My daughter had the biggest room in the house. Two windows onto the garden, framing an old wooden desk from her father’s youth. Opposite, a wall of shelves groaning with fantasy fiction, dystopian futures, botanical analysis, Harper Lee and JK Rowling, maths and chem, pop ups, falling apart antique, Leunig, Sean Tan, Shakespeare. And among this, all manner of little bits, things, images, oddities, reflective of her unique self.
My office was a small desk in the front room, usually in shade, with no where to put anything. She happily agreed I should move into the light, so to speak, and take her room when she left. I was excited to do that. But it was weeks after she had gone before I made the move. It felt wrong, like a betrayal. If I move in, then she’s gone and forgotten. Strange but true. Of anything I expected to feel, betrayal was not one of them.
I am massively proud of her flying the coop. I wish it wasn’t so far away (she’s a time difference gone). I’m not crumpling with grief but I’ll get waves of sadness. That’s healthy. That’s love. That’s because I had her with me for 18 years. Yet I feel somehow we betrayed her by letting her go so young.
It’s stupid of course. I took off at her age, albeit short flights in and out before spreading wings fully. Her father left even earlier. My sisters went off at her age. It’s in her blood. Of course she was going to get out there. And I know she’s got this. Betrayal is an irrational feeling, but feelings can be like that.
Did we somehow force her out? She was encouraged to apply for courses everywhere, see what landed. But we talked much, and about all possibilities and possible consequences of possibililties. Yet when my heart aches for her, I still have a feeling that she should be here, in our weekly, if not daily lives. Coming in for Sunday lunch. Meeting for a swim.
The first time she told me she was lonely, calling from her new shared-house room, my heart broke. I panicked. I tried to fix it. Ideas, what to do…. It didn’t help. “I know all that mum. I’m going now.” I think I sobbed. It isn’t lack of faith in her. She is amazing. It’s just the ache that comes when any kid, at any stage, is in pain, and the natural urge to make it go away.
Still, the year is flying by. WhatsApp keeps us laughing and talking together. I still get asked for advice, I still get to see new op shop buys and her beautiful face when she’s happy or miserable. She can join me in the kitchen when I do dinner for four, she even travels in the car sometimes, enjoying the neighbourhood she loves so much. (How did my mum do it without tech?)
It gets easier. When she came home mid-semester she was still wondering if a gap year wouldn’t have been better. Now just a few weeks further down the track, with better accommodation, she is charging forward. My independent young adult. Her sheets got left on the line and are wet from the rain. She made do. She had rice and a stock cube for dinner as there was no time to shop. She’s kicking goals with her grades, getting extra shifts at work, and figuring out the complexity of new relationships. She’s doing life.
And I can start to enjoy her room, guilt free garden view and the essence of her as I work. I love having her around me and knowing the bed is still there, and her wonderful stuff, anytime she wants it.