Honestly I was feeling fairly optimistic and even ready to take Amelia to the Emerald City by the Sea. Tim and I had “done our job” and now it was her turn to take the reins. Transporting her across the Cascade Mountains was our grand finale of parenting our child. Don’t get me wrong, I realize there is more parenting to come and more memories to be had. However, no matter who you are or how you look at it, taking your young adult child to college is a major milestone for everyone who resides within the inner circle, aka your tribe.
During the early years, the simple thought that one day your most precious possession will eventually grow up and leave the nest elicits a palpable grief and anxiety among most. When our babies are young, every molecule, every peptide, every cell in our bodies is genetically wired to nurture and protect our offspring. Undeniable and primal. However, nothing and I mean nothing, escapes the effects of time, including the human connection between a parent and child. As the days, weeks, and years goes by your child slowly and steadily develops into an independent human all the while you too evolve into a middle aged adult who yearns for time freedom and self interest. If you ask me, mother nature actually designed this whole system quite well. However, the challenge remains in trusting this process and to not spend too much time struggling against it. This is the hypothesis I have been banking on since the day Amelia entered our world. These are the words that circled in my mind and calmed my heart for the past several years as I witnessed my first born child march her way through our public schools. And now is the moment in my parenting timeline, whether I like it not, to test, measure, and surmise whether my hypothesis is indeed reality. Shit.
We headed toward Seattle on Thursday evening after working a full week in clinic. Tired but motivated to get going. With the help of Ed Sheeran and chocolate malts from Zips we powered along I-90 taking in the farm lands, the dessert, and the mountains that divide our state. Amelia talked a mile a minute, reviewing with me for the 1000th time which outfit she was going to wear which day for Fall recruitment, which houses she imagined were going to be a good fit for her based upon her endless Instagram research and what she thought she might want to study for the next 4 years at UW. Her chatter was both exhausting and entertaining during the seemingly endless drive to the west side. Five hours and 18 minutes later we rolled into my parents drive way in La Conner. The plan was to stay with my mom and step dad for two nights and then return to Seattle on Saturday. After a little small chat with my parents, the four of us sauntered off to bed to the Land of Nod. Their home sits on a rock cliff above the brackish waters where the Skagit river the Puget Sound diverge into one. My mermaid self most have sensed I was home. Sleep came as swiftly to me as diving into the deep blue waters with out the need to come up for air until the sun rose early the next morning. Bliss.
As soon as the four of us sat down for breakfast the next morning, my mom’s cell rang. My step dad picked it up. “It’s Bellingham”. Pause. We have learned to hold our breathe when ever there is an incoming call from the North. The past 3 years or so have been difficult for my family, especially my mom as she is the primary care giver/overseer for my grandmother. Dementia has taken over my grandmother’s brain and subsequently my mom’s waking hours. “Yes, this is Cathie. Uh yes. I see. Well ok. Ok, I will head on up then to the ER. Thank you for letting me know.” she said. We were all looking up at my mom awaiting the most recent event. “Sounds like she fell this morning and is in quite a bit of pain. Her nurse has called the ambulance and they are taking her to the hospital. I guess I am going to have to cut this short you guys, I need to get up there.” she said without skipping a beat, powering forward to her next mission and denying her body the rest and time with us that I know she craved and needed. “I’m sorry momma” I said, “We’ll take care of breakfast.” And with that the three of us cleared the table while my mom grabbed her things and headed North for the millionth time this year.
