My 19-year-old daughter stepped onto an plane today and left the California sunshine for a rural town in Tennessee to live with her father's family.
About three years ago, after 16 years of me raising her and against my will, she moved in with her father who lives about five miles from me. Our relationship had become rocky and I had just given birth to her half-brother. Living in a blended family did not suit her and the myriad of issues kept growing.
In the last couple of months, things seemed like they were looking up and we were beginning to make strides in mending our relationship. I was ecstatic at the prospect of having my girl back. We were just about to embark in therapy but then a couple of days before Christmas she told me she was moving far away. I was crushed.
A few days ago, she sent me an email telling me that, "I wish I could accept you exactly the way you are, but the truth is I cannot."
I left a nine-page letter on her doorstep late last night. As I drove away, I switched the radio to a '90s station that reminds of the songs I would play when I worked as a country music DJ. Ironically, Suzy Bogguss' "Letting Go" was on. The song, about a young woman leaving home, in this case, for college, came out the year my daughter was born. It's from the mom's perspective. I took it as a sign things would be OK between us -- someday.
Here's a (relatively) short excerpt of my letter:
Beautiful daughter, this letter is long overdue. I've wanted to write you many times but I always felt there was simply too much to say and I had mixed feelings about what I even wanted to say.
First, I want you to know that I love you very, very much and that will never change, no matter what. You spent months growing inside me and I gave birth to the most gorgeous creature in the world. You have brought so much happiness to my world and I will always be grateful for you, my ocean child.
If someday you become a mother, you too will understand what this feeling is like, of loving someone so much that it feels like your heart will explode. Of loving someone so much you would gladly give your life in exchange for your child's. The unconditional love a mother has for her child is truly unparalleled by any other kind of love.
There are also few things in this world more important, and sometimes more complicated, than the relationship between a mother and a daughter. I know this because I too have a mother. She drives me crazy but I adore her. When my mother is gone, and trust me, this is a day I've been dreading since I was a child, my life will never again be the same because despite all the hellish experiences of the past, I will have lost my biggest fan, my angel, the person who loves me most in the world. The loss will be profound and it fills me with dread that day is coming for me.
I would be lying if I said I won't worry about you because I will. But you're a big girl now and you are capable of making your own decisions and I trust that you will make the right ones for you. And if you don't, that's OK. It is often by making mistakes that we learn. Sometimes we keep making the same ones but if we become aware, we as humans have an extraordinary capacity to transform ourselves. But first, we must become aware of what it is within ourselves that needs to change.
I know you moving away is not about me. It's about you finding yourself and becoming more independent. I get that.
You know that when I was a kid, my life at home was complete, dysfunctional chaos. I signed up for the Navy before I even turned 18.
When I became a mom, I subconsciously made a mental assessment of what I did not get from my own parents as a child. I resolved to became a better parent than my parents were. Parents do that. I gave you the gift of time, being present and devotion, things I had so yearned for from my parents during my childhood.
We went to the movies, shared popcorn and sat on the couch and watched TV shows like the Amazing Race. We played Candyland, Sorry, and Monopoly. We camped, visited museums, played miniature golf in cheesy places, learned how to snowboard together, hang-glided off a mountain in Rio de Janeiro and visited numerous water and amusement parks. I introduced you to Bad Religion, Green Day, Muse and No Doubt and then took you to their concerts. I went to all of your ballet, gymnastics, choir and theater performances. I stressed education and made you believe that, in the natural progression of things, college automatically followed high school.
And I made sure I told you all the time how wonderful you were, how talented, beautiful, smart, fun, brave.
You had a tough time in school and I did my best to support you and your amazing individuality. You were doing an incredible thing in junior high and I was in awe of your spirit. In the midst of the toughest years a kid goes through in life, you were marching to the beat of your own drummer. I look at photos of you from those years and I see a beautiful, brave girl with pain in her eyes smiling defiantly at the camera.
I can still remember you telling me the story of how you were knocked down on the playground in 7th grade. I can still see the big bump on your forehead. Years later, my blood boils at the memory, which led me to write a Chicago Tribune column about you being bullied.
I fervently believed that if I worked hard to stay connected to you, we would sail through those teenage years and avoid what I went through. It was like by doing all of these things I was buying insurance, you know? And how I tried to please you, even if it meant me going a little overboard.
Exhibit A: hunting down Shirley Manson at a small Chicago club so you could meet your rock idol. Exhibit B: taking you to see her band Garbage a day later in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Not the best parenting, especially when you had to wake up early for school the next day. My biggest wish was to be a supportive mom, good mom, caring mom, loving mom, cool mom, everything-I-didn't-get-from-my-own-mom mom. Basically, the best mom ever.
But even though I reveled in being a mom, I fell short, didn't I? I could have done it better, differently. I could've been more patient, yelled less, and focused on being a better cook and not getting home so late from work. There are regrets but what's the point in me agonizing over them over and over again? Poof. It's in the past.
Maybe seeing my worth as a person is not something you can do right now. Maybe that will take time and distance but I hope you will see it - someday. Many people go through life blaming their parents for stuff. I've been there, but at some point you learn to forgive and accept what is.
Regardless of how you feel about me, the love that I have for you is unconditional. I love you to the moon and back. I love you for you and I love you forever. On the day you were born, I celebrated you and I haven't stopped celebrating you since. You are an awesome human girl being.
Loving you more than words can ever express. Have a safe flight and be good.