It doesn’t seem that long ago . . . I can see it clearly. Her little face would light up when I walked into a room, she’d smile and squeal, “Mama,” and run into my arms! When she’d wake in the morning she’d make a dash for our bedroom. Our door would fly open and Claire would leap onto our bed. I remember thinking we should put a lock on our door, just in case, but we never did.
She didn’t like the baby sling; you know those cloth carriers that keep your baby snuggled to the breast to free your arms. She’d get too hot and squirm, whine a little, then flail until I took her out. She never liked to cuddle much and I remember feeling disappointed by that, but she was always nearby, playfully with me and happy to be there. I held her in my arms when she wasn’t in the stroller and at a park or play date she was never out of sight. I remember a friend saying, “I’ve never seen you give anything this much attention before.” It struck me as an odd thing to say. “Duh,” I remember thinking, “I’ve never been a mother before.”
Staying home instead of working was not a decision I had to make. It was a given. I wanted to be there for her and witness every little thing about her growing up.
I remember watching her sleep and the peaceful, cherubic expressions that graced her face. Sometimes I’d get teary eyed when I checked on her before bed, and one night around age four I recall making note of her length. It might have been the first time I realized she was growing up. Her body covered two thirds of the bed, and she wore blue thermal pajamas with pink playful pigs.
When the time came, I found the loveliest school available and we chose it for Claire because they believed in beauty and play and gentle rhythms. I liked that there were trees and grass and dirt and that the children played outdoors for an hour every day. They were encouraged to climb and dig and nobody cared if they got wet or dirty. There were two old apple trees in the schoolyard that were always dotted with children, and nurturing the imagination was key to the curriculum so many stories of fairies, magicians and angels were reverently told. It was a magical time. The second year we were there, Claire’s second year of Kindergarten, I took a job at the school. I had the same schedule she did and my pay included tuition. It was perfect. I worked there for two and a half years. Claire attended that school for seven years until by luck of the draw, she was one of 82 children selected to attend a small, academically focused and highly coveted public school on the opposite end of the same neighborhood. We hoped her transition would be a smooth one.
It was. She was ready to go when we left and very excited to begin 6th Grade at her new school. Claire had only two complaints that first week: She didn’t know any answers to the pop geography quiz, “I didn’t even know where the Pacific Ocean was!” and she couldn’t run a continuous mile around the track. “I was the only one who couldn’t run a mile! Well . . . me and a fat boy!”
She is now in 9th Grade at the same small, academic school. Last year she wouldn’t watch American Idol with us anymore. This year nobody in the family watches it. She spends a lot of time in her room and gets mad at me when I remind her to take her vitamins, calls me a nag. She hates the fruit and vegetable smoothie I make for breakfast but she chokes it down because it’s all I offer and she can drink it while she does her hair. She laughs sometimes when I get upset and warns me not to be embarrassing. A couple of weeks ago we went to a movie of her choosing but it had to be at the unpopular theater, the one with uncomfortable seats. “What kind of a loser goes to the movies with her parents on a Friday night,” she asked rhetorically?
I feel sad. I tell myself we’re learning to separate and it’s a process. I can’t help but wonder . . . what happened to the girl who clearly loved me? Sometimes I feel angry and the countdown to college begins. In jest I’ve said, “college on the other side of the country doesn’t sound so bad anymore, even France might be okay.”
She’s gone this weekend, a JSA convention 300 miles away. I was looking forward to her leaving but I woke at 3:00 that first morning remembering her blue thermal pajamas with pink playful pigs and felt compelled to write and process my feelings. I think; it has to be this way. It’s supposed to be like this or separating would be impossible. That’s the way life goes.
I need a job.