Thursday, April 12, 2007

My Daughter, My Self

My beautiful daughter, Middle Babe, leaves for Israel this evening, returning for the final two-month stretch of her academic year program in the Holy Land.

Thinking of her imminent departure, I am sad, even though I know that she is nearing the end of her adventure and we will have her in our midst for the entire summer before she goes off to her college in Baltimore.

And I know that she, too, is sad to be leaving us again, but not sad to be returning to Israel.

When you are a child, the most unbearable separation is from your parents.

When you have a child, their departures are the most searing episodes in your life, the leave-taking, the saying good-bye, the adjustment to the sound and sight of your home without them.

In those first moments that you note their absence, a feeling akin to tragedy descends. I have talked myself out of panic, at times, making the transition from child-here to child-not here, whether for a month or a summer or, this time, a year-long course of study in Israel.

It is something you never get used to.

And it puts me in mind of parents faced, God Forbid, with actual tragedy. I am still haunted by the testimony of the mother of an only child whose daughter was killed in the crash of Pan Am Flight 103...or perhaps it was TWA Flight 800. Her future was taken from her, said the grieving mother, in the course of hearings held after the tragedy. Without her child, she had no horizons.

But banishing all morose thoughts...Middle Babe (who returned from the movies while I wrote these lines) is now tearing apart her room searching for her wallet. She emerged only to note, rightly, that it would be easier to move through her room without Little Babe's clothes and a treadmill in the midst of her floor.

True, I agreed, promising to move these offending items out to prepare her room for her arrival this summer, squelching a smile for losing objects is a habit that Middle Babe has had since, well, forever.

There is so much to say about the deliciousness of having a daughter. A daughter is nature's improvement upon your own design. A daughter is a hint of yourself, sometimes magnified flatteringly...or to frightening effect.

There is so much to say about the deliciousness of my particular daughter. She is so fully herself, so free, so relaxed in her personality and quirks. I marvel at her great insight and wit and delight in her friendships, especially her friendship with Reeb, who is Middle Babe's virtual twin, my other daughter, and BOMB, her boyfriend of over a year.

As she sprawled on my bed this morning, inches away from that slapdash space I call my office, I asked her if she felt nineteen...her impending age.

"Are you kidding?" she asked, ruefully. "I still feel like I'm twelve."

"Good," I replied. "Because I still think of you as twelve."

And I do. Not in a bad way, at all. Just in a "my little girl" way. Forever.

This subject is a bittersweet one for me because of my struggles with my own mother and the often-alienated existence I had as a teen, living at home. One of the quests of my adult life is to try to figure out to what extent my own adoption played in these feelings or whether such dissonance also occurs often in homes of biological mothers and daughters.

And there is still a sadness I have at the not-really-myself role I occupy in relationship with my mother. I have longed, my entire life, to be utterly myself, without apology, without preamble, without preconditions.

It is only with my children that I am utterly at home with myself.

Middle Babe has just gone into her room, stopping by my computer (perched atop a stool in the dining room) to kiss me goodnight and tell me to go to sleep. It is insanely late. I am insanely tired. But I am also kept awake, motivated by sadness and a myriad of other thoughts arising from this moment of transition in my life.

There is music drifting out of her room, reminding me that she is still a teen. I'm fairly certain that she still hasn't found that missing wallet.

My daughter, despite feeling twelve, is about to turn nineteen in the next few months. Despite being in my middle forties, I still feel nineteen, waiting for my adult life to begin.

So, we're a good match, my daughter and I, forever young, sisters of a kind.

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