I held a crying boy in my arms sobbing, “My sister is leaving. I don’t want her to go.”
I couldn’t breath as I listened to a silly teenager sing in her dear accent along with the car radio, knowing the seat next to me would be empty soon.
I hear words that sound demanding in their urgency to express concern and love and warnings because that is the safest way to speak when emotions run high.
This is really, really hard.
The time we have spent together has been of deepening relationships and solidifying commitments. It has been difficult to navigate at times, because we are all in it for the long haul now, and we know it. Claws come out and scratch at the soft places. We grow in the aftermath and reach the next plateau. We’ve settled into the expectations and done some tough work together, and it feels like it might be time to address some behaviors and work on a new rhythm together and begin the next growth spurt…but we are out of time.
I want to keep working on life together here. I want to cuddle this girl into the crevices of this family even more snugly. I want to work with her on how to deal with conflict, how to move within disagreements, how to listen to the heart and not the tone. I want to show her that love is not a prize that can be won or lost, but the rock underneath, the solid ground upon which we build our lives.
We stand at the bottom of the next rise and I don’t feel strong enough for this. Sunshine is preparing herself to go back to her other life, which means shutting me out and asserting her independence. It is hard to feel like we are in conflict when all I want to do is have beautiful moments to remember.
But she needs to get ready to go. She is checking things off her list. She is making preparations for responsibilities and relationships back home. She is filling her suitcase and her mind with people I only know through her words. She needs to navigate this world without me.
There are flashes of truth followed by walls of stone. She confesses that she doesn’t know if she really wants to be an adult. And then she closes herself off to any more discussion and tells me that America means very little to her.
I feel alone without her already.
But I know she feels it too.
She is checking things off here as well. For as hard as she works to convince me that she is off without a care, her concern for me is palpable. She asks me about my task list, my relationships, my finances, and so many other things. She lectures me about how to handle this situation or how to train Little Man in that character trait. It is sometimes hard to let those waves of teenage perspective wash over me without comment. Instead, I try to look through to see the rocks that those words crash against, the truth that is unacknowledged underneath: she loves me. She does not want to let me go.
And I am so grateful for the ones who stand with me in these rushing, swirling emotions. The ones who don’t let a snipe ruin an evening. The ones who see a girl who glares and try to connect with her anyway. The ones who know that silence does not necessarily mean disengagement. And to that one particular person who opened up their life, warts and all, and sat under the microscope of a teenager’s analysis because she needed to make sure I was at peace: there aren’t words to describe my debt of gratitude for your graciousness.
It is often within these moments that I see her heart most clearly. The depth of connection is sometimes revealed in the passion of a moment.
In a car ride, a friend said it was a lot of responsibility for me to have a son.
“And me!” she said, “A daughter, too.”
My heart jumped unexpectedly.
My friend said sure, she was my daughter for now, but Sunshine was returning home soon and would be across an ocean, maybe for forever, so it wasn’t exactly the same.
The familiar sharp stab of pain.
But she was incensed. “This does not make me any less daughter,” she almost shouted. “I no go away. Never. Even if I am far away, I am still with this family. She has two children. Maybe you no understand how to count?”
And there it was, in the midst of a conversation about something completely different. This girl is loved. This girl loves. This girl is mine.
And that’s why it hurts so much to say goodbye.
Oh, how I long for more hours and more days.
And the waves and the mountains and the distance and the emotions and the surface attitudes, they all sit on the rock that is underneath it all. This family has been created. It is as real as the ground under my feet.