We didn't often go to the New England seashore when we lived here but always made an annual pilgrimage each August to Maine for a day of beach-walking and lobster–and extended family visits–when we came out each summer from Ohio. In my first summer after college, when I was 21, I lived in Brunswick, Maine for several months and held my first museum job. It was invigorating being so close to the ocean and to be able to visit it so readily.
Long Beach, York, Maine • June 11, 2009
As my daughter, my mother and I all love the ocean it seemed the right place to go to celebrate Addie's forthcoming 21st birthday and my mother's belated 70th. I'm entering midlife and we'll just leave it at that. Fitting passages all. Late last July, my daughter stayed behind in New England after we moved. She announced that she would be doing so–that she'd lined up a job until fall and had another beyond that–only days before our final time altogether in our home. It was a bittersweet summer, our last in our old house, but we were together again after a winter apart and those two months of summer were a great send off for all of us.
She did the right thing for herself and we are proud beyond measure that she made the independent choices that she has done this year. But that doesn't lessen the pain or distance or the loss of her. So, while mourning our old house and life this winter, while embracing the new, I've also been mourning the "empty nest" I have experienced with our daughter. Last summer the robins returned to their nest on our west porch and had several hatchings. Mrs. Robin feathered her nest as our daughter was leaving ours and we packed up a house of memory, several generations and history.
A bee in a beach rose–abundant and lovely and fragrant by the sea.
The past few days have been about celebration and looking forward. Of course the weather was overcast and the sun only came out as we headed towards the Maine bridge from outlet land this morning (isn't that always the way?). This didn't really matter–we still had a full day of cliff walks and beach treks and lobster rolls and naps and even a waiter who was born and raised in the town my daughter was and the town that was home to me and my mother for so many years. Small world, isn't it? It rained hard last night and that helped us all to sleep soundly.
Our beach visits were more November-ish than June but still lovely.
Barbara Kingsolver wrote in her essay, Letter to a Daughter at Thirteen:
...the minute you were born I looked at your hungry, squinched little face and I got it: We do this thing one minute at a time.She continues a few pages later:
People say it's because parents love their kids so much that they want to tell them how to live. But I'm afraid that's only half love, and the other half selfishness. Kids who turn out like their parents kind of validate their world. That was my first real lesson as a mother–realizing that you could be different from me, and it wouldn't make me less of a person.I'm still learning that lesson.
Who is this middle-aged woman and what does she want? Is she mother, daughter, wife, friend, writer–what else?
Last night as my daughter slumbered down one hall of the rambling old York Harbor Inn (in the "Yorkshire" room, something out of Alice in Wonderland) and my mother down another, I dreamt of our past life in a farmhouse that was once home to all of us. I remembered her delighted response to her first taste of ice cream that she had on my mother's 50th birthday, her first bicycle, her first day of school, her first time away at camp, when she first held her brothers and her puppy, Lucy, and somehow the rest just seems a blur. It all goes so quickly: "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it– every, every minute?" [Emily in Our Town].
After Addie was born my doula and family friend said, "Now begins the process of letting go...from here it's a series of goodbyes. When children are born into the world they are no longer really ours." It's still a process for me but a necessary one. I told my daughter she is doing what I dared not do and didn't really do until I was 45: completely leave home and never look back (well, almost).
Mom and me • York Beach, Maine • June 12, 2009
I am a week into my solo New England journey and as I embraced my daughter and my mother, I ached for my boys. I will return to them next week, just before Father's Day, and hug the daylights out of them and I hereby promise to savor every single day of their next 10 and 12 years before they, too, are 21.
Addie and Mom • June 11, 2009
So, a happiest of birthdays to my dear daughter – happy day, happy year, happy life. I wish you one filled with joy, necessary sorrow and everything in between–I am a thought or a call or an email and letter away. And to my mother, at the start of her eighth decade, here's to more of the same in your life, too. And thank you both, immeasurably, for being in mine. I love you.
POSTSCRIPT–Just now as I was finishing this blog I heard a rustle outside and looked out the large windows of the old schoolroom in the house where I am staying, sensing something watching me. It was the doe that had walked out in front of my car a few hours ago, just up from the driveway of the house by an abandoned stone church. I quietly went out on the back porch and we watched each other for a few minutes, mere feet apart, before she heard another car on the road, snorted and turned into the woods. My mother and I have always said that deer came to the farm during times of great change or to honor an event. Throughout this birthday-even while I have been writing, the doe has returned several times to graze, right out the windows, only to leave again.