One of the lil’ monkey’s two childcare-for-voice lessons caregivers cared for her for the last time today. Most likely. She’s a recently graduated high school senior, virtually matriculated college freshman. She’s off to Boston any day now.
They had spent the morning together at a nearby tot lot, playing imaginative games as they often had. The younger brother was along for the ride, having become old enough to be manageable. The three came back to the house, the kids smudge-filled and all smiles. The lil’ peanut went down for a nap, and the two gals, one little and one big, read fairy tales on our couch for a good long while, as they often had. Then it was time for our daughter’s “biggirl” friend to go.
I came out from where I had been working, and asked to take a photograph of the two of them. The lil’ monkey said Nooooooooo. For which reason I don’t know: arbitrary assertion of a right, just to remember that it’s there? Or instinctive concern that the moment would tap into a well of sadness about the fact that her biggirl friend was about leave? I respect both, and didn’t press the matter.
As is often the case, just before the young woman left, the lil’ monkey began to tune out. We noted this some time ago, that she begins to defend against her own feelings of sadness at separation by latching on to the next thing, before the soon-to-be separated person leaves. At preschool, when the beloved or I were all ready to do some elaborate “push me out the door” kind of leave-taking, she often simply tuned us out and began to tune into the play dough, or a book that was being read.
The young woman knew this, experienced in the ways of kids as not just a babysitter, but a camp counselor. She took no offense. Though I might have seen a wee tug at the heart. Maybe. Teenagers, even teenagers on the brink of their adulthood, can still be ciphers to me. I expect my own will be, too.
She began to head down the outdoor staircase off our front porch, at which point the lil’ monkey commenced to wave good-bye to her through the window from inside. I stepped out on our porch, lil’ monkey on my hip, and she waved at her biggirl friend more enthusiastically. She smiled and waved back. Again, maybe a tug I saw. A glassy eye. Maybe. Maybe not.
Down the stairs and out the gate she went, calling up, “Have a great last year of preschool!”
I whispered to the lil’ monkey to call something back to her. “You say, Baba! You say!”
So I called down, “Have a great first year of college!”
As she walked up the sidewalk, the sound of the beloved’s voice lesson streamed out into the otherwise quiet residential street. A young man, himself off to his first college year in Los Angeles any day now, was singing “Johanna,” a sweet song from Sweeney Todd. They did this show with the beloved when they both were sophomores.
As the big girl/young woman walked up the street, I imagined all the thoughts and feelings she might be having. One by one, saying goodbye to the associations of her youth. The sound of voice lessons, of the musicals that fueled her love for theater. Old friends and acquaintances. Saying goodbye to our girl. Who, if and when she sees her again, maybe when she’s home on break, will be, like her, a slightly different person. The big girl, more so I imagine, than the little. Regardless, the delicate thread tying the two to this time, the quiet of the late summer, the young woman’s high school gig as caregiver, will have since dissolved.
I spent a long time with the lil’ monkey on the porch. She was quiet, and thoughtful. Digesting the moment, it seemed clear. She was not particularly sad. But then the young woman and I are the ones who know more about what it means, that she’s going off to college, and won’t be back to play again in the same way. That’s a happy thing, too, of course. Bitter/sweet; both/and. I saw today that (of course!) it’s that way for the kids who grow up and leave us, too, as much as it is for we who watch them go.
Yesterday, the lil’ monkey was chasing bubbles from a bubble machine at the end-of-the-year preschool picnic. As I looked at her, I realized that I am far enough into my parenthood to really know it, that her bubble-chasing years are limited. At least, the years of her chasing them in this way, with this total absorption, no grown-girl thoughts kept studiously at bay. And I realized why it is that childhood is such a precious thing to those of us who have left it: it is, by definition, fleeting. We all know that. And perhaps none so acutely as those who leave it behind, friend by friend, association by association, and walk slowly up the sidewalk toward what’s to come.