I know I can... and then the very last line is spoken.

"I had been waiting so long to run free, but that goodbye was harder than I ever imagined."

And the very last line is sung.

"It's to you I will always return."

Four weeks. And one small, college-dorm-size refrigerator. I think it might just need a few letter magnets.

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