Steps on a Mother Daughter Journey

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When my daughter, Wesley, was getting married, I arrived early intending to help, but really what I wanted was time with my first-born to celebrate her last days as a single woman before she took this next step. I’ve been with her every step; first I held her tiny body, then her hand, but now he holds her heart.

She wants to go paddleboarding on Town Lake, the river that runs through Austin, to relax and unwind. We MUST begin the wedding week festivities in a peaceful state! The plan is that she’ll paddle, and I’ll walk the path next to the river. She pumps up her paddleboard, and I ask what time I should be back to the car, not knowing the speed of a paddleboard, and she points to the path and says, “You’ll see me, just turn around when I do.”

I put my headphones on and start walking. I have a moment of decision, do I listen to my book on tape and escape into a fictional world or listen to music. I decide on music, choosing my “peace now” playlist and press shuffle. I walk the dirt path, grounded and focused, moving forward, I’m a Taurus in her element of earth, and there to my left floating a hundred yards away on the water, is my Pisces daughter, and I laugh out loud. I know it’s a gift given to me by spirit, a reminder to release her and at the same time to celebrate the fact that we have always been separate. I raised her to float away, to be strong and capable—it is done, spirit whispers, and I remember parts of the poem read at her baptism written by Kahlil Gibran, Your children are not your children. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

Miraculously, Wesley paddles at the exact pace I walk, and we move together in what feels like a dance. I reach a wooded area, memories flash of all the times when I couldn’t see or protect her when I had to believe she had all the tools to survive whatever she faced. Even today, I told myself as I watched her drift towards the center of the river—the worst-case scenario. She can swim. Then a branch moves and I see her so tall and powerful moving forward, like a goddess gliding on glass. I stand facing the river, glance to see if anyone can see me and I raise my arms to bless my daughter, just as the music plays, “may the long time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you, guide your way on.”

From the moment she was born, it was a battle of wills, and yet she asked me to go with her to Austin when she was offered a job, to help her decide where to live in a city she knew little about. Time was running out, she had to choose. Before we went to sleep that night, I wrote in my dream journal. Show us which apartment is best. I ask a question most nights and don’t always have a dream I remember, but that night I did have a strange dream. I woke up and told Wesley what I saw. There was a dog stuck in the backyard of a small house, I had to get the dog out, I kept trying every which way until I finally found a small door in the garden wall surrounded by plants. That morning we visited two of the apartments we’d already seen, but the last one was new, and it was the one that fit everything I wanted.

We arrived. A woman met us in the lobby with a big dog on a leash! In the elevator she told us that she’d just moved into the condo two months before and loved it but she had to move because her dog was having panic attacks riding in the elevator. I smiled an, “I told you so,” grin at Wesley thinking, oh, it was an elevator not a yard but hey, I dreamed of a dog and here he was. How much clearer could it be? Wesley scowled and shook her head.

When the woman showed us the sliding glass door onto a patio with a wall covered in plants, I was sure. We had until 5pm that day to make a decision and give the deposit, but Wesley still wanted to live on the Eastside. I argued my dream was evidence that the apartment I liked was the one. I told her the Eastside was dangerous for a single woman, but she noted that she hadn’t seen one person her age in the whole building. It was 4pm, and the real estate office was thirty minutes outside the city. I decided to drive to the office and wait. I told Wesley she had until 4:55. When she hadn’t texted by then, I walked towards the office, so I could at least get inside before the doors locked. At 4:56 she reluctantly agreed adding a dose of guilt—Okay, I’ll do what you want, but if it sucks it’s your fault! Hours later, I flew home, and that very night she had a work dinner on the East side near where she wanted to live. Not having a car, she walked. While I was in the air, she’d left a message. “You were right mom, I just walked through a group of homeless people and drug dealers to get to the restaurant, and I was afraid.”

Just one of the hundreds of steps on our journey as mother and daughter, I remind myself as I glance at the river to see where she is still floating on the river and note that she’s outpaced me. My route winded around while hers was straight—and for a moment, I feel the familiar tension of separation. Until I come upon a class of six-year old’s taking a photo in front of an enormous metal sculpture. I’m starting to feel like I’m reenacting a scene from the Christmas Carol. Where the spirit of motherhood past is showing me glimpses of all that it took to raise her. I want to shout to the group of mothers who have days like I once did, that yes, it is worth it, it is worth living and loving and sacrificing so that one day your child will float on, ahead of you, safe and able.

Instead, I stop and watch in tearful silence.

When I continue on, I see that she’s now far ahead of me. I wonder when she’ll turn around. But of course, I know. I see a bridge. My daughter does nothing without a goal. I know she will wait until she is even with that bridge and then turn around to head back because that is who she is. I stand in the clearing and wait, and there she does it, exactly at the bridge, precisely at the place I knew she would, she moves to her knees, she rests, then stands, and she is coming back.

I left the house that morning with no expectation other than to fulfill my promise to do whatever the bride wanted to do. Little did I know that spirit would walk with me, holding my hand, whispering in my ear to remember, to feel, to release, to celebrate that I was given a child to love so much that it hurt to let her go.

She reached the shore at the same time I did.

I was still crying.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

I tried to tell her what happened, but then said, “I can’t explain it, I’ll write it down.”

Wesley at two, swimming as usual.“It’s all good right?” She looked skeptical.

I nodded.

“Okay then, can you pull the plug while I push the air out?” she asked.

And in a heartbeat, we were together again, working as a team.

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