For every mother (or father) who has ever watched their child drift, and for every child who has ever flown away.
You were soft and safe here, under my wings. My feathers shielded you from the bitter cold, my lips caressed your forehead. You had nothing to worry about, nothing to fear. You were just smiles and big green eyes, a perfect child, happy as can be. You slept in my nest, the nest he and I built, the nest he left, the nest he never came back to. He flew overseas on strong, powerful wings, but he was lost somewhere, a place I don’t even know. He would have loved you, though. Your chubby cheeks and dimples would have melted his heart.
I watched you grow. It was just me and you, you and me. Forever, honey. Your smile only got bigger, my darling. When your first word was mommy, my thought was baby. You learned to crawl, and to walk, and then to run. I was with you, child, every step of the way. I danced in the rain with you, twirled under the sun. I kissed you goodnight, and I hugged you when you couldn’t fall asleep. I smiled when you laughed, and I cried when you were sad. You held so much joy in just the tip of your pinky finger, joy that made a broken heart sing.
And then it was questions, a trillion silly questions that always began with why. Sometimes even Mommy doesn’t know the answer, darling. We watched movies together, sang songs along with the radio, and played with your toys on the living room floor until dinner time. I cooked your favorite suppers and made sure you had all your fruits and veggies. I tucked you in at night, tenderly, and sat by your bed until you fell asleep. I read you stories of heroes and adventurers, of princesses and knights.
You grew a little older. I packed up your backpack, placed it on your shoulders. I took your picture on that first day of school, and my heart swelled with bittersweet joy. I remember when you were just a little pumpkin in my rounded belly; you were with me always. I was the one who drove you to school every morning and picked you up every afternoon. You were a bright child, my love, always ready to learn.
You kept getting older and taller, your legs longer and your eyes wider. You kept running faster. It was hard for me to keep up with you, dear! But I did it, I did. For you. I kept going, just to see you smile, even as your dimples faded. We picked dandelions and you called them flowers. We walked the neighborhood streets hand in hand. You could do the monkey bars all by yourself—how surprised I was! We rolled down hills and got grass stains on white clothes. We had picnics at the park and fed seeds to the pigeons. Oh, my dear, you kept wanting to hold one! It took a long time to convince you that they would always fly away.
You grew some more, and when I told you to stop I wasn’t just teasing. Middle school already? But, honey, weren’t you just in first grade? You stopped letting me hold your hand; you stopped climbing trees. You didn’t let me read you a story, but at least you let me kiss you goodnight. So as you read to yourself, I read to me. It was a lot less fun, sitting in the empty living room and waiting for you to turn off your light. Truth be told, darling, I didn’t really read.
On October 31, you went with your friends and I stayed home. I smiled and waved when I saw your costume waddling around on the streets. You rolled your eyes; I reminded myself it was normal and tried to breathe. But it wasn’t normal for us. We were so close. Peanut butter and jelly. Always. Always.
This was the “new normal” you told me, so I nodded. I tried to adapt to never being able to catch you. You would always be in my sight, though. Down the path, I could see you running, and I kept going, too. For you.
My hair was turning grey, but I said not yet, and I scheduled an appointment with my hairdresser. I looked young, but my eyes, my dear, are tired. Although, you never looked at my face anymore. I peered into yours, the face I used to hold. Where are those days, my darling?
I suppose they are just Memories now, the pictures we snap to remind us of good times. Oh, and they were good. They were beautiful with a capital B, like sunshine glowing golden on a beach, or a cloudless, clear night and a full moon. Our mind takes the picture, but it is only with our hearts we truly see.
You kept growing, and we kept drifting apart. I was weary, and I fell behind. I saw you occasionally, when I turned the corner. I could see you running, very far away. Nonetheless, I could see you, and this made my heart happy.
One day, you decided to pack your bags. Stuck in this moment, terrified of the choice, I had no clue of what to do. You were determined to go. There was no time. My hesitation ruined us. Words were used as weapons. And just like that, you were out of my sight. Even if I sprinted as fast as my burning legs would allow, I can never reach you. I couldn’t convince you, could have I? That’s what I think, every night, alone in my empty nest with my ragged wings and beating heart, what could I have done, to get my lovely child to stay? My hope, dear, is that one day, one day, you’ll come home to your tired Mommy, whose hair is an unflattering shade of grey, but whose heart loves you very, very much.