With the change of events, Amelia and I decided to hit the road early and head south to Seattle. She had already managed to lose her UW ID card that was issued to her at orientation in July. Now we would have plenty of time to get a new one but not without me first lecturing her about the importance of keeping her shit together, of course. As we drove from La Conner to Seattle, I took full advantage of every moment to remind her of our shared herstory along the farm lands to the interstate. “Remember Snow Goose Produce Amelia ? This is where we use to go for bubble gum ice cream on summer afternoons and pick up fresh caught halibut for dinner. Oh wait, do your remember this old white church where you went to preschool and you use to say that this is where Jesus lives.” On and on it went… all the way to Seattle. And it did not stop there. I had to show her where I studied dance with Pacific Northwest Ballet at the Good Shepherd building on 50th and Sunnyside and the house I lived in with a principle ballerina on Burke avenue. I explained to her in detail how I took the bus every morning by myself at the age of 14 from Wallingford to where I went to high school my freshman year at the big dome on the north side of Capital Hill, Holy Names aka Homely Dames. Desperate to steal every last second with her. Desperate for her to know me, to know “us”, before we all move on to our next chapter. Not surprising, just part of our process for preparing for one of the most monumental phases in parenting, “letting go”. We shared a dream-like kind of day together driving down memory lane, hitting up U Village for lunch and shopping, UW book store for must-have gear, and finally on to my best friend’s home in Edmonds for the night. I am grateful we shared such a relaxed and special day together however, I swear I could hear the quiet ticking of Father Time in the back of my mind. Unescapable and a cruel reminder that tomorrow was just a few short hours away.
The next morning Amelia was scheduled to check in to Haggit Hall for Fall recruitment at 9am. We were out the door on time and made our way back to UW without a hitch. The panhelenic society was organized. I love it ! Signs pointing where to park and where to unload suitcases and bedding. They had their shit together. Thank you lord as I was starting to feel “off balance”. Within an hour she was unpacked, clothing organized neatly in the few drawers that were provided in the dingy and antiquated dorm. I was relieved these accommodations were only temporary. We went down to the third floor to say hello to her girl friend from Spokane who was doing the same exact thing with her parents. This was an intentional decision on my part as I could not bare to leave her in her depressing dorm room, especially since her roommate had not yet arrived. “Ok, so I am going to head out Amelia”. I said not sure if I was making a statement or asking a question. She followed me into the hall and I started to try to convey some words of wisdom but before I knew it hot tears filled my eyes and all I wanted to do was steal her away back to my nest. But she was ready to fly, ready to launch. “Mom, I am going to see you next weekend. It’s going to be fine. Don’t cry mom”. She said with such love and maturity. Breathe Shelley, breathe. “I know Amelia, I know. This is a little more difficult than I had imagined. It’s going to be ok, I know.” I mustered out these words … I gave her one last quick hug and picked up my purse and headed toward my car, quickly.
I could feel the ugly cry pushing and struggling it’s way through to the surface but I held it back by the power of sheer vanity. I would not allow myself to totally break down here in this public space, not here. Even though I am 48, I still possess a natural reflex to hear my mom’s voice when I am feeling distressed and unsettled. As I drove away from Haggit Hall I connected with my mom on speaker phone. First my step dad answered. Why is he answering her phone ? “Hi Tony.” I said I trying to cover and disguise my true emotion. “I am working on Cece’s new phone. You want to talk with your mom?” He asked. “Uh huh” I replied as the ache in my throat grew bigger. “Ok, I will get her. Hold on a second” Ironically, I could hear in his voice that he knew I was upset. In fact I could hear him holding back his tears too. Oddly ever since my step dad hit mid-life he has turned into John Bayner, you know the infamous Republican and former house majority leader that regularly wept on national TV. My step dad does not cry all the time but definitely when he greets us after a long time without seeing one another, when it is time for good byes, or when some thing very stressful is happening within the family, which has been a lot lately, unfortunately. This is quite the paradox. When I was growing up, he was often emotionless and in fact I would dare say as cold as ice . I prefer the softer, emotion filled version of my step dad.
