Mothering Ma Belle Fille From a Distance

Ella-LouvreTonight Ella returns from a weeklong trip to Paris with my parents, their bat mitzvah gift to her. Before she left, I wanted to write her a going away card and hide it in her suitcase for her to discover on her first night in the City of Lights. Something meaningful and rife with insight. Words of revelation offering shining life lessons.

“Don’t just look out across the Seine; look deep down into it. Catch a glimpse of yourself as you are right in that moment. This is you in Paris.”

While the words swirled in my head for days, they never actually made it to the page before her departure. It was a busy week and the morning of her leaving was too hectic and fragile. All three girls melted down in one way or another. Josh and I didn’t do well with the stress. Instead of imparting words of wisdom, I peppered Ella with practical instructions – be aware of your surroundings; don’t let your purse out of your sight; don’t walk too far ahead of or behind your grandparents. We ran through the contents of her suitcase one more time – do you have enough socks? What about underwear? Pack an extra outfit in your carry on in case your luggage goes missing. I hugged her tightly, told her how much I loved her and delivered her to my parents’ house so they could drive to the airport together.

“There is much glory at eye level – fresh croissants in the bakery window, supple kid gloves in every color, the Mona Lisa’s cheeky smile – but don’t forget to look up. There’s so much to see: the weathered wings of a gargoyle, the Art Deco curlicues around the Metro sign, the way the sky drifts and bends so differently than it does here at home.”

The urge to thread myself through her every experience has bound her to me for more than 13 years. It’s been there since before she was born, since she first butterflied in my belly. Connected. Tethered. Wound around and around each other until now when the only option for motion is to unwind. Slowly she unspools herself from me, consciously, unconsciously. She spends more time with her friends, both in real life and online. She spends hour upon hour in her room, nesting in her bed, reading, doing homework, watching Grey’s Anatomy. Apart.

These years of parenting have left me alternately fulfilled and frustrated. Longing for myself beyond my daughters, I have nevertheless stood my ground, rooted down where they will find me. If not within their sight lines, I am always close by, in the kitchen puttering, preparing or upstairs at my desk writing, mulling. I announce my comings and goings “I’ll be in my room” or “Just getting the mail.” I leave the bedroom door half way open even though I often complain about the lack of privacy. I am always within earshot, my whereabouts always known.

“Locate yourself. Look at the map and how the city radiates out around you like the rays of the sun. Notice the street signs, the shops signs. Listen to the language, the lilts and dips, the romance of the vowels wedded to the consonants. Try speaking a few words. The effort will be appreciated.”

Last week I stood in Ella’s doorway, knocking on the frame to get her attention. She looked up, slid her Beatz off her head, smiled at me. I hesitated – should I wait for an invitation to enter? She looked at me quizzically – why haven’t I just come in already? It’s a split second of wondering, but it’s another stitch unraveling in the fabric of us. I am not ready, but we are not working on my timetable anymore. Often it doesn’t even feel like we’re in the same space-time continuum we once spent our days navigating together.

Mostly the separating is slow, almost unnoticeable until it bum-rushes me there in the doorway or when I listen to her sing in her band or watch her sprint down a soccer field, the ball completely in her control. Then my heart winces with both the joy of witnessing and the unbearable ache of letting go. I am the one left standing against the wall, in the audience, along the sidelines. She is the one putting distance between us, forcing me to see her in a new light, from a different angle. There is a certain poetry in knowing we must break apart to become our whole selves over and over again in this life. It is as true for me as it is for her.

She has been gone for eight days. We have Face Timed and texted. She’s given us detailed accounts of new foods (wagu beef and mackerel tartare) and the timeless beauty of the Venus de Milo as seen through her eyes. She’s shown me her jet lag and her lonely, her excitement and her ennui. She doesn’t need my words. She is gathering her own insights, her own smells and tastes, her own deep down reflections. She knows that I love her in all her iterations, no matter the distance between us. Always.

“Je t’aime ma belle fille. Toujours.”

 

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post riffing off the sentence “I can’t believe it took me so long to realize that…” Hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee, and co-hosted by this week’s sentence thinker-upper Ivy Walker of Uncharted and Roshni of Indian American Mom.

25 thoughts on “Mothering Ma Belle Fille From a Distance

  1. Living parallel lives here even if we’re “facing off” on Brain, Child! My daughter had her Bat Mitzvah and turned 13 this year too, and I sent her off to Washington DC alone for a week-long leadership seminar this summer. I felt all the things you describe, along with the letter I didn’t pack with her. The sweet heartache of it all – it’s so hard not to climb into her bed and cuddle as much of her as I can into my arms again. How can they grow up and be so simultaneously too-old and little-girl-delicious?! You captured it beautifully here.

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    1. I’m so glad our debate introduced us to each other Debi! I feel like this everyday with my girl. It’s such a push/pull, come here/go away at this age. It’s emotionally confusing and exhausting and I realize how much catch up I have to do around parenting a teenage girl. Motherhood: the never-ending journey, right? xx

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  2. What a gorgeous post. i really the movement between advice for your daughter and your own thoughts on this untethering. Growing up (for both children and adults) can be a clumsy process sometimes, can’t it? But your post is filled with sheer grace.

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  3. I melted into your writing as though I were listening to a familiar song, a melody of majors and minors between a mother and her daughter that fills my heart these days, too. Lisa, you are an extraordinary writer. I’ll be making a point to stop by here more often.

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  4. Beautiful, stunning, wrenching! These lines: “I am the one left standing against the wall, in the audience, along the sidelines. She is the one putting distance between us, forcing me to see her in a new light, from a different angle.” You put into words what it is to mother, to hold on and to let go, the beauty and the pain of it. So bittersweet.

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    1. Merci ma cher amie. It’s interesting where the mind and heart go when there’s a bit of space between us – in this case a continent and an ocean! So far we’ve discussed the delights of Laduree and the endless line to go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. More tomorrow.

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