The U-Haul is in the driveway. The dresser, clothes and books are packed. I stand, holding hands with my husband, watching the U-Haul as if it were in motion or glowing with colored lights. My body is still, but my mind and heart have left the driveway, speeding on the freeways, taking flight into the clouds and then spinning back to earth in a near crash.
Are we really going to let her go?
Our 18-year-old daughter is packing for her drive from Austin to Los Angeles. She is taking a gap year before college and working as an intern. She will be living on her own, supporting herself and creating her own life without her dad and me. I’m excited, worried, curious, happy and scared. There should be a name for this feeling that is so many feelings at the same time.
Now and then, in the chaos, a few specific thoughts come to mind:
How can this be legal?
Really, we let 18-year-olds live on their own? What does an 18-year-old know? My daughter doesn’t know how to put her dishes in the dishwasher. How is she going to pay her own bills? How is she going to do well at work or school before she knows what she wants to do? How is she going to make all the right decisions before she has a fully developed brain? Wouldn’t 30 be a better age for this?
Did I do a good enough job?
Did I read enough books? Did I ignore the books when they were wrong? Did I provide enough structure and guidance? Did I give her space to make her own mistakes? Did I give her enough information about sex? Did I remind her to be careful on unprotected left turns? Did I show her the joy of working really hard for something really important, whether I win in the end or not? Did I show her how to wake up in the morning, knowing she is enough?
Will she be all right?
Will she make friends? Will she enjoy her work? Will she work hard? Will she have fun? Will she be careful when driving a car on the L.A. freeways? Will she call an Uber to get a safe ride home? Will she be strong in her beliefs, while being brave enough to learn and grow? Will she find what she cares deeply about, so her everyday life is part of something larger? Will she love and be loved?
As my husband and I are holding hands in the driveway, our daughter drives up in his car after running an errand. My car is parked oddly, because of the U-Haul. She pulls around too tight and drives her dad’s car into mine. My husband and I turn to each other, embrace and hold on tight.
This feeling, that is so many feelings at the same time, that should have a name of its own, I know when I have felt this before. It’s the same feeling I had when I brought my babies home from the hospital. My 18-year-old is my stepdaughter, so I didn’t have this experience with her. But with her two younger sisters, all of those feelings were there—excited, worried, curious, happy and scared, as my husband and I buckled them into the car seat for the ride home. I wondered then: How is this legal? Will I do a good enough job, and will she be all right?
Being a parent—that is the name of the feeling.
The feeling that your heart is outside of your body and inside another person. The feeling that you couldn’t love them any more than you already do. The feeling that they are also separate from you and they don’t belong to you. The feeling that each day from the day they are born is a love story and a letting-go. The feeling that, outside of marriage, this is the deepest love you will ever know.
This wasn’t our daughter’s first fender-bender in her dad’s car. A few weeks from now, we’ll start looking for a new car, one that won’t be driven by a teenager for a while. At least there are a few advantages of letting go.