“For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday” – Khalil Gibran

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Eighteen years ago, on the morning of September 20, after almost 24 hours of labour, we finally got to meet our first-born, a beautiful baby girl with a headful of hair, and a face that was the “dead stamp” of her father, as we say in Jamaica. We named her Rajini, which means queen but also “ray of sunshine” and “binder” or someone who ties things together. She has thus far lived up to each meaning of her name. As first grand and great-grandchild, she certainly was treated like a princess by her doting grand and great-grand parents. Her generally sunny nature was evident very early in life, as she would willingly go to the open arms of the many eager extended family members wanting their time with the princess.

More importantly to me, her birth entwined my life with my beloved husband’s in a way that could never be untied. For the rest of our lives, we would be her parents. She also tied my family of origin (Sri Lankan) to my husband’s family of origin (Jamaican) by combining not only genes, but culture and ways of being that celebrated family in all its many facets. She is a compilation of our collective love, creativity, intellect, curiosity, courage and perseverance. She binds us together.

Two years ago, my daughter began the process of preparing to test her wings on a solo flight. She decided that she wanted to go away to school, and started her college application preparations. As she made her way through SATs, and essays and filling out endless forms for her chosen North American colleges , I began my own preparations…the ones necessary to allow her to fly unfettered to test her wings. From the time my two children were born, my goal as a parent has been to raise them to be able to manage without me. So in a way, I had begun the process of letting go from the moment they left my womb. Yet now that the actual moment was approaching and I contemplated how things would change, my heart began to hurt. This was not going to be easy, no matter how long I had been preparing for it.

So, during the final leg of the preparation to launch journey, I decided to spend some time with the mental albums of memories I had accumulated with my daughter over the years. In the early morning hours, in silence and solitude, I leafed through the memory album in my head: there were images of the chubby baby that refused to sleep in the daytime, the long haired sturdy little girl who wanted to jump in the puddles when we walked around the dam, and used to be afraid of pumpkin vines that grew wild in the garden. Then there was a short video strip of a chubby toddler in a nightie who would, like clockwork, get out of her bed at 4am (or thereabout), stop at her potty to pee, and then come to climb into our bed to sleep. The little girl memories gave way to ones of the slightly bigger girl starting kindergarten, and struggling to write the number 2, then beginning to read Nancy Drew books by the time she was in Grade 2. There are images of a noodly little girl in her gi, beginning karate, and in her various princess dresses for birthdays.

Then there is the older girl the night before the first day of high school, scared that she would not have any friends at her new school…a fear made worse by the fact that her best friend in Grade 6 had gone back to England for high school. The next image is the tall teenager, having what I used to call “creepy conversations” with her friends…creepy because there were no spoken words (like the phone calls I made as a teenager). All we see are the fingers flying on the screen, and my teenager laughing or smiling, or sometimes looking glum. Memories roll on to the regular “Mummy and Rajini tea times” that we started having, to give us alone time for discussing juicy gossip from school, dramas and trials with her many friends, school-work, life and everything else.

There are pictures in my heart of the little girl who cried all the tears I could not cry on the day my father died, and a younger teenager who cried by herself over the death of her hamster one night, and an older teenager who cried for a classmate who was assaulted, and because she missed her “baby” sister who has been her companion in the nest from the time her memory begins. Both my daughters and I have learned together of the power of tears and the relief that comes from letting those tears flow freely.

In the silent early morning hours, as I sit with my journal and flip through my memory album, the ache in my heart grows and I welcome the tears that flood my eyes because they make the ache more bearable. I mourn the passage of time that has brought my daughter to the point where she is ready to manage without me. It is the inevitable event that I have been preparing for since she was born , and I have to find the strength to open my arms to release her… Somehow, giving myself the time and permission to remember, and cry without restraint or explanation is healing. These are not tears of regret because there is nothing to regret. I could not have asked for a more fulfilling 18 years with my first-born ray of light. Nor or they tears of wanting to go back in time, because I most definitely would not want to relive that period. They are in actuality the tears of acceptance that a chapter has ended and a task has been completed and that life moves in one direction: forward. I have indeed found the strength to open my arms to release my ray of sunshine.

So this September 20, my amazing daughter will celebrate her first birthday away from home. She will turn 18, and as the childhood chapter of her life closes, a new adulthood one begins. We lived that childhood chapter together to the fullest with no regrets, and the time has come for a new chapter for her and for me. I miss her intensely, and with extra volume each time I pass her empty room, yet each day it becomes a little easier to hold that missing and still get on with the business of life. As we step forward into a new way of being in the world and with each other, the things that remain constant are our love for each other, and the fact that no matter how many chapters we go through, she will still be my daughter, and I will still be her mother. My daughter has found her wings and my heart is at peace.

 

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