She Anchored Me

November 19th, 2008

When she was born, something happened to my heart. It expanded beyond its secluded place in my chest, and became a fast growing vine that wrapped itself around her and lifted us both toward the sun. I knew, from the moment I held her in my arms, that there was nothing I wouldn’t do to keep her safe and happy.

I whispered love into her tiny infant ears, mother-speak that promised to nurture her potential, and guide her childhood journey gently.  I drew her, in my minds eye, at five, ten, twenty, and in every imagined picture she was beaming, healthy, and full of confidence. A child of my own, whose young experiences would be as different from mine as possible.  I was certain I could navigate the uncharted territory of security and happiness based on strong desire, and the protective instinct my own mother lacked but that I always had in abundance.

Of course, being something of a neophyte to the adult world, I failed in some ways. Finances were always precarious, and there were too many moves, across too many different states and cities, chasing better opportunities. There were often seven day work weeks and twelve hour days, leaving time together short and precious. There were struggles and disasters, and not nearly enough triumphs to lessen the impact.

Yet I look at my 26 year-old daughter now, and know that I have excelled. The daughter of my imagination is now my daughter in reality. She is bright, vivacious, plugged-in and beautifully connected, with a compassionate heart, and a rational-imaginative mind. When Elisabeth loves, she loves deeply and intelligently.  She has the kind of inner strength that seeks peace, but that will confidently enter the ring of battle when necessary.  She’s funny, quick-witted, and laughs easily.

And she’s my best friend. Perhaps the only friend I’ve ever had that knows me inside-out, accepts me unconditionally, and whose love and support I can rely on day after day, decade after decade.

I had a hard time when Elisabeth left home. For eighteen years, she had been my anchor, and when she was gone I felt strangely, disconcertingly untethered. I wasn’t expecting that, or any part of the empty nest syndrome. The benefit of having a child at nineteen, I thought, was that I would only be 37 when she became a legal adult. Thirty-seven is young! I imagined the start of a second life –-  a life where the need for the best-paying jobs became less important than doing the type of work that made me happiest — where I would have more time to write, and take on the unpleasant but necessary task of submitting work for publication.  If I wanted to,  I could date a lot of unsavory but interesting people, stay up late, fill the cupboards with junk food, and not worry about the kind of behavior I was modeling.  I could walk around the house naked, call in sick just because the sun was shining, and make a lunch out of margaritas.

The problem with all of those grand plans was that outside of writing, I had outgrown much of what I once thought would be fun. My definition of fun had changed in 18 years of parenting. Fun was being curled up on a couch with a pajama-clad kid, watching the movie Annie for the 105th time, and singing all the songs in our off-key but enthusiastic fashion. Fun was going out shopping for the perfect first date outfit, or enjoying a lazy “girl’s day” of movies, lunches, pampering, and togetherness.

In January, there will be a new chapter in my daughter’s life. She’s marrying a man she loves, and who loves her almost as deeply as I do – I could not ask for more. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to cry at the wedding since it’s in Mexico and beyond my means right now, but I think it’s more than likely that I’ll spend much of the reception in Minnesota bawling like the displaced but incredibly proud and happy parent that I am.

It’s been almost nine years since my daughter left home, and the feeling of being untethered remains. Sometimes it’s a freeing feeling, but at other times it just feels like I’m drifting, with nowhere for my heart to really land.

24 Responses to “She Anchored Me”

  • This is so poignant.

    I was ambivalent about becoming a parent and so was my husband. We were married for 13 years before we took the plunge into parenting. We were fortunate that when we decided to have children, nature accommodated us and we have two together.

    The most profound experience, the deepest relationship, the most primal connection, the best and wisest thing I’ve ever done.

    They have taught me at least as much as I’ve taught them. Being their mother has made me a better person, a better human being, a global citizen, a more compassionate soul.

    I’m so sad you won’t be able to share Elisabeth’s wedding day, but the love the two of you have shared over the years and the healthy relationship you’ve built are the very reason she is able to freely love another, to choose someone to share a life with, to be willing to make that commitment.

  • Jane,

    I always appreciate when you give us these glimpses into your personal life. Besides getting to know you as a talented writer, I feel like I’ve gotten to meet a unique and deep woman.

    It’s a bummer that you couldn’t escape the ravages of the economy and make the trip, but maybe your daughter and son-in-law won’t mind repeating their vows in a few years in some other exotic location.

    I am still reeling from my mom’s death. We were close like you and your daughter, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to pick up the phone to talk with her…and then realized that I can’t. Even at my age, losing a loving mother is so hard, even if it’s expected.

    I’m so happy though to say that I have no regrets, though. A lot of my friends weren’t on good terms with their moms or dads, but I was lucky. My mom was also my best friend, and my dad was my rock.

    p.s. Elisabeth, if you’re reading this, congratulations on your wedding, and much happiness! And take LOTS of pictures for your mom!

