Today she drove herself to school and youth group for the first time. She wanted her sister to dye her hair brown to celebrate getting her driver’s license a week ago, and with my reluctant permission did so. Today she straightened that naturally curly, once blonde hair into a sleek, shinny, brown curtain swinging on her shoulders.
"I love it," she exclaimed, "I think it makes me look older, don’t you?" Yes, it does. Everything is changing for her. Everything is changing for me. Her smile was big and bright as she stopped at the door and looked back, "Bye, Mom. I love you."
My smile was big and only a little forced, "Bye, honey. I love you too." My throat felt tight and ached with that special ache of pride and loss. She is so beautiful, with such a lovely character. Her future shines bright on the horizon. She is going, going, not yet gone but I can see that day from where I stand now.
It had been different with the other two. The sense of pride was the same, but the sense of loss was tempered because there was still the next, and then the next. I had looked forward to the day the oldest got her driver’s license almost as much as she had herself. What a help it would be to have her able to taxi her sisters to their various activities and run to the store to pick up some eggs or milk for me on occasion. When the second got her license it was the same, someone else to help with taxi duty and chores.
But it’s different now. Now I look forward to taxi time with her. I work my schedule around the times I take her places and when I pick her up. “I’ll take Carla an hour early to the choir concert and get good seats for us all,” or “After I pick Carla up from school, I’ll take her to Penney’s for that new shirt she wants.”
I started to say it today to Camille, our second daughter, “After I take Carla to church tonight, I’ll go to Costco. Oh,” I paused, “I don’t have to take Carla to church.”
“No you don’t, Mom,” Camille agreed. “Hey, maybe she can take me to church and I can get a ride home with Nathan afterwards.”
Nathan is Camille’s fiancé. She’s getting married in three months and then I’ll hardly need to go to Costco anyway. How large a package of meat will I need? How many cans of beans? Will I need the eight pack of macaroni and cheese?
Before Carla and Camille left for church that evening, we talked about what we would do for Camille’s birthday dinner on Monday. “We don’t have to go out,” she kindly offered.
“Yes,” Dad said, “but this is your last birthday at home. We’ll go out.” Last birthday at home. My heart skipped a beat and left a hollow feeling in my throat. Her last birthday at home. We went shopping for a gift while they were at youth group and when we got home a car was parked in front of the house. Julie, our first born, was there. She has been married for a year now. Her computer at her house had broken down so she stopped by to use ours. “I’m sure glad I still have my key,” she said. I’m sure glad too.
It is different, but it’s not over. They’re not mine to grasp, but they are still mine to love. It is the way it is supposed to be, that great circle of life, constantly growing and changing. Today I wanted to stop it, but it keeps winding its way around and around, making a beautiful pattern of circles, intertwined, locked together, like those puzzle rings you can’t break apart. It’s a family. My family.