We stood in the bedroom that would be hers, the bunk beds creating a feeling of being penned in, and the blanket hanging lopsided on the bunk above hers. I knew it was going to bother her. Her blueberry eyes were clouded, and her face a guarded study. I hugged her tightly and prayed that I wouldn’t blubber, even though it was what I wanted to do. No, wait — what I really wanted to do was wail. Loudly. My baby girl. Going away for a year.
I had watched the night before as the daddy of one of her teammates, his face a mask of unreadable emotion sat at a table with a group of parents and held his daughter like she was three years old. We parents just don’t do this good-by thing very well. Especially with youngest daughters. This dad had been incredibly quiet all evening, and I wondered what he was thinking. But he sat there, his bright eyed teen on his knee, and I caught a look at his face, I knew that he, also was trying hard not to let his heart out where people could see what was really going on inside.
And now we were standing in her room, saying our good-byes, and I thought my heart was going to break. The memories were dripping off the edges of my mind faster than the tears that I was trying so hard to hold back. I felt her athletic build inside my hug and she put her head down on my shoulder where it has always fit. This was the time that,when the boys were leaving, I would try hard to say something important and impacting and strengthening and Godly. Something they could remember when they were alone or afraid or discouraged.
My mind was scrambling for something profound. Suddenly, before I knew what was happening, I heard myself say to her, “If I‘m ever going to have any fun, I’m going to have to go someplace without my mommy!” She laughed, then, her low, delightful chuckle, while the Man I Love Most looked at me like I had taken leave of my senses.
“What is that about?” He asked, astounded to see us both half laughing, half crying. “Who said that?”
“I did,” said Youngest Daughter, ruefully. “When I was three years old!”
She was right. She had said it.
Youngest Daughter was the biggest “Mama’s Baby” we had of our five. She was the one who would camp out on our bedroom floor so much that I finally made a pallet down there for her on my side of the bed in the two foot space between our bed and the wall. I can’t tell you how many nights I would hang my arm down over the side so she could hold my hand while she went to sleep. I had to hang it down far enough that her forearm was against the floor because if she fell asleep and released her hold on my hand, she would wake up when her hand hit the floor. Sometimes I thought my arm would be permanently paralyzed until she was enough asleep that I could bring it back to the plane of my mattress and the safely of the covers. I know, I know. I can almost hear the general indignant outcry. I would never have put up with such shenanigans with the older four. But I was older and way more tired than I had been with the others, and I got more sleep this way than if I put her in her own bed across the landing.
Her Daddy would smile and say, “It’s alright, Hon. She won’t be sleeping there when she’s ten!” Sometimes I wondered!!!
Youngest Daughter started to say words at ten months. She was using sentences by the time she was eighteen months. I sometimes would look at her and say, “I always wondered what a toddler thought, and it is so nice to know!” She was a sober baby, and often appeared to be thinking and thinking about stuff, and would sometimes come off with some pretty interesting concepts. She began to understand relationships, and discovered that she had cousins and friends that were outside the walls of the house that held the people with whom she felt the most comfortable. She liked them best when they would come to the big old house at Shady Acres that she still calls home.
I left her one day with her Aunt Alma while I was going somewhere, and by the time I got back, her Auntie wasn’t so sure that she ever wanted to watch her again. “You need to do something about that child,” she informed me. “She pretty much cried the whole time for her Mama. Nothing I did to distract her helped for very long. There’s no sense in that!” She was right, of course, and I hated it that she was so attached to me that it made problems for other people. I also knew that homeschooling the four older children, while we also cared for mentally retarded adults, caused me want to have all the time with her that I could — and sometimes, the dependency made certain that I had time with my youngest child. Otherwise, it would have been extremely easy to allow the older kids, particularly Eldest Daughter, to do the fun things of having a little one in the house, and I felt like that really belonged to me. Furthermore, I believed that the time would come when she wouldn’t need me so much, and that she would grow up and be strong and independent and courageous and okay. I just didn’t want to hurry it along!
One day, when she was still very young (though I don’t know exactly how old) she had been asked to go on some sort of an outing with either cousins or friends or Sunday School teacher or someone that was not in the immediate household. Her anxiety was high, but the desire to go was also rearing its mighty head. I could tell that she was pondering and pondering what she should do, and that she was thinking big thoughts in that little head.
Finally, almost to herself, I heard her say, “If I’m ever going to have any fun, I’m going to have to go someplace without my Mommy!” That phrase was destined to become part of the verbal history of our family!
That was the beginning of the march that led her to this weekend and this day that I had refused to think about in the last few months since we knew that she had planned to take a year long assignment with Rosedale Mennonite Missions. “I’m not going to think about it,” I would remind myself fiercely. “I will think about it when we make that long, long ride to Ohio to take her out to training.” And so, I busied myself with a myriad of things, stopping now and then to watch her as she worked and planned and savored the days. Sometimes I’d wait until she was out the door to cry some tears and beg the Lord for strength and then remember that I “wasn’t going to think about it now” and would mop up the face and smile for her sake when she came breezing back in. She isn’t a person who is given to tears. She claims to wish that she could cry, but she probably has seen her old Mama cry so much over these last few years that she decided somewhere along the way that it doesn’t help a whole lot. She would feel a lot better (in my humble opinion) if she would just cry sometimes. “Tears wash the windows of your soul,” I tell her on occasion. “It really does help to cry!”
I never have felt that she feels contemptuous of my tears, but maybe uncomfortable. That is one reason why I try hard not to do a lot of crying around her. Over these last months, while I’ve put off thinking about it, I’ve also put off the tears a great deal of the time. And choosing to quote her childhood saying made the last good-by a lot less messy. Laughing can a great deal of pathos out of a situation.
I’ve certainly made up for it on the way home. Sitting here beside this Man that I Love Most, fishing for tissues, grabbing napkins because they are more available, trying to not be too unpleasant of company, I’ve had to think that this might be a good thing. If I cry as much in the next weeks as I’ve cried on the way home from Ohio, I just might not have any tears left for that last weekend in November.
But in my heart, what I’m really saying is, “I don’t have to think about this too much until Thanksgiving when she’ll be home for about a week before flying out to Thailand.” I suspect that when we get to there, she’s really going to get wet. I’ll probably blubber. I might even wail.