  • Jane - your writing here made me laugh and cry. My daughter is the absolute best thing I ever did and we shared many experiences (and still do) similar to yours. She also had a very different upbringing than mine. I can only imagine how painful it must be that you won’t be at Elizabeth’s wedding and my heart squeezed tight and hurt. I know you will be there in joy and spirit! Hugs coming your way.

    Elizabeth - congratulations and your extended “internet” family can’t wait to see pictures.

  • This is such a lovely story Jane. Thank you for writing it.

  • Oh my goodness … how close you seem to come to my heart when you write these things. Our daughter, whose name is Elizabeth, by the way, is at “outdoor education” this week. She’s been gone since Monday, and they don’t call or text msg or do anything that attaches them to modern technology when they are there. Leslie is beside herself with missing the child, who fills her days, keeps her on a schedule, and who is just so there in ways we never thought she could be for an eleven year old. I don’t look forward to when our Aries daughter will inevitably decide to embark on an independent road. I kind of hope she never leaves … but you know how that is.

    We just miss her this week really badly …


  • Awwww!!! Lis is a lucky girl.
    Such a lovely post.

  • Aww… You are both very lucky. And better still, you know this.

  • I love my sons, and they love me, and I wouldn’t trade any of them, but I’ve still always wondered what it would be like to have a daughter. I suspect that daughters might stay a little closer, especially when they have the type of relationship you and Elisabeth have.

    I remember seeing you two together in Savage when she came home from Iraq, and how you were always smiling or laughing when you were together. I only got to meet her briefly, but I sensed she was a very happy and smart girl.

    Congratulations to both of you!

  • OK - I think this was an excellent post. I never had children, but have had partners with children and value the mother-child bond, especially with daughters. However, I went home last night and was unsettled all evening over the fact that you cannot attend your daughter’s wedding. There is something horribly wrong with that! I don’t know what can be done to make it happen, but am willing to help make it so. What can we do?!? She is your life in so many ways and you should be a vital part of this amazing life transition.

  • We’re retired and on a fixed income but I’ll pitch in ten bucks to get Jane to the wedding. Anyone else out there with a few extra dollars? A hell of a Thanksgiving gift! Bet we can come up with a coach ticket if we all give a little.

  • First, what would it take to get you there? I would love to help with an early holiday present. You need a little rainbow in you life—–

  • Beautiful Jane! I have a great relationship with my son and my daughter, but there is a best-friends bond between my daughter and me. She’s a freshman in college. I know that “drifting” feeling.

  • Anne and Marcie - a very sweet thought and I thank you so much, but no. Do something good for yourselves, and know that I deeply appreciate the sentiment.

  • Really beautiful post, Jane! And soon enough, maybe you’ll have a grandchild! That should give you back the sense of being grounded that you miss!

  • This is beautiful, Jane :) I’m so glad you had each other all theses years. I’ll never know what it’s like to watch a daughter leave home - but I know what it was like leaving my mother. Then I knew what it was like leaving the province where she lives, 13 years ago. It was hard. It is hard every time we say goodbye after a visit. So we all should cherish the bonds we are blessed with.

    Thanks for this piece - it was a pick-me-up I needed today :)


  • lovely lovely…
    it’s funny how our children raise us. khalil gibran said it best in The Prophet. steady archer, you.


  • When my daughter left home I missed her so much that I almost bought a doll in the window of an antique store because it looked like her. Then I came to my senses and knew the doll would not make me feel any better. I love my sons as much as I do her but she and I have that bond that mother’s and daughters have. I really don’t know what I would do without her. I am glad you have your daughter Jane.

  • Hi Jane,

    I’m a friend of the pirate know to all as Anne Bonney AKA Julie. Your letter has touched me deeply. My wife and I have two daughters Elizabeth and Rebecca that are the joys of our lives. It’s nice to see the love you have for your child and the joy you feel that she found that someone that is special enough to start her journey. May she feel that same joy for her future children.

  • See, this is why my daughter never will leave home.
    Great article, and wonderful photos, too!

  • Jane, I’ve struggled with my response to this since you posted it. I never had this relationship, or anything closely resembling it with either my adoptive mother or my birth mother, who clearly said that she wanted no contact with me during the singular conversation I had with her years ago.

    The bond you share with Lis seems it should be a common one, but it’s not. And that is due to you and what you desired, and ensured, that she have. And Lis is a daughter that knows unconditional love, shares it and reflects it back to her mother.

    I am envious, in awe, and warm with pride for both of you.

  • That is really beautiful, as are you and your daughter.

  • Dear Jane, you have written a wonderful tribute