I Knew This Was Inevitable
As much as I knew this was inevitable, I still was unprepared when it happened. Last summer my youngest daughter, Claire, fell in love.
The transition from girlhood to grownup was so subtle I almost missed it. At first it was only innocent little things. A few friends gathering, going for hikes, swimming, going to see the fireworks at English Bay. Then slowly there were less and less friends involved, until only one remained. A boy.
Stomach clenched in terror and breath held in hopeless trepidation, I asked the dread question. “Are you and Jackson an item?”
“Mom,” she moaned, “seriously?” Her embarrassment eased my worry, but only a little.
“He seems pretty into you, sweetie.”
“Get real, Mom. He’s just a friend. Besides, he’s short.”
Short or not, Jackson was most definitely interested in my daughter. It wasn’t that I had anything against him. He was a lovely young man: bright, respectful, and attractive, with gorgeous red hair. He was a vegetarian, he didn’t smoke, or drink; he seemed the perfect person to date my daughter. But…
She was after all, my baby, and I was absolutely not ready for this life transition. I wanted her to stay my sweet, wonderful, and innocent baby girl. She might be twenty, but she was still my baby. My girl. Not his. I was not prepared to share her…yet.
They continued to hang out for the rest of the summer and I could clearly see his intentions, even if she couldn’t. He was courting her. Gradually, his name began to roll off her tongue at every opportunity. “Jackson says you shouldn’t put your knives in the dishwasher, Mom. Jackson says we need to be firmer with Skipper,” (our one-year-old cocker spaniel.) “Jackson says—blah, blah, blah.”
Really, Jackson? Got any more sage words of advice for me? My resentment grew each time she uttered his name. I was like a jealous teenager, ready to hate anyone who stole my beloved’s attention. As a fifty-something professional woman, these emotions were as powerful as they were embarrassing, and I struggled to keep them hidden from Claire.
Then, one lazy summer evening, it happened. Claire had gone to meet Jackson for coffee. Apparently he needed to see her before he left for a weeklong volunteering trip. Oh, I just bet you do, Mr. Jackson with the spikey red hair.
I called her on my cell phone. “Where are you?” I asked, upset that she hadn’t come home yet. We were in the middle of home renovations and she had promised to help me.
“I’m with Jackson.”
“Well, I know that. You already told me you were meeting him, but where are you.”
“At Leigh Square. We’re going”—her voice dropped an octave, “out.”
I missed her inflection entirely. Angry, I sputtered, “No you’re not, you’re coming home to help me, remember?”
“No, Mom. We’re going out.”
This time I got it. My heart stuttered like a bashful boy asking his first love to go steady. “What? You’re what?”
“You know, Mom, going out. As in dating.”
I could hear the happiness in her voice and, because I knew her so well, her apprehension. I wasn’t sure if it was the anticipation of my reaction that made her uneasy, or the thought of entering a whole new world—one in which she had suddenly assumed a more adult role, and one in which someone other than her parents, and especially me, her mother, would hold a preeminent place.
I was not prepared for the overwhelming grief that hit me. I was knocked to my virtual knees with the realization that someone had replaced me as the center of Claire’s world. Claire and I are very close.
As a child with the dual exceptionalities of giftedness and learning disabilities, she had required significant intervention. We spent many hours together trying to unravel the mystery that was her brain, and many more squabbling over homework. She was also a competitive Irish dancer and we travelled all over North America, and even Ireland, for her competitions. We clocked so many hours together she grew accustomed to sharing the minutia of her life with me.
This boy who had stolen her heart gave her a whole new topic to discuss with me. She shared everything, even things I perhaps did not care to know about. That was her way. But, as much as I was thrilled to see someone love her in the way I knew she deserved to be loved, I was also sad. Motherhood is such a funny thing.
At first you are terrified that you won’t be able to take care of another life, to nurture that little being and help it to grow into independent adulthood. You might even feel resentful of having to give up your old life, and of having another living creature so dependent on you twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Then, without warning, it happens. You embrace motherhood with a passion you might never have known you were capable of, if you hadn’t become a mother. You become the consummate protector, provider, and advocate, ready to do battle with any who dares to threaten your beloved offspring. Your children train you, by their very vulnerability, to be constantly at attention, to guard against any harm, and to love unconditionally.
Then, just when you have it all figured out, they grow up and fall in love. Suddenly there is someone else to be their protector, their advocate, and even their provider. I didn’t want to feel this way. I was caught off guard by the strength of my emotions, and more than a little ashamed of my jealousy. I am working hard to contain it and move on.
One year later they are still together, and reluctantly I have let this ginger-haired interloper into my heart. I know the odds of them staying together long term are slim, but they are two old souls who spent several years as friends before falling in love. They might surprise us all. I am rooting for them.
As Claire is pulling away, joining this new unfamiliar world of adult relationships, my role in her life is shifting to the background, and that’s a good thing. I just didn’t think it would hurt this much.
Leslie Wibberley is physiotherapist by profession, a slightly maddened mother to two outstanding young women and one slightly insane cocker spaniel, and wife to a loving and extremely tolerant husband. Writing has always been her passion but one she has only recently re-committed her life to. With one middle grade novel complete, one young adult novel in the throngs of revision, and numerous short stories and personal essays lying in repose in her beloved MacBook Air, she is now proud to call herself a writer. Her article RAISING A CHILD WITH SPECIAL NEEDS, A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE recently won 6th place in Writer’s Digest annual contest.