Our daughter ended up in the hospital last week. Eight hundred miles and another time zone only added to the anxiety. Parenting from a distance is unsettling.
A doctor’s voice scratches from my wife’s cell phone, the speaker on.
“Appendicitis,” she said. “We’ll do the surgery tonight and keep her overnight.”
My watch sweeps towards 9 p.m. local; our daughter an hour ahead. My wife aches to be there. Flights are done for the day. Fourteen hours by car won’t work. This is going to happen without us.
“Don’t worry,” the doctor said. “We do these regularly. The doctor performing the procedure is very good.”
She didn’t, however, solve our time zone and distance problem.
As much as I know my daughter is a full-grown and mature woman, someone who is working her way through college and keeping up her grades, who on the spur of the moment jumped a flight so she could wake up alone in New York City on her birthday, she remains the fierce bundle of energy I first met on a snow-covered morning in Pittsburgh. In that delivery room, she kicked and screamed her way into my heart like an angry hurricane. And I gladly made room.
The doctor again reassured us all would be fine. I thought of the bundle of energy twisting in a blanket — putting the world on notice she had arrived, loud and proud.
The doctor closed the call and my wife sat with the phone between us. I did not need words to understand what she was going to do next — my opinion not invited. Marriage is like that, learning to read between the lines, understanding what is being said without having to say a word.
We said a prayer and parted ways — my wife to pack her bag, and me to book her on the first direct flight the next morning.
Letting go as your kids become adults is not easy. While you need to give them their space and the opportunities to fail, you soon realize it is more difficult on you than them. They are ready; you are not or never will be.
I thought about teaching my daughter to ride a skateboard at the age of 3. I’d put her brother’s Batman helmet on her head, one so large it tilted to one side. I’d have her place her small feet between mine, her facing me.
We began by coasting down a gently sloped driveway. Eventually, we moved to larger hills and faster speeds. We took a few falls, but each time I’d pull her close and take the tumble on me, pulling her safely between my arms. And each time, as we would get up, I’d hear a giggle.
“Let’s do that again,” she said.
That is what I was thinking of as the doctor wheeled her to surgery — and all I wanted to do was pull my little girl tightly into my arms and protect her, taking away any pain or danger.