How do you know if the job is done?
Have I cast her well enough to cope, I worry?
“I don’t know how to use a dishwasher” my eldest daughter Melie says. So long as you can wield a bottle a bottle of Sunlight and a sponge I tell her. And she can. African Style. Washing each plate carefully under a running tap.
It’s tangible. Her going out into the BigWideWorld. I can feel the last hours that she is home rush past. I listen to her singing in the bath and I stare at my reflection as tears well. Can I hold this moment? Eke it out?
Of course I can’t. I can only brand it a memory later.
She is leaving for a first job. To share a house with other young. Her own home. On the other side of the world.
“Can you cook pasta?” I ask, last minute panic strikes as we watch a pan of spaghetti boil frothily on the hob.
She snorts, ‘of course I can Mum!’ To prove it she threads a rope from the water and flings it against the kitchen wall, ‘and to test if it’s cooked’. It sticks in an untidy S. It’s ready.
But I still can’t stop fretting than she is.
She can wash dishes and make Bolognese.
But have I taught her well enough to manage in a world that can be unkind? That moves so fast? That throws curved balls? Will she be safe? Look after herself. Eat her five a day. Or is it seven? Get enough sleep?
Will she love herself as much as I do her?
All those titles on Parenting, as if we were learning how to paint a picture or throw a clay pot, but not a single marker to let you know if you’ve done a halfwaydecent job? No boxes to tick. My husband’s role comes with tasks and targets and measures to know how he’s done. Mine doesn’t. The raising of children is not an absolute science. We parent (when I was a child, that was a noun, when did it become a verb?) as well as we can under the perpetually evolving circumstances of our lives, according to the natures of our offspring. Parenting is not prescriptive. It bends and roils and rolls and bucks and sometimes you struggle to fit its shape. Give them roots, grant them wings. Is that really enough? Such a waffely, new age directive.
Our last evening and I can’t get near enough. Her essence is so familiar. I make her lie close. A selfie, I insist, and she laughingly obliges. But does not photoshop my front teeth straight. Or iron my lines. I knew she wouldn’t. She often doesn’t listen, her habit is to hurtle herself at life. I know her so well, a piece of me carved off and hewn to a form that began as half her father, half me and now mostly her own person. Woman child. My funny, zany, brave, clever, maddening daughter.
We leave before dawn, in the dark and the cold, and her chatter sustains the three hours to the little airport from which she will leave for a big airport. She has 36 hours of travel ahead of her.
I sit and wait a while with her and then I know I must say goodbye. It is unbearably hard tearing myself away, the physical act of choosing to stand to hug and bid farewell jars, a rip. Could her debut to the wideworld not evolve more gently? I wish I were closer. Close enough to do her laundry the odd weekend. Close enough to drive her to her new home, with duvet and linen and bedside lamp. Admire her room for real and not just via a virtual telescope. I could recklessly demand that she stay. I still hold the reins of control. Just. In the tips of my fingers. I paid for her airfare after all. I could remove her name from the manifest. Demand a refund. Insist that she climb back into the car and drag her suitcase with her so that we might return home with her. Captive.
But I cannot do that. For this is her adventure. Her life. Her new beginning. A genesis.
I unfurl a tight hold and watch this beautiful young bird teeter to the edge of my grip and take flight.