She sneaks into my bed while I am sleeping, and we wake jumbled like puppies. We dress side-by-side; she brushes her teeth in my husband’s sink. (Don’t judge; it’s faster that way.) When I indulge in a bubble bath, she lines up her princesses on the side of the tub. If I turn the lock, she curls by the threshold, shoving acorns and Legos under the door.
We’re close. And we’ve worked for this closeness, battled for it.
Hurtling through our first night together, huddled on a tiny Russian train bunk in the pitch black dark, she screamed and fought and kicked at me as I curled my body around hers, enfolding her furious fear, her wild terror. I caught the bruises and stroked her sweaty hair and felt maternal stirrings for the first time ever and I let them command me: Don’t let go. No matter what, don’t let go. The neverending ride did, as they all do, come to a stop. After we’d been removed from the train and packed into a van and deposited at our tiny walk-up bed-sit — bliss — I scraped off our soiled clothes and slid us into the deep soaking tub — an unexpected luxury — and she slept, she slept at last, tiny limbs softening, at long long last, as she relaxed against me in the warm water.
It was the first time she trusted me, and she was simply too depleted to do anything else.
I haven’t always earned that trust, in the four years since, but she’s always given it, deeply, and now it’s something I covet. It shapes how I treat her, hurry to be on time, struggle to keep my word, to explain the world. I need her to trust me, just like this, always.
But of course, I know I won’t always be able to trust her. She’ll lie to me. She’ll hide things, maybe small things, maybe big ones. I have no way of knowing now. I’ll be the enemy from time to time, and this is necessary for her to grow up, to go away, to be fully her.
The truth is that every minute since that first night, I’ve had to Let Go, some days in microscopic ways, some days, huge, but always, and that the great irony of motherhood is that this my whole job, helping her get ready for me to LET GO.
And embedded in that irony is how much she fights to NOT let go, these days. She abhors a closed door, begs me to play with her, troops after me as I move around the house, always close, always always always. When I turn away to settle my mind on something else, a book, a phone conversation, a crossword puzzle, grabbing a few moments to be only me, like the magazines tell me to do, her face crumples and falls. It’s not an act.
I know that look; I’ve given it to too many backs, mostly belonging to men or disenchanted friends, as they left. It’s a sadness, a being-left look.
I can’t help in these moments but to pitch forward a decade, when I’m the one, again, with that look, when I am desperate for a conversation she’s too busy to have, when her phone is more important than me, when she’s the one turning the lock.
I wonder how I’ll feel; no, I know how I’ll feel. It’s unfair that motherhood has to have this built-in sadness, this feeling of loss when one or the other of us does what we’re supposed to do and steps away from the us to be her or to be me. This is healthy, all the psychologists say so. And it’s easy, sometimes, lovely even, when she’s with a friend or I am at work or her dad takes her to the beach. These times, it’s not hard to be away, there’s no longing, no sense of abandon, no loss.
It’s the tiny other moments that slice like papercuts, when I pull away from a hug too soon, when I end the game, when I leave her alone so that I can … be alone.
I see her face, then, as I walk away, and I know: my turn is coming.