I’ve often wondered how it felt for my mother when I finally left home. The only daughter in our family, and the child of immigrants, I had grown up feeling a bit like a prisoner of my circumstances. My brothers, one older and one younger, were given freedoms that my parents felt were improper for a girl to have. As a result, I was rebellious and disrespectful, and I couldn’t wait to leave behind the shackles of that sexist existence. I felt suffocated and restrained by my gender. I finally left home when I got married, and I put 3,000 miles between myself and my former life. I couldn’t have gone any farther, unless I went to another country.
My husband and I used to joke that our eldest daughter was “meant to live.” As strange and unfunny as that sounds, my pregnancy with her had been an eventful one.
When I was four months along, the city in which we lived was devastated by a major earthquake. Several months later, as my husband and I strolled hand-in-hand on a quiet Southern California evening, we witnessed, close-up, an episode of extreme road rage as it was unfolding. A driver pulled out a gun and began shooting at another driver in the middle of the road. And finally, at about seven months, as we were driving home from having lunch at a restaurant, a pickup truck blew through a red light at an intersection and hit us so hard that our car did a 180, and came to a rest in another lane. If my husband hadn’t hit the gas hard at the last second, the impact would’ve come full force through my door, instead of hitting the right rear door. Paramedics used the jaws of life to remove me from the vehicle, as my door was jammed closed. Thankfully, I walked away from the emergency room with no more than a collar for whiplash. The car was totaled. The baby’s vitals were still strong and normal.
In just a few weeks from now, my once 9-pound, 3-ounce baby girl is leaving home. She feels the same constraints of living in the same place for so long that I felt at 19. The circumstances are different for her, much different, but she’s excited to go, and to begin to live her adult life. She feels more than ready to be free of the constraints of childhood.
In just the last year and a half, she earned her driver’s license, joined the military, left home for seven months, and received training in the medical field. She earned her EMT certification, held a human heart in her hands, and prevented a patient from killing himself at her work. She began to treat her younger sister like a friend and a peer, and not just a pain in the ass. She got married without telling anyone. And now she’s packing to move away to another life, in another state.
And I’ll miss her so much that, if I think for too long about her leaving, I have moments where I can barely breathe, where my heart feels like it’s crumpling up like paper, where I wish with all my strength that my little blond-haired toddler would hug me around the legs just one more time.
E. E. Cummings once said, “It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.” For a parent, seeing one’s child becoming who they are meant to be is both wonderful and frightening. But in the end, we are all our own people, with our own choices to make. Whether those choices turn out to be good or bad is always yet to be seen. We can only pray, and hope for the best.