“I told Tony this would not be a good time to be working on my new phone.” She said . How are things with Grandma ? ” I said, trying to remain above water. She went on to tell me that the ER doc said nothing was broken and they sent her home with a few pain pills. She was distraught because the director at High Gate wanted my grandmother to now have a wheel chair. Cece was fearful of this next step. She saw it one step closer to the day when she would no longer have her mom in her life. She was right. “Well mom, it probably is the best decision for Grandma to have that wheelchair. And it’s ok for them to give her pain meds mom. It is all about safety and comfort for her.” I said in my care provider lingo… “Well, I don’t know… just seems like a downward spiral if we accept this as our new normal. So how are you ? How are things going ?” she asked. I pulled my car over to the side of the road and allowed my self to open the flood gate half way. The tears and emotions were now in third gear. I told her I did not think it would be this hard, that Amelia was my little assistant and how much I needed her at my side. I explained to my mom how she was my golden moon beam and how she lit up my life and I could not bare to leave her in that disgusting old dorm. I told her I couldn’t breathe. I could not breathe. My mom went into her higher self mode, she listened, soothed and agreed with all of my emotions and pain. She acknowledged how special my daughter Amelia is and how this would be a difficult transition at first. She told me it would get easier and that Amelia is ready to launch. She reminded me to be proud and we had done our job well, more than well, superb. “OK mom, ok, I know. This has been just too much. Watching you go through everything that you are with my grandma and Amelia leaving for her new life, it’s just so ironic we are both hitting major life transitions at the same time”. I was starting to feel like I could safely drive the 20 miles north to Edmonds where I would stay with Monti before heading home to Spokane without Amelia the next day. “Ok, mom thank you. Keep me posted on grandma. I love you.” I said.
Twenty minutes later I arrived at Monti’s home, walked up the front step, past the violet and sage colored hydrangeas, and her brightly painted benches where her wind chime hangs above. I let myself in the front door as I always do and was so relieved to see my best friend sitting by herself drinking coffee and watching TV. The gods knew. The gods arranged for the softest and safest place for me to land. Grateful.
“How’d it go ?” Pause. “Oh babe you don’t look so…” before she could finish her sentence I collapsed into her lap and allowed myself to open the flood gates all of the way, this time. For the next little while she brought me Kleenex, water, rubbed my head and just let me blubber like a freaking idiot. I am fairly confident that she knows me better than I know myself. Monti has been my safe harbor through every dark storm in my life since I was 12 years old. And I dare say, my life has been filled with many storms. “I can’t, I can’t do this…. Who is going to be a witch with me at Halloween….If anyone hurts her I swear to the Gods I will kill them Game of Thrones style “. These were the words that for me in that moment symbolized and expressed the pain of letting go. Clearly, I have never lacked in the drama department. She let me blubber but directed me back to sanity as needed. I knew I could fully break down because she was there to put me back together again, as she has done countless times in the past. Thank God for my Monti. Truly.
A few days prior when planning this voyage to deliver Amelia to the UW, Monti and I had made last minute arrangements to go to Olympus Spa Saturday afternoon, other wise known as the Naked Spa. How fortuitous was I. There was nothing that I needed more that afternoon than spending a few hours at the naked spa with my best friend. We had done this once before, so I knew what we had to look forward to. Earthly Bliss. Before we made our way there, Monti led me through her town’s Saturday Market. I breathed in the cool sea air as we sauntered through the market stalls. The smell of fresh baked goods and hot coffee was delightful, seeing the hand crafted jewelry, the visual explosion of fresh cut local flowers, sunflowers to be exact, my favorite. Just what my soul thirsted for. Positive and hopeful feelings were beginning to replace that sense of feeling so lost after letting go of my Amelia earlier that morning. I knew I was going to survive. Monti would not leave me in the dark alone.
As we pulled into the parking lot of Olympus spa, she handed me a “starburst” candy. No judgement please. Well actually, now that I am well into my 40s, go ahead and judge me I do not really care. Honestly. If ever there is a place for healing in the middle of a modern day city, this is it. For the next 3 hours Monti and I quietly languished in the heat of the charcoal and salt rooms, soaked our naked bodies in waters rich with healing minerals while we waited for our number to be called for the grand finale, the scrub followed by a moisturizing treatment. While we laid face down on massage tables meant for water, ever centimeter of our bodies was scrubbed and rinsed with warm milk, honey and olive oil. Through out this entire process I intentionally imagined all of the stress, anxieties, and fears for my daughter and for myself being rinsed away, leaving me fresh and polished. It was time to let go of the pain and sadness and instead call in my dreams and goals for the next phase of life. Amelia was not the only one who was ready to launch that day, so was I.