By RoiAnn Phillips
I packed my daughterâ€™s suitcase this week with ten tiny notes, two swimsuits, an assortment of clothing, a few books, a green Martian nightlight from IKEA, and a giant pile of Ugly Dolls. Her Wisconsin grandparents keep a toothbrush for her in the bathroom cabinet, toys in the basement, and a small bicycle in the garage. In the backyard, they have a swimming pool. Sheâ€™s pretty sure her feet will touch bottom this year.
Last summer, she was gone a full week. Kellyâ€™s mom begs us each year for more time and I have been slow to comply, but I watched the balance shift last year between missing us and loving her time â€“ I do mean L-O-V-I-N-G her time at Camp Grandma. She came home with crazy stories of freedom and adventure and ice cream every night, without even a hint of sadness. So this year, our ten-day-limit was more about me than it was about our daughter. Sheâ€™d probably stay in Wisconsin a month now if Iâ€™d let her go.
While Eva was still a toddler, I used to write notes to Kelly whenever she traveled for business. Gradually I began to tuck away notes for the girls, too, when they went on trips â€“ summer, Christmas, college â€“ but I wondered this time if I needed to send Eva off with one for each day, or if a simple handful would suffice. Then she said to me one afternoon out of the blue, â€śMami, are you going to hide cards for me, in my suitcase?â€ť
â€śOf course, Honey.â€ť
â€śOne for each day?â€ť she continued.
â€śAbsolutely!â€ť There was my decision. Apparently, we have a tradition.
I always had it in my head that she opened her notes at the start of each day, but of course she didnâ€™t. In the mornings, she would pull on her clothes and rush out to the kitchen for cinnamon raisin bread, or juice, or peaches with whipped cream â€“ things she never got at home. Or sheâ€™d be so excited about a day at her great auntâ€™s cottage that sheâ€™d be awake with her swimsuit on under her clothes, playing quietly in her room for two full hours before the rest of the house was awake. But still, she saved my notes for nighttime. Night is the time for quiet, for kisses, for softly encouraging words, for intimate connections. Nighttime is stories and foot rubs, ice cold water on the bedside table, and the sharing of secrets.
As I prepared cards for this trip, I asked questions about her day. I drew checkboxes and fill-in-the-blanks for her to answer back â€“ like a conversation. She has, on occasion, returned my notes with answers written in. Equally often, she has not. But this isnâ€™t the point. She engages my notes the way she talks on the phone. Sometimes she speaks. Just as often, she does not.
The morning she left was not idyllic. I had dreams of long hugs and quiet furtive parental advice, graciously received with sloppy kisses and promises to call us every day. Whose family I thought I was living in when I dreamt up these things, I couldnâ€™t tell you. Eva bounded into our room just before 6:00 a.m. singing a made-up song: â€śTodayâ€™s the day â€“ todayâ€™s the day â€“ todayâ€™s the day â€“ yes â€“ todayâ€™s the day,â€ť and she leapt right onto our full sleeping bodies, with a giggle, a grin, and lots of wiggling. She got herself dressed and brushed quickly after that. But then she refused to feed the dogs, spoke over our conversations in the kitchen, and nearly had to sit on the stairs for disrespect.
I left for work shortly before she left for her trip. She pecked me on the cheek and gave me a one-armed hug while she cuddled our new kitten, Johnny. She said she loved me, I said I loved her, and we blew kisses through the front window while I walked to the train. No furtive advice. No long lingering hugs. I guess weâ€™ve been saying all week what needs to be said. And for the rest, we have our notes.
Iâ€™m told that when she arrived, she and her cousin ran into each otherâ€™s arms, spun each other around, and held on for a long, long time.
Have a really good time, my little Bumblebee. I know you will.
Freedom. Adventure. Ice cream. Whatâ€™s not to love?
Maybe this summer, Iâ€™ll try the everyday ice cream thing, too.
- Write to RoiAnn Phillips and Kelly Fondow at firstname.lastname@example.org