"So, tell me about your daughter. How old is she?"
We were on the flight home from vacation, Bing knackered out next to me, hopped down by a pain pill. Her legs were invading my space, but I didn't say anything. When that pain pill wore off, her back would be screaming. So, since I was stuck in the middle, I'd been haphazardly conversing with the little old lady next to me. When she'd sat down next to me initially, I'd just been glad that she was tiny. On the flight to Louisiana, I had been stuck next to a Michael Jordan type with bad b.o. LONG legs and tall to boot.
I smiled at her. How to describe Liv. I'd already performed the litmus test by briefly introducing her to Bing as my partner and she'd passed with flying colors. I'd also mentioned that we were on our way home from a just-us vacation and that my daughter and niece would be picking us up. (And said niece was very cranky niece now. She had anticipated a fun week or so with Liv and got an up close and personal look at parenting. This included driving Liv to her 7 a.m. swim practice every week day, her evening softball practices and the meets and games during the week. Her basketball clinic. Her astronomy class. Also dog walking. Making meals (although I left ample cash for take out) and driving Liv to her friend's homes and enduring long afternoons of supervising their trips to the zoo, a college world series game, and keeping the house picked up. Her last text to me was: Life at your house is a constant "hurry up and wait"...I take Liv to her practices, meets, whatever and then have to wait for her to get done.)
I decided to describe Liv physically first and then go from there:
"She's tall for her age, nearly 5'7 and has long honey blonde hair that's nearly to her waist now. During the summer, her hair becomes streaked with light blonde highlights that no salon can quite rival. Neither her father nor I have much blonde in our families with the exception of my sister, Celia and a great Aunt who was also blonde. In every other way, though, she is her father's daughter. He's a full Lakota Indian and she has this mix of his dark olive skin and my Irish peaches and cream. She has his dark brown eyes and his flat footed gait. She will be 13 next month but is a very young 13. She hasn't developed any curves or breasts yet and isn't boy crazy at all. She is the lone girl of 18 students in her basketball clinic and that doesn't faze her at all. She views boys as people, not date material. She prefers boy partners in her science labs at school because she says that she wearies easily of the girls and their affected performances of being squeamish when all they really want is a boy to tease them about it.
She is a tireless reader, but not much into fiction as I was. If she does read fiction, she likes a lot of action or science fiction. She was nuts for The Hunger Games series. She likes books about scientific discoveries or biographies of famous scientists or mathematicians. In fact, she excels at all of her math and science classes in school and struggles with English. She is the opposite of me. She actually likes learning about how to diagram a sentence and dislikes any sort of creative writing. This makes her sound stiff and/or masculine, I know, but she isn't at all. She has a secret crush on this all boy band, can't remember their name now, but she has their poster hanging up in her bedroom along with Einstein's face and the Apple poster about how people who are square pegs in round holes are the most interesting. She occasionally likes to dress up in very girlish clothes, but no bows or frills. She likes her fashion a bit edgy with clean lines. Sort of a mash up of early Madonna meets Jackie Kennedy.
Liv is a lot like me personality-wise. She is quiet in crowds, doesn't say much, but takes everything in. She has a very dry wit and can be sarcastic at times. Just the other day, one of her friend's mothers and I were talking about our daughters and she said, 'Liv can be hard to get a read on. She is very aloof, very pragmatic on the surface but I suspect that she feels things on a very deep level.'
Fucking bingo. "
Okay, I didn't say fucking but I thought it.
Then my seat mate went on about her late husband and how he was a firefighter and they never took vacations for just them and what a mistake that was since he was so stressed out that he frequently had nightmares.
"I think some alone time would have made both of us better partners and parents," she concluded.
We talked a bit more until she said she was getting sleepy and she shut her eyes and in the way of the elderly, was out of it in less than 30 seconds.
I couldn't sleep, one of my legs was cramped from the dead weight of Bing's sleep laden leg next to it. So, I pulled out my phone and looked at photos.
It had been a fun week. Bing's Uncle Henri and Aunt Eugenie seemed to understand in an intrinsic way that we needed a lot of privacy and gave it to us generously. Except for one day when Uncle Henri took me birdwatching and another fishing, we were pretty much left alone until our last night there when they held a fais do-do for us.
It had been a relaxing week. We slept. A lot. This was tempered by short walks and very gentle sex. One wonderful night, we sat naked in our cabin and watched the movie, Shaun of the Dead while eating bowls of homemade vanilla ice cream brought over and placed in our freezer for us to find by Aunt Eugenie while we were out walking. Ice cream with tiny, delicious flecks of vanilla bean in it. Creamy as all get out.
From now on, we have a new phrase to add to our private couple word phrases that make us burst out laughing stash. It is:
She's soooo drunk!
Another night, as we sat on the deck drinking icy cold ginger ale, we debated going skinny dipping. Our cabin was directly on Lake Pontchartrain. We had almost dared each other into doing it when we heard the flat slap of tail on water and decided that maybe we weren't interested in being 'gator appetizer, so changed our minds. We also learned to keep our doors and windows shut tightly after the cabin dwellers a mile down from us woke up to find a baby alligator nestled in their fireplace.
I read four books. One day, I read for five hours straight, something I can't recall doing since before Liv was born. I took sun dappled walks by myself in the woods with my sun hat firmly tied in place, slathered in sun block. I kept finding subjects that were perfect to blog about but confess that I was secretly happy to keep my promise not to blog while on vacation.
