Holding On: What It's Like to Let Go

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Brigid and Me. Mother's Day, Cape Cod 2001.

Brigid and Me. Mother's Day, Cape Cod 2001.

There was a time when she hid behind my legs. There was a time when I couldn't leave the house without the shooting pang of guilt in my stomach and the seizing feeling in my chest. Yes, it was (I was sure of it) my heart breaking. Even if she was sound asleep, she could sense me leaving and wake up. She would cry, "Mama!"

She held onto my leg and buried her face in my dress on her first day of camp. "Don't leave me. You can't leave me. If you loved me, you won't leave me."

And so I held on.

I held on tight. She held tighter. Every picture I have of her as a baby shows her with her fingers somewhere entwined in mine or in my hair or around my neck or my legs or my hips.

Be patient. Be kind. Be careful. I would think. She needs her mother. She's all I got. Hold on.

And so I held on.

When all the kids got dropped off at carpool in kindergarten, Brigid insisted I walk her to the door. And so I did. For an entire year.

I held on.

When she called me and her father in the middle of the night during her first sleepover, I told her, "Hold on, we're coming."

And she held on. And then I held her in the backseat as she sobbed and told us she never, ever, ever wanted to leave us. Ever.

I held on.

And I worried all the time. Would she ever find her way? Would she ever be ok? What if I am not not there? What if I can't help her?

Little by little, she let go. It came in fits and starts: Walks down the street to her best friend's house. An overnight here and there. Then there was Nanny camp. We left her with her beloved Nanny and Boppy--for an entire two weeks--where she was spoiled and attended to, and didn't seem to miss me at all. And that was ok.

I held on.

She did it again and again. Nanny Camp. A school trip to D.C. Weekends with friends.

She went off to high school. And there were nights out at ballgames, dances, movies, and overnights. There were no more "I miss yous" and no more "don't leave mes." Instead there were check-ins by phone, but mostly by text.

"I am here."

"Luv you."

"Safe and sound."

"Can you pick me up at 11:30 instead?"

I held on.

Brigidonherway

Brigidonherway

I held onto the phone and thanked God she was safe. That she was happy. That she was fully and completely alive. I held onto the memories of her wrapped tightly around my leg and felt so grateful I didn't let go too soon, too quickly, too harshly. I gave her what she needed, when she needed it, because, because...this....this time. This day.

She's on her way.

But, she has her anchor. Her safe harbor. Her steadfast mom. I am not going anywhere. No matter where she is, no matter what she does, no matter where she goes: I am here.

I held on.

And so now, as she takes off to see the world--flying over an ocean to see such magical places we've collectively dreamed about for years, Paris, Versailles, Toledo, Barcelona, Madrid--I can't help but smile. I can't help but feel OK.

Because, I know now that letting go is mostly holding on.

To her.

To her dreams.

To the life she has in front of her.

To the beauty that awaits her.

And so when people ask me how I am doing this? How am I letting my daughter go half way around the world all alone? I say:

I am holding on.

For dear life. Hers. Mine.

Forever.

Just before take-off.

Just before take-off.