My daughter is in college now, and I don’t get to see her that often, but last night, Christmas Eve, she slept over, and for a little while, before turning over to fall asleep, we lay with our eyes closed and held hands.
She is taller than I am, but her hands still feel small to me. Her fingers are long and delicate, and when I hold her hand in mine I can feel the child. In one of her poems, Mary Oliver talks about marrying amazement. Last night I held its hand.
I had a hard time separating from my mother when it was time for me to leave for college; I kept dropping out and coming home. I didn’t want that life for my daughter, so I worked on her sense of independence. I would tell her to pay store clerks when she was a shy little girl; her father and I sent her to sleep-over camps when she was older so she could see that she was fine without us, that we would always come back to get her.
My daughter had no problems (that I could see) leaving for college and staying there. She is a sophomore now and she gets good grades and has wonderful friends. She reminds me of a cat, sleek, easy-limbed.
As an adoptee, I live with the fear of being left, abandoned. My daughter is the only blood relative I have a long, on-going relationship with, and I took her for granted when she lived with me. My friend once called the life of a mom the slow drip of the minutiae, and sometimes I felt like that, bored, like there had be something bigger I was meant for rather than sitting in the car, waiting for soccer practice to be over.
It wasn’t that I didn’t love being a mom—it’s still the thing that makes me most me: I am the mother of my daughter, but a lot of the time being a mom didn’t require that much brain activity. Sit on the floor, throw the ball, answer the question why, flush the toilet, make a grilled cheese sandwich. Repeat. I called myself a marginal mom because I wasn’t good at doing things that a lot of other moms seemed cheerfully born to do: go to meetings at school, hang out together at the playground, make brownies for the field trip. Mostly I just forgot. It’s like the carefully marked day-runner other moms had in their brains was a scribbled white board in mine.
And somehow my daughter survived me. In my own flustered way, I was one hundred percent dedicated to being her mother, and luckily she had a father and a step-mother who had carefully marked day-runners both in their minds and in their hands. Raising our daughter really did take a village. It still does. My daughter once had to draw a family tree in elementary school, and she was quick to point out that hers wasn’t a tree: it was a bush. There was a whole lot of love on that page she showed me, so many people who loved her, and she thrives on all that deep affection. Her hair is shiny and her smile is bright and she is funny and smart.
This morning, for Christmas, we exchanged simple presents because 1. She is a student and 2. I’d gotten her a ticket to Europe months ago so she could go look at art during winter break. We gave each other the same things: a book, and from the same quirky store: Therapy. This fact alone was enough of a present for me to make this a perfect Christmas.
She got me the book Do One Thing Every Day That Centers You. The best gifts make us feel known and loved. This was a best gift. There are 365 pages in the book, one suggestion a day for how I can center myself. I have 365 chances to come back to love, to remember that what may feel like a slow drip may actually be the best part of life, that when I am writing or doing massage or cooking eggs or texting my daughter, that each drip of breath and movement has the potential to shatter time and become luminous.
I am learning to live as a healthy adoptee after a life of denying adoption’s effect on me. And watching my daughter walk away has been one of the most important lessons. It’s been an extended peek-a-boo. She leaves…she comes back…she leaves…she comes back. And I am learning to trust in the gap between us. Love does not have to be a tight cord, a child in the back in a car seat, a hand in mine. It can be breath. It can be invisible. Just because my birth mother never came back doesn’t mean everyone else won’t.
Day One. Rumi.
And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?