Bing and I laid around happily, two slugs in a rug. Talked. Didn't talk. I'd read and she worked her Sudoku puzzles and occasionally, we'd reach across and hold hands briefly until one of needed to turn a page or write. It was peaceful. The fridge was full when we arrived and we only ventured out to eat at a restaurant once during our stay and that was when we went with Uncle Henri and Aunt Eugenie to a place famous for their crawfish etouffee, which is Bing's biggest food weakness. I had a po-boy and mint tea punch and afterwards we all dived into pineapple rum cake. We almost had to roll home, we were that full.
Luzette (Uncle Henri and Aunt Eugenie's cook) came over occasionally and left surprises for us on the kitchen table: fried green tomatoes, gumbo and bread pudding. One morning, after Uncle Henri and I went fishing at the crack of dawn (I kid you not, he awakened me at 3:45 a.m!) and brought home catfish, she made us all blackened catfish and oven fried potatoes with a drink called "absinthe suissesse" to drink. Bing had FOUR servings and I had THREE drinks. When I asked Luzette what was in them, she shrugged but admitted that "the secret is not to be chintzy with the orange flower water."
She brought over hot beignets and made coffee with chicory for us almost every single day unless we slept past noon and then well....that was our loss, wasn't it?
The night before we left to come home, there was a typical Cajun fais do-do held for us at the main house and I ate a burnt sugar brownie with pecan icing and drank one too many Ramos gin fizzes and had to sit out much of the dancing. Bing spent most of the night stretched out in the hammock, said that it made her back feel better. It was a sultry night and I felt as if I could live in my sundress and ballet flats forever.
But, I was ready to go. More than ready. As much as I love Louisiana living, I was missing Liv. Lindsay (pouty niece) kept sending me photos on my phone of her and I was one giant ache that got worse with each photo.
She sent me a photo of Liv's hand touching the pool wall as she placed first in the breast stroke at her swim meet. That had been one of her goals this summer, to place first, something that she could never seem to attain. Well, she finally did it and I wasn't there to see it, wasn't there to catch her as she came leaping with joy out of the water, splashing cold water all over me. Lindsay sent on a close up of her joyous face and it brought me to tears.
Somehow, texting I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!!!! just wasn't the same as being there.
And, Lindsay sent me a streaming video of Liv pitching a player to strike out.
A photo of Liv and her friend, Lei, smiling with their arms around each other at the college world series.
Each photo/video left me bereft and missing her more and more.
I'd pass my phone to Bing to have a look and she'd smile and look at me carefully, saying "You miss her, I know, hon."
One night, as we channel surfed, Bing commented about the upcoming Summer Olympics in London. "Remember the last one when Liv had just turned 9? When we kept saying how WEIRD it would be for her to be 13 for the next one? Well, now...just think. She'll be 17 for the next one. Can you imagine our Liv as an almost senior in high school?"
Five more years and she'll be gone. Well, probably not forever. But, once you start college, your life at home is pretty much done. You come home for holidays and some vacation, but your eyes are turned to your future, your present life, which is not at home. I know this. And I can hardly bear to think about it.
I said as much to Bing and she smiled indulgently.
"Hon, the whole parenting process is about raising them up and then letting them go...."
I KNOW. I KNOW. But no one told me that it would be so hard to let her go. Or even to think about it. Some of you readers and friends are having a small chuckle now, I know. One of my friends who had teenagers told me that she is convinced that the teenaged years are designed to make you glad that they are LEAVING your home soon. That when her kids turned 15, they turned into little asshats and she was thrilled when they left for college. But, then....when they were 25, they became endearing wonderful people again.
I'm already feeling Liv beginning to chafe at the parental bindings and I get it and am determined to not be one of those dumb helicopter parents who can't let their children leave the nest.
I foresee lots of lots of tears in my bathtub over this. Alone. Where no one can see me aching for Liv. But, as god as my witness...I will NEVER let her know how much it will hurt. I want her to fly, no...I want her to SOAR. And only look back in happiness, not in guilt or worry.
Finally, when Lindsay sent me a photo of Liv sitting outside on an Adirondack chair, asleep with Socks across her lap and a book fallen by the side with the caption: 8 o'clock on a Friday and Liv is worn out from her active life.........well....I decided I needed to come home.
We had deliberately kept our return home day fluid. We could stay for up to 10 days, but ended up coming home after 7. Bing said that she was ready to return, she had a summer class to prepare to teach at the university and although I think she was lying, I was grateful. She wasn't really ready to go home yet, but she could see my mothering side aching.
I called Lindsay to tell her that we'd be home on Sunday. She admitted that she was glad, although she'd prepared to stay another week if we needed her.
"I had no idea that Liv was still so much work," she commented. "I mean, it's not like she's a toddler anymore and she's very well behaved, but good god...she has a LOT of activities," she said.
And then, she went on to tell me that she thought that Liv was missing me too.
"She told me that she missed you," she said, "but she also said to not tell you, that she didn't want to sound like a baby."
When the plane touched down, I was ready to be home. Bing, wincing, stood up and limped out after me through the airplane corridor. We got on the elevator to go down to baggage claim and then I saw her.
My Liv. Her blonde hair down and falling to her waist, held back by a small plain red head band. Wearing jean shorts, flip flops and a tee shirt sporting a Florida gator logo. She was standing next to her cousin, my niece, Lindsay and they were both laughing at something on Lindsay's phone. A teenaged boy walked by and gave her the once over, which she didn't notice at all. Then she looked up and caught my eye and before her almost teenaged lazy grin took over her face, it flashed with little girl glee. She was excited to see me. Her mama.
I put down my bags, held out my arms and she hesitated for just a second and then she came flying into them.
She's here for now, I thought. She's still here for now. Enjoy.
And I did.
Glad to be home.