You are four years old. Toys and playgrounds are not enough for you. You are a curious baby, barely tethered. You are yearning to run away into the forest without looking back. You are clasping my hand, but always telling me to let go.
You are 18, leaving for college in Massachusetts. You are 20, leaving for study abroad. You are 22, leaving for DC. 26, leaving for California. 28, leaving for Japan. 30, leaving for New York. 32, leaving your job for a risky startup.
You were always eager to leave. The world was full of new chapters, new places, and new people to meet—you were forever seeking outward, an exploding star of knowledge.
Like every mother, I wanted you to know only the good. Sometimes I believed it could be true—that just beyond our backyard or our town was a world where you’d be young and happy and would find love on the first try. Every time you left home, I hoped for the best and cheered you on, as a mother should.
At 34, you have a baby. You buy a house. You ask advice on planting flowers—perennials. You began to repeat the many things I’ve said. Don’t do that. Don’t touch that. Don’t cry. It’s okay to cry. The world is complicated. Trust yourself. Don’t trust anyone. Work hard. Be brave. Smile. You are starting to be a mother, to realize the sacrifices and changes in yourself that inevitably happen.
Now you unpack suitcases, and they stay empty for months at a time. You tell me that the idea of leaving has become quietly uncomfortable, like a dear friend from whom you’ve grown apart. You worry. You snuggle your little boy close and think, don’t leave me. You look at me in the grocery store—I am holding the organic carrots and calculating their price—and I see it on your face so plainly, don’t leave me. You walk into the house, and your old dog comes to the door, tail wagging, and you clasp her tightly. Don’t leave me.
My daughter, this is the lesson of leaving. You thought you knew it by heart, but your early years were only half lessons, the index page only. Leaving. To grow apart, to grow together—has been not just the way of your life, but it is the lesson of every child’s life. You will be the one who is left. You will wave goodbye in the driveway with a hand left empty. It will hurt. You will cry. You will become better at it. You will be strong; you will drop your child off at pre-school and then later college. You will smile and say the right things, because you must, because your child will learn how to leave, from you.