My daughter Nicole came back from her Washington D.C. trip a changed person. The person who came back is much more mature, confident and independent. It’s a little frightening and as much as I marvel at the change, I miss the little girl she was before she went on the trip.
When we went to pick Nicole up at the airport, there were fifty or more other parents waiting for the plane to land. Natalie, Nicole’s younger sister, made a beautiful welcome back sign which read, “Welcome home Nicole! We love you! Don’t Ever Go Away Again!” I felt the same way. I would never say, but part of me yearned to yell at her, don’t ever go away again! I missed her, badly. But Natalie then decided, as eight year olds will do, that she was too embarrassed to hold it up because she had drawn a bunny on it and she didn’t want the fifth graders to think she was babyish.
The parents gathered, excited and eager to see our kids, a little fearful until all of the wheels of the plane touched down on the runway. We waited, making small talk about end of the year festivities – the upcoming fifth grade culmination ceremony which seems to have grown to mythic proportions making it only slightly less important than graduating from Harvard. We talked middle school choices and thoughts about what the next school year would bring. I had brought balloons, but David made me leave them in the car. He said, “She’s not coming back from Iraq, just a week in D.C.” I didn’t care, I was getting balloons anyway, even if she would only enjoy them for the car ride home! Other parents filtered in as their arrival grew closer, balloons clutched in their hands. I gave David a look which he pretended not to see.
When the first kids started filtering into baggage claim, the parents let out a cheer, screaming, clapping. I felt sorry for the other passengers on the plane. Not only did they have to tolerate a 5 hour flight with 44 kids, but now they had to deal with the parents, who were probably missing their children more than their children missed them. We spotted Nicole, but it was difficult to get through the crowd to embrace her. She hugged and kissed us, and Natalie flashed her the welcome sign so quickly that I’m sure Nicole barely got to see it. But instead of being teary or bubbling over with excitement to see us, Nicole said – in a voice that seemed liked she was making an effort to sound grown, “Hi Guys, good to be back. Let me get my bag.” She walked over to the luggage and refusing help from both me and her father, insisted on taking her giant, 45 pound suitcase off of the carrousel. I couldn’t believe it. The girl who used to ask me to carry her lunch box into school for her because it was too much to juggle with her backpack – why she refused to put it in her backpack is still one of those mysteries of the universe which will never be solved – was now handling a suitcase that was almost as big as she was, as well as a backpack. She looked at me and said, “Mom, I’ve been lugging around my own stuff, getting myself washed, dressed and ready every morning for eight days, I got this, I can handle it, I’m Miss Independence now!”
I was shocked, surprised and amused by her comment. We’ll see how long her Miss Independence reign lasts, but I do know that the change in her has been marked since she returned and that in some ways, what my neighbor said was true – a trip away, an opportunity to go to Washington D.C. (or anyway away from their parents for a week and be on their own) will be life changing. It’s a good change for the kids, harder on the parents. I love Nicole’s newfound confidence, but in some ways, I was missing my little girl. The next day, I told David how I was feeling about it and he looked at me like I was crazy, reminding me of all the times I’d tried to get Nicole (and the rest of them) to do a better job of picking up after themselves, keeping track of their own things, basically being more responsible and independent and now that she was doing it, I was complaining? As we were talking, Nicole, who was starting to show signs of jet lag on her first day back, interrupted us and curled up on the sofa next to me, burying her head in my arms. She murmured, “Good night, Mommy,” and allowed herself to drift off before the sun had even set or dinner was served. She was tired from her trip, from all the changes, and when everything was said and done, she still needed me to comfort her and help her get some rest. Okay, independent, but always my little girl.
Note: As we head into spring break, I’m going to do just that and take a break from posting next week. Okay, yeah, I know, I’m not in school anymore, but some habits, like taking spring break, die hard. Also, isn’t half the point of having kids so that you can relive all those things you loved about childhood even though you are an adult? Posting again on 5/6!