Sunday, July 3, 2011


Funny how just when you think you're all grown up, you put on a big growth spurt. At age 57.

Last weekend I went to Brooklyn to visit my daughter who moved there a month ago. Her move was a big leap, not just for her ... but for me. You see, she's my only child and not only was it so hard to see her go, but ... well, it was difficult to know that she was moving to an uber-urban place like Brooklyn and commuting by subway to her job in NYC. This is a far cry from our laid-back, Southern lifestyle in Austin, Texas. In Brooklyn there is massive graffiti, guys hanging out on stoops, dark and grimy subway stations and, you know ... stuff for a mother to worry about.

But over the course of my three days there, my daughter introduces me to her new Brooklyn neighborhood and beyond. We walk the streets to her favorite coffee house, little diners and restaurants for brunch or pizza, and even to the Flea Market on the East River where we buy her a nice big chest for her apartment. We have a lovely time. Nevertheless, it has been a very long time since I've lived in the Bay Area and navigated the streets of Oakland and I wasn't used to this starkly urban life. I am apprehensive.

We also spend a lot of time in Manhattan during my visit, and I follow my daughter through a maze of tunnels in those dark and grimy subway stations. My preferred way of NYC transportation ("Taxi!") gives way to countless subway trains as she tries to teach me how to do this alone upon my next visit. We take the subway everywhere... to Soho, to Macy's at Harold Square, to Fifth Ave. and 53rd St. where she works ... and all sorts of points in between.

Lots and lots of walking too, which I always enjoy while in Manhattan but this time my feet are killing me. (I think this is called aging. Or quite possibly, as my husband suggests, being out of shape.) As we weave our way through the packed sidewalks of Soho, I'm often cut off by the crowd and get separated from my daughter. She turns, spots me and waits until I can catch up, something like a mother duck and her duckling. She asks about my aching feet and we stop into a drugstore and buy shoe inserts, which helps for awhile.   

On Sunday, as we sit on a bench in Central Park eating our deli sandwiches, it occurs to me that she teaches me now. She teaches me how to ride the subway, how to see that graffiti can be art, how to recognize that those people on their stoops are most likely not thugs, but people enjoying the day. She teaches me how to navigate the city and guides me through her world. Most of all, she teaches me to trust that she will be fine.

She has taken me to the very spot in Central Park where she comes to eat her lunch everyday. It's a beautiful sparkling day. We watch nicely dressed families strolling by after church and the balloon man twisting up crazy shapes for children who beg their parents to buy one. We see the pierced and tattooed lovers whispering on a bench across the path, the numerous pregnant women walking by on the arms of husbands, and nannies rocking napping babies in strollers. I am flooded with memories of my years with this beautiful 24 year old daughter beside me .. as a baby, as a toddler, as a little girl whose hand fit in mine like a tiny sparrow as we walked the tree-lined streets to kindergarten.

I am glad to know this little piece of her day on a Central Park bench, glad to take that perspective home with me to Texas so that I can glance at the clock everyday around 11:30 a.m. and know where she is and what she sees from that bench, because I've been there next to her.

We gather our shopping bags and head out to Fifth Avenue where we hail a taxi. My feet are hurting so bad I cannot even walk the few blocks to the subway station. I'm not as young as I used to be.

And neither is she.

Just one month ago, it was painful to watch her disappear through the retracting doors at the Austin airport en route to NYC, her petite frame slung with heavy duffel bags. That image is branded in my brain. It was worse then leaving her on the steps of her freshman dorm six years before. Much worse. Because this time it seemed she was going so far beyond my reach, disappearing from sight, deep into her new world and life, far away from mine. All those years she spent beneath my cloak of protection are truly over now. When those retracting doors slid closed behind her, I felt the finality of it.

But now I trust that she is (and always has been) beneath a different cloak of protection ... one of a divine and loving nature, and that she will be alright, and safe, and very happy. I try very hard to hand her over.


Fragrant Liar said...

That was lovely, Michelle. It's so exciting for your Elizabeth to be in such a cool place. I understand your ambivalence at letting go, since I've had to do it four times myself -- even more actually, because of a couple false starts. But it's also so nice to know they've learned well what we taught them, and now they can go forward and learn new things, be the kind of adults we hoped they would be. And now we can party. :-)

Anonymous said...

Yes, now she teaches you. The Universe is so smart.

Unknown said...

My daughter is only twelve, but I can see this sort of thing in the future ( that is going by faster than I am comfortable with)

Murr Brewster said...

I"m 57 too, but no kids. But you made me realize how my mom must have felt. She cried when I went to London for a year, and when I went off to college, and it surprised me so much because I thought it was all so exciting. (Apparently, I had no imagination.) Of course, if she'd had any idea what I was up to, she'd have chained me to the banister.

Thanks for stopping by. You're a peach.

Pseudo said...

My daughter turned 22 last week and her bi dream is to live in NYC when she is done with college. I could feel all the excitement of the visit and the bittersweet separation as well. Lovely post.

ds said...

Oh, I understand this all too well, and mine is not even out of college yet (a year to go)! She spent a semester abroad, which was a difficult leaving (but a great excuse to visit) and only a taste of what I suspect her life will be like in future.
I'm so so glad you stopped by my place and that I could find you here. It's wonderful.

Nancy said...

I could so relate to this post. I've managed to get my daughter that is 24 an apartment three doors down from her older sister. It is the only thing that makes me sane. I guess we just have to trust the world to take care of our little darlings. They have to fly the nest. It's their birthright.

I could also relate to being the one taught. It is happening more and more in my relationships with my two daughters.

colbymarshall said...

Oh, I love New York City. Have been talking about moving there quite a bit recently, and I know my mom would feel similar if I do. But, like you say, you have to hand it over to her, and I'm sure she's having a great time!

I'm visiting from over at Janna's "Something She Wrote" by the way, and wanted to say hi! *waves*

Midlife Roadtripper said...

"All those years she spent beneath my cloak of protection are truly over now."

Yes, but you taught her so well. (I'm so jealous of this life she leads.) Such a lovely post, Michelle. Filled with your love, ache, hopes. She is on her way.

Julie@beingRUBY said...

Hi Michelle
What a wonderful tribute to your daughter.. a celebration of the adventure she has begun... I don't have children but imagine that must be tough.. watching them let go and lead their own lives and makes their own choices without mum to guide them..

I loved this little tour of NY .. I've never been there and it is high on my must do list..

Thanks for popping over my way.. have a great week.. ciao xxx Julie