One true thing
She popped up a few hilltops over. Seeing her body limned in desperation instead of relief, I realized she hadn’t heard us yelling back. We shouted louder, waved and screamed and jumped around, but the wind took our voices the wrong way and her panicked eyes skittered right past without catching.
We waited; she was facing us. Surely she’d see us any second. Annnny second now. We were so close. And she did start walking after a bit, but in a wandering way. In a lost and heartbroken, heartbreaking way. And in the wrong direction.
I caught up to her in just a few minutes. She didn’t see me until I was almost on top of her. She almost took me down with a tackling hug; she hasn’t cried that hard since the her first weeks in daycare. I held her tight and told her the same thing I told her then: “It’ll be okay, I’d never leave you, I will always come back for you.”
And it’s one of those moments where life folds over onto itself, and instead of twelve she’s not even two and we’re at daycare and she won’t let me leave because her dad left one day and still hadn’t come back and that was weeks ago so who knew what the world’s rules were now. Other kids cry with anger or loss when their moms dropped them off; mine screamed with terror. I’d say, “It’s okay, it’s okay” but she could hear that I didn’t believe it myself and just cry harder. I clenched my jaw and her shaking little body close, all anguish and hot tears tucked under my chin, both of us exhausted from our new lives and her new nightmares, next to tears myself because you can’t see your child in pain and not feel it yourself and knowing nothing would make this better, really, nothing would bring her dad back and everything was wrong so I just started chanting the only true thing I knew: “I will never leave you, I will always come back for you, every time, always, always” until her sobs slowed into regular-kid-at-daycare sobs, then I’d give her a last hug and a big false smile and say goodbye as if everything were fine and she’d finally let me go and sometimes I could make it all the way back to the car before I was in tears myself.
And now, a decade and many lifetimes later, surrounded by sky and cholla, the wind whipping our voices out of our mouths and replacing them with hair, Miss G covered in tears and snot, I hold her the same way, taller than me in her hiking boots, tell her the same true thing.
And she cried a lot and threw up a little and we cleaned her up and took deep breaths together and she said she’s never going ahead of us again. But I know she will and I love that about her, love that she blazes ahead, eyes bright, machete in hand to slash new paths. And, as always, am amazed/flattered/mystified that this tough-as-nails child needs me at all when she is ten times more fearless and capable than I was at her age. Maybe at any age.
Everything in the world has changed, every bit of our lives, except that one true thing that remains within and above all else: that we two are always, always, always. And for always.
On Mothers’ Day, I celebrate my strong, amazing daughter. I thank her for making me a mama. We do whatever she wants to do, because it’s her day more than mine. She gave it to me, this best gift of all gifts.
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