I keep her flowered towel hanging on the bathroom hook, as though she will be back any day. My daughter left for college in August, and I’m really okay most of the time. It is just those times that she breezes in, then leaves again, that get me aching. I touch the wet towel after she is gone, and I’m confused. Suddenly, I want to please her. After her last visit, I gave her my tiny jar of moisturizer to take back with her. I fixed her a grilled cheese sandwich to take with her on the train. I even bit my tongue so that I would not yell at her to hurry.
I am willfully pleasant to my own child at home so that she will want to return. That act, alone, helps me to understand that she has crossed the bridge that is taking her to another place.
She was here for three weeks during winter break, and we lit the Hanukkah candles as a family. During that time, she had all of her wisdom teeth pulled. Her father and I hung around, filling ice bags and watching mindless television with her. It was permission to stop our usual frantic pace, and it was wonderful. We were needed parents whose job was to relax and be present. On Christmas day, we sat in front of the fire and I served chicken soup.
Another time, an unexpected visit was just for one night, on her way to see friends for the weekend elsewhere. I was in a funk all the next day, aching for her. I remembered, at least, to smell the top of her shiny brown hair before she left. Her musky head smell was essentially the same as it was when she was a baby, despite all the hair products she uses now.
It is not as though she has rejected us. The cell phone, which I so often curse as an intrusion when I am in public, is a lifeline to my child. We speak several times a week. One afternoon, she called me from her far-away city to tell me she was walking to the ice cream store. At that very moment, I was walking to buy myself a frozen yogurt. We had a good laugh, sharing our hungry time of day. An internal voice reminds me that this is just the beginning, that all contact she makes with us is optional because she has reached the magic age of 18. When she was 17 and a high school senior, we had almost total authority over her life. Now that she is 18 and a graduate, we have essentially no authority, except what we can extract through our emotional connection. How crazy is that? No wonder I am confused.
On her 18th birthday, I took my daughter out for lunch, and the waitress asked for drink orders. “I’ll have a Diet Coke,” said the former child. I had never allowed her to drink diet sodas at home, declaring that the chemicals were worse than sugar for developing brains. She was 18 now, and I knew that my ability to control her food choice was gone.
I smiled at her and kept my mouth shut.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.