In Motherhood, Sometimes ‘Letting Go’ Happens Earlier Than You Think
Life was so much easier for the both of us when she was nestled safely in my womb…but I can’t stop my daughter from growing into the person she’s destined to be.
At seven years old, with no income or driver’s license, my daughter had a social calendar that rivaled Meghan Markle’s. Thanks to her never-ending stream of best friends, my daughter spent countless afternoons bouncing or crafting in honor of her pals. It was just another party I thought, until I read the word slumber. Already? For a girl turning eight? I cried out too loud, and my daughter snatched up the brightly colored cardstock and ran to her room to pack.
As my daughter’s excitement mirrored what I envisioned would be my reaction should I ever receive a private dance from Scott Eastwood, I felt the need to lie down.
Days before my first daughter was born, a dear friend whispered, “Enjoy this time.” My feet looked as though they had circled Middle Earth twice and my nose, which had decided to span the entire width of my face, assured me a guest role on any reality show discussing human oddities.
Pregnancy was not my best look, so needless to say I was counting down the seconds until my final week. “When they’re in your stomach,” she went on to say, “that’s the only time you’re in complete control and can trust they’re safe and doing the right thing. This is when they need you.” I smiled politely and sucked down the last of my Cherry Coke Slurpee.
While I was going to be new at this mom thing, I was quite aware of the needs my baby would have once it arrived. I skimmed a few parenting guides at a bookstore, I did my best not to nod off during childbirth classes. I was prepared. First babies are known to come late my OBGYN assured me before she boarded her flight to Hawaii.
Of course my daughter arrived three weeks ahead of schedule. This was when I realized my friend was right. I was no longer in control. At seven pounds and just days old, my daughter began her reign. She ignored my desperate pleas for her to, “just latch on.” After days of exhibiting the strongest will known to man, my baby made it clear that she had no interest in my breast (unlike her father) or milk and would only thrive if provided a specific brand of formula…the more expensive one of course. She did grant me a reprieve when, at exactly 12 weeks, on the day that I would return to work, she decided to adhere to my begging and slept at night for eight glorious hours.
“She’s too young.”
My husband grumbled.
“They’ll bully her and talk her into doing bad things.”
“I don’t know.”
“They’re little girls; they won’t be calling boys and French kissing pillows for at least another five years.”
Or so I hoped.
I was not prepared for a slumber party, just like I’m not prepared for a tsunami or another pregnancy – but that’s life. I was prepared for my daughter’s first step, lost tooth, day of school. I knew that someday she would drive, she would graduate high school, and she’d leave my home and begin her life without me. But I didn’t realize letting go started this early and untangling those invisible threads of need and control begin to disintegrate long before I would be prepared.
“You let her go,” my friend typed in a message, little bubbles danced across the screen of my phone. She, too, had been in the same position 15 years earlier. “She’ll be fine.”
“How do you know?”
“You might not believe it, but she does listen to you and even though you’re allowing her to spend the night outside of your house with her friends that you know and trust, you have to allow her this freedom. She may surprise you.”
During the 15-minute drive to the party, I quizzed my daughter from her perch in the backseat. She repeated her full name and address, my cell phone number. She knew to never be alone with an adult and, with the exception of changing into her pajamas, there was never a reason for her to be nude. Through deep breaths, I told her that I loved her and if at any time she felt uncomfortable to call me right away.
I didn’t sleep. I had this feeling before, a week into my postnatal recovery. When one believes they’re losing their mind and are out of control and it’s simply because the hormones you needed to push through the first few days of bonding have began to dissipate. Leaving you feeling alone and cold. My husband held me during those lost hours as a mind-bending headache crushed what remained of my pre-motherhood brain and heavy, salty tears coated my pillow. I wept incessantly about my daughter growing up, leaving me and never looking back and she was just days old.
This time, my husband was in front of the television. Enjoying the fact that he didn’t have to make sure whatever he was viewing wasn’t peppered with four-letter words. Sifting through the memory exhausted me and sleep finally pummeled me just as the phone rang.
“Mommy,” her voice strained, distant through the line. She was 15 minutes away by car, but in that moment it could’ve been hours.
In this second, I knew I only had one opportunity to direct this situation. These are the moments that unknowingly will change our lives and build our future.
“What’s the matter butter bean? You okay?” I rubbed at my eyes and willed myself to be as calm and easy as possible.
“I’m uncomfortable; you said I could call if I were uncomfortable. I am.”
I searched my brain. Was she uncomfortable from sleeping on the floor? From guzzling too much soda? Did she watch something on television that twisted her brain into believing it was reality?
“Of course,” I smiled. My husband turned, yanking the blankets. “What’s making you uncomfortable?”
“I don’t know,” her voice sounding more like her one-year-old sister’s. “I just wanted to hear your voice. I’m sleepy mommy; will you come get me tomorrow?”
“Bright and early, close your eyes and when you open them again I’ll be right there.”
I nestled my phone back next to my pillow after she hung up. My heart lurched from my chest and tears trickled down the side of my face. In that moment, I felt pain but also a sense of pride and content.
As parents, we’re always quick to rescue our children from any mountain we believe they can’t or shouldn’t climb. Any bit of adversity, and we’re ready to scream the room down so that they’ll never know what it’s like to feel pain or disappointment.
I cannot stop the world from spinning, just like I cannot stop my daughter for growing into the person that she’s destined to be. Sometimes letting go happens for both parent and child long before we’re ready. Life was so much easier for the both of us when she was nestled safely in my womb. But at least now I know for sure, when I let her go, she’ll still continue to reach back when she needs me.
Jerisha’s words have appeared online and in print for The New York Times, Real Simple, Women’s Day and more. She hopes to one day complete her novel, when she’s not working on her collection of short stories. You can find Jerisha on Twitter @GordonJerisha.