bella, leaving.

Now I have a date, an actual day that my daughter’s childhood will end. She will move into the University of Portland dorms on August 16th, assuming all goes as planned.

Today I was alone, changing the sheets on Bella’s bed, and without warning tears filled my eyes. How many times have I performed this mundane task and not particularly enjoyed it? Many times for sure, but today I savored it. As I pulled the sheets off her bed, I glanced around her room at the objects scattered about. Slipped between her National Honor Society certificate and her softball cleats are the ghosts of our past, real and imagined. There is a CD of songs she used to play to soothe herself at night when I began sleeping in another house on some nights of the week without her. There is an album of photographs from the various trips she took with other families, because ours had come apart, and I couldn’t give her some of the things I wanted her to have. I know I couldn’t have anyway. I know this, but it is still hard to reconcile.

A month or so ago I decided that I needed to allow myself to yield to every bit of the undeniable grief that is so ready to ooze out of me at the most unexpected moments. My theory is that when August comes, I will have grieved enough that I can let her go gracefully. She will leave whether I do this or not of course, it’s really about how comfortable the transition will be, for me, for her, and for the others around us.

For my first-born son, leaving the “nest” has been a protracted affair, fraught with challenges. His departure doesn’t seem to have prepared me at all for the way that Bella’s leaving is feeling so abrupt and delineated. For so many reasons, my process around his departure has been completely different from this one. He didn’t leave to go off to college, in fact, he left high school early and against all of his father’s and my best efforts to keep him there. After my children’s father and I split, he came and went from my house many times during his teen years, never really settling in. He lives in Seattle now and we talk nearly every day. He is slowly emerging from the cocoon of his adolescence, breaking his way out of it one day at a time, wet wings and all.

Transitions were never easy for him. In fact, as I wrote about in my very first post in this blog, he transitioned from the womb with some drama and resistance. His awe and bewilderment at being alive was clear from the moment he emerged. Newborn babies aren’t supposed to lift their heads up and look around the room with eyes wide-open, are they? In some strange way I have always felt that he held me responsible for having to be born. When he was a feisty three-year-old and Bella arrived on the scene and was content to sleep through the night from just a few weeks old, it began to dawn on me that some of what was going on with these kids had nothing to do with me. They were very different from one another with unique personalities and missions from day one, and my third child Nicky only confirmed this further.

After much struggle and many failed attempts to control my oldest child’s behavior, I’m learning to surrender, to detach with love, and of course this has informed the ways in which I’ve parented the other two. My first child taught me that any attempt to control him with willpower or force would be futile. He had way more time and energy than I did, and he was willing to teach me that again and again in the service of his own autonomy and freedom.

Bella was different. She hardly resisted, whether it was sleep, school, or nearly any other endeavor. She transitioned easily from one thing to the next, and if she’d been my only child I would’ve believed I was some kind of genius parent from day one. I can only take so much credit for her apparent successes. I know that I have been a strong support to her, but again, much of her destiny is driven by something mysterious inside her.

The divorce was a transition she couldn’t enjoy with her normal gusto, but it was one which made her stronger, more independent and resourceful, and in a sense, I can’t really judge it at all. It happened, we navigated it, many do. We have all moved forward and onward with our precious lives. No doubt she will have some work to do around her childhood in her own time and in her own way, some further processing perhaps, but don’t we all?

So with this departure, it is feeling much different. It is a cleaner and easier transition than her older brother’s has been because I know where she’s going, and it will likely be a good place for her. She won’t be couch surfing. She probably won’t be cold, hungry, or riding a Metro bus all night long. She won’t be leaving on an angry note, nor will she be leaving with no plan in place and nowhere to go. And of course, she’ll be back, she’ll only be three hours away, and if I want to, I can drop everything and drive down and see her.

It’s just that I can’t believe how fast it’s gone, and how much I still want to do with her. It’s hard to think of her tiny body bundled up in a fleece sleeper next to me in the bed, the sweet smell of her skin and hair, and how I felt it would last forever then. Her childhood a gift to me, uncomplicated, happy, enthusiastic, and complete enough for this transition. There is nothing to “make up”, nothing I should have done but didn’t, perhaps any more than there was with her older brother. I did the best I could with what I had available, and I continue to, learning from my mistakes just as they do. The only thing that will never change is my unconditional, unwavering love for them, no matter where they are in this world or in the next. To leave that behind is a transition they will never have to make.




19 thoughts on “bella, leaving.

  1. What elroyjones said! Ugh, the fleece sleeper in her tiny body. Funny, even though your Bella loss is my Bella gain, I feel like I have been grieving for you for months. Love you.

  2. This is lovely. My wife and I recently watched our youngest and final child leave the nest; she found precious memories in formerly mundane tasks as well. I, being somewhat dense, felt I’d see all my children soon and often enough and so missed the impact of their leaving; now I miss them all a great deal and relish those times when we’re back together. Thanks for pouring lemon juice on my paper cut!

    • Thank you. Sorry for the extra pain, BUT, someone has to be the pragmatic one RIGHT? My significant other keeps saying to me “but Chris, it’s such a good thing!”, and I’m like “YEAH I KNOW. sob.”

  3. Oh boy, I really feel all your pain in this beautiful post — but I can tell you, (because I was totally planning on having a nervous breakdown when my one and only daughter Lulu went off to school), that there is great freedom and yes, even happiness in having all that mental real estate back to yourself! You still have one child at home, so you’re not totally empty in the nest yet — but Bella sounds like such a great kid, I know your sorrow in letting her go is tempered by the joy you feel for her starting off adulthood in such a positive way, with such high hopes and aspirations! I also love that you are trying to be gentle with yourself and your limitations as a parent (and believe me, we are ALL limited as parents) — I’d say your children are lucky to have you for a mom!!! (And so happy your oldest is finally coming around & is staying in touch with you … I’ve got one stepson like that, too!

    • Thank you so much…I am looking forward to everything that’s ahead, I have a lot to do, and I do look forward to freeing up some time for other “projects”, just getting this blog post on “paper” was a major challenge for me time-wise. I’m holding on tight for the moment, and getting ready to let some things go. As you noted, I have worked hard at cutting myself some slack on the parenting front. It hasn’t been easy, and part of my problem early on was those pesky expectations and standards, both of myself and my children. Now, I feel like more of a witness…walking beside them rather than hovering over them…open to what happens without so much darned judgement of myself and them.

  4. Chris: a lovely and poignant discussion of how Bella’s upcoming sojourn to Portland will affect you. Well done; beautifully written. I just wonder how she feels about leaving. Love, Dad

  5. I wanted to grieve with you, but then I smiled because I know this transition will be a happy one even for you. This one will see a new phase, for Bella and for you. I watched my sons as they both moved forward, each in their own way, each in their style. One much like Bella, the other much like your eldest. Now? I have two grown ups, two friends, two fabulous humans who enrich me.

    I wanted to grieve with you. I wish I could hug you. I wish I could assure you this will lead to a fabulous next phase.

  6. I know the feeling. My son went away last year. It becomes a beautiful thing to see them mature, make their own decisions and excel…and then you start to see everything you’ve put into them slowly, start to shine. Its beautiful.

      • I will go check out your posts. Glad to hear your time away has been for the better. I don’t know if change is always good, but it seems to be one of the few things we can count on in life, so I guess we owe it to ourselves to make it good! …looking forward to reading about what’s up with you…

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