After five wonderful days in London, I helped my teenage daughter pack her bags. We took the Tube to Victoria Station, and then the Gatwick Express to the airport. I went up to the British Air desk with her to check-in (as an unofficial "unaccompanied minor" — in other words, she didn't need an escort or a humiliating placard hanging round her neck — she couldn't use the kiosk). We found the departures line, which turned round a corner toward security.
And that was it.
In a moment, she was out of sight and I retraced our steps back into the city. Alone.
So, in my head on that long ride, I played out all that we had done and all that my daughter was about to experience. She was going to Barcelona to stay with the family of a delightful girl we hosted last summer. Her ten days would include riding at an elegant Spanish dressage center, touring one of the most beautiful cities in the world, trying new foods, learning about a new culture, making new friends. I knew (in my head) that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I also knew (in my head) that my daughter was so fortunate, so blessed to be able to do such incredible things.
But, in my heart ... ? Well, that's a different story.
Of course, I don't want to keep her from these adventures. My hopes and plans revolve around her becoming a confident, independent adult. It's not like I'm going to lock her up and shield her from the world. (It would make me rather like the mother in Carrie, wouldn't it? And we all know how that turned out.)
This wasn't our first parting either, just a slightly more exotic one. When she was only six weeks old, I went back to work, leaving her for ten whole hours each day with a nanny (who, thank goodness, was wonderful and quickly became part of our family). Throughout her early years, I frequently went away on business, assuaging my guilt by buying her unnecessary tchotchkes at airport gift shops all around the country.
The first year she went to sleepaway camp, I cried the entire way home from Connecticut (two-plus hours of tears; my husband was very understanding). Really, it was pure torture. Three weeks with no contact except letters and postcards. It was a horse riding camp and she adored it. I counted the days until her return. She went again the next summer, and to a different camp the next. I got braver.
Many of my friends are empty-nesters now. They tell me to enjoy it. To relax, go out, get to know my husband again. I try. Without my daughter, I revisited some of my favorite parts of London: Kensington Gardens, for instance, and Portobello Road. I did all the things I wanted to do. But, there was an emptiness in my chest. A sort of hunger behind my solar plexus. And, when we returned to the States without her, everything was a little lonelier than I remembered. For the next week, I threw myself back into work (not difficult after ten days off and 450 emails). I tidied up her room. The time passed slowly. But, it passed.
Last night, I stood in Terminal E, outside customs at Logan Airport. I knew her flight had arrived, but the process is notoriously long. So, I brought recent copies of The New Yorker and Vogue. Still, it was hard to concentrate.
And, suddenly, she was back.
She was back with a million stories to tell — and quite willing, happy even, to be hugged in public.
I know I'm going to have to start steeling myself. These partings will only increase in length and frequency. And, college is looming. It's still two years away, of course, but at this stage, I know that two years will fly by. It isn't nearly enough time. I know this in my head.
And in my heart.
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