This is a blog that I wrote a few years ago, and it really resonated with women, especially mothers. So I thought I’d reprint it again during Women’s History Month.
I really enjoyed Sue Monk Kidd’s novel, The Secret Life of Bees, and when I had a few moments in the Dallas airport perusing the new book section, I saw that she had a new book out that she had co-written with her 22 year old daughter. The chapters alternate with Sue writing one and her daughter writing the next as they visit Greece together. The book is titled, Traveling with Pomegranates in reference to the Greek myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone (to review the story click here). The first few chapters highlight that awkward time when daughters turn into women and the mother/daughter dynamic changes.
After I read the first few chapters on the plane back to Omaha, I put down the book and started to write. I recently helped move my daughter to Chicago to start graduate school. Her father, boyfriend and boyfriend’s brother hauled the physical trappings of her life up the three story walkup. After the two men in her life said their good byes, she and I settled into a week of “setting up her new life.”
I had held off writing about that week because deep in my soul, I knew it was an incredibly important experience, and I didn’t know how to write about it so I’ve been tiptoeing around the edges, the images, the words, the looks. She and I weren’t alone that week. My mother’s spirit was there also.
My mother died of cancer when I was 21. When I graduated from college and moved to Omaha to teach high school English at the age of 22, my mother wasn’t there. I set up my small apartment kitchen by myself, killed the cockroaches that the last tenant left behind, and kept my large malamute by my side as the big bad city of Omaha scared me.
This was the first in a series of passages my mother missed. She wasn’t there when I married, gave birth to my beautiful daughters or lost my son. When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, my biggest fear was not of pain or disfigurement, it was of not being around for my daughters’ passages. Thankfully, my outcome has been different from my mother’s.
And here I was, getting to be with my daughter as she started this exciting (and scary) chapter of her life. As she and I assembled various purchases from IKEA, I watched her face pucker in concentration as she maneuvered the electric drill. In a flash, I was watching the nine year old Alise assemble a Barbie van on Christmas Eve for her little sister. Staying up late was her consolation for finding out Mom and Dad left the presents, ate the cookies and drank the milk.
We went shopping on Michigan Avenue, and her delight in pretty clothes and skirts that twirl had not changed in 20 years. We shared a bed in her one bedroom apartment, and I must admit I didn’t sleep well. I’d wake and watch her sleeping and remember all the times I’d watched her sleep over the years. I remember when she was a few months old and had her first cold. I got out my copy of Dr. Spock’s Infant and Child Care and looked up “colds.” Right near that entry was one for cystic fibrosis. The symptoms of cystic fibrosis sounded eerily like Alise’s. Dr. Spock mentioned that the skin of babies with cystic fibrosis tasted salty. So you guessed it. I quietly went to her crib, listened to her congested baby breathing and leaned over — and — licked her arm. It was just one in a long line of weird things I’ve done to protect, hover, and worry about my girls.
One time when I was very pregnant with Alise, I began to worry about this whole giving birth experience. I had a very wise Lamaze teacher. She was an obstetrical nurse and a mother of 11. I remember telling her that “I don’t really understand how this giving birth thing works.” She smiled and told me, “You have to remember that motherhood is a series of letting go. The first letting go is to let that baby be born.” I did, but it took 24 hours of hard labor to convince my body to let her go. Today, when I’m tempted to put a protective bubble around both my daughters, I try to remember that every step towards independence is just one more in a series of letting go.
Afternote: I’ve come to realize that not only motherhood is a series of letting go; life is also. I left my corporate role five years ago and now am an executive coach, and this is one of the most important skills people need: how to let go.