She’s going. Her brothers have already gone; but now it’s her turn. She. Her. And I am a mama picking through pictures — just two allowed — to add to the slideshow in the High School gym. Just one of many slideshows seen by those walls, that floor, those clanking folding chairs. Just one of many daughters to step out and fly away.

But this one is mine, and that makes all the difference. I am excavating, digging through photos, sitting in her room amid her childhood. I am watching the past, seeing the layers of her life, and of mine. It is lovely, it is messy, it is painful, and it is prideful. It is a mama on her knees with joy and sorrow, these colorful squares arranged about me like a little girl’s paper dolls, like a child’s fold-out fan. I can’t bear it — and then I do. Just like childbirth, just like putting her on the school bus for kindergarten, just like watching her drive away as a sweet sixteen. Does it get easier? I think it must. Or perhaps it doesn’t.

The clothes are colorful strata in her closet. They are mountains of sweaters and hills of socks; the shovels are my hands, now older and softer and more wrinkled than when she sat in her bright room on her braided rug among her things as if it were her whole world. She coloring, reading, singing, talking to stuffed animals, and calling for me — she smiling like the sun when I appeared and leaned in her threshold, sat beside her on the floor to watch her play and to answer her questions, sunlight streaming in her windows on so many blonde curls.

But now it is time for her to lean in my threshold, and only for a bit longer — long enough to pat my shoulder and say, “It’s okay, Mama.” Long enough to tell me her latest news. Long enough to say “See you!” and to turn and flit away like a little bird. In a flash, they grow up and their belongings remain with us, a cache of memory, and so do their hearts and their smiles and the sound of their voices and their laughter. They will call, they will visit; but they will move on —bouncing away with confidence, looking forward, not backward. Eyes turned to the horizon away from us and away from the long, easy days of childhood.

And that is as it should be, and that is a sign of maturity — hers and mine. She can go it alone and I can handle it because love is the earth we toil with. But these excavations are difficult things. We put ourselves into our children and they fly away. If we’ve done things right, their hearts are light and ours are a little heavier, for a while. We build the layers of their rooms —their favorite colors, the curtains, the rugs, the beanbags, the posters, the stuffed animals, the books — then we strip them down again to fit a suitcase, a duffle bag and a wave goodbye.

We’ll cut the cake and light the fireworks, and then she’ll be off like a shot for her own shot in her own life; and we’ll cheer from the sidelines the whole way, and for as long as we can. And we’ll smile. And sometimes, we’ll open her bedroom door and excavate — on our knees, heads bowed, seeing what was, seeing the past — not lingering, just visiting — as if in prayer.

“I hesitated as I stepped onto the ferry, one foot on the floating dock and one on the boat…a half dozen great white egrets flew up from the marsh grass nearby with their low-pitched throat calls. I moved on board and watched them through the plastic windows, the familiar ribbon they made crossing the bay, how they turned in unison toward the island.”

The Mermaid Chair, Sue Monk Kidd

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