The little one we bought for her when she was two years and three months old, when we moved her out of her crib and into a big girl bed. The one that’s been by the side of her bed for 16 years and one month. The one that has held, at different times, the small accouterments of her age:
- the little terry cloth scrunchies that were the only things we could make ponytails with because of her tender head (back when her hair was bright gold-blonde and curly) (and they weren’t only hair accessories, they were toys; they came on little cardboard tubes, five to a pack, and she’d sit on the floor in my closet and arrange them on the tubes in different color patterns)
- the farm animals
- her big box of crayons, which we replaced about every three months because she liked them sharp
- her little pastel-colored horses that I found one day in a toy store in the mall and I never saw again anywhere else (they were tiny, like three inches tall, with delicate details but sturdy legs, perfect for toddler hands) (and she only kept them in the drawer at bedtime because she took them with us everywhere until slowly they were all eventually lost) (except for the yellow one, which she put in the port of Kendell’s very-expensive brand-new speakers and he had to have his audiophile friend come get it out for us and we also found a spoon sitting next to the horse. In the speaker.)
- her very favorite puzzle, a Winnie-the-Pooh floor mat sort of puzzle that I'm convinced was the first step in her learning to read
- Pooh, Piglet, Tiger, Kanga, and Roo, holding hands
- the tiny silver bangle bracelet she wore as a baby, which she loved even though it was too small for her
- her box of Barbies, which she loved passionately for a very short time (and as I always hated Barbies I didn’t play with them enough with her, which I regret desperately now even though I still hate Barbies) (but I do have a very fond memory of Becky, who loved Barbies, coming over to our house on the Christmas morning when Haley was three or four, and Santa had brought her the Barbie who came with a horse, and they sat in front of the tree and put the whole set together, my little sister and my daughter)
- her color books from Miss Cathie’s preschool
- whatever Junie B. Jones book she was currently reading
- whatever Harry Potter book she was currently reading (and she did jump right from Junie B. Jones to Harry Potter and I didn’t even know how astounding it was that she could read them in second grade)
- her five favorite Beanie Babies (always a constant rotation of favorites)
- her collection of Littlest Petshops (until it got too big to fit there) (she collected them until she was twelve or thirteen) (she would’ve loved them when she was three)
- her alarm clock
- her collection of earrings, until it got too big for her jewelry box
- her hair straightener and hairbrush
- her Caboodle full of make up and fingernail polish
- a box of rubber bands for her braces
- her scriptures
- her class schedule
- her retainers
- her journals (meaning all her hopes, dreams, wishes, memories, heartaches, joys, accomplishments, normal days, exuberant days, and whatever else she might’ve written down) (she wrote in her journal almost every night before bed) (I take very solemnly my responsibility—nearly, really, a vow—as her mother to never, ever read her journals, even though during those prickly, leave-me-alone teenage years I wished sometimes to read them just so I could know one thing about her other than "fine")
It wasn’t when we got in the van that was stuffed with her stuff and drove away. (Although I did cry then.) And not when we walked into her dorm and I saw the space that she’ll be living in for the next nine months or so. (I was too excited for her.) And not even when she walked across the grass to her building, once we’d organized all her stuff in her room and helped her hang things up and taken her to get groceries and hugged her goodbye, and she walked into her new world and we drove away. (Because I cried then too.)
No. It was when I wiped off her empty night stand—scrubbed off a lump of chocolate and a sticky spot, got rid of all the dust—that I really lost it. When I really, really realized: it’s over. I’m at the end of her childhood. I have to move on and let go when what I really want to do is turn time back, to the seashells and the earrings and the day I showed her how to set her alarm, to the Pet Shops and the pastel horses and the hair scrunchies. (Or even further, to the day when Kendell set up the crib in her otherwise-empty room.) I leaned against the wall of her (old) bedroom and I cried. Cried hard and long. If no one else would’ve been there I’d have maybe even wailed.
Because it’s just such a complicated feeling.
Of course I want her to go to college. I want her to move forward and become the person she is capable of becoming. I want her to move forward.
I also don’t want it to be over.
Kendell tried to comfort me, but you know? I didn’t want to be comforted. I didn’t want to be talked out of feeling what I was feeling: the grief of something ending. I wanted to feel it because it is a way of marking the transition. When you have a baby there’s so many ways that it is celebrated: showers, and flowers and balloons and gifts and people stopping by with cookies. When you deliver your teenager to her new life, there isn’t any pomp. There are no balloons. There is just the letting go, literally: hugging, and then letting her walk out of your arms and across the grass.
Probably I will cry more over this. (I am crying as I write in fact.) But that first real, long cry in her bedroom next to her empty night stand: that was my transition. The moment I passed into being the parent of an adult, and all the things that will entail, trailing my string of memories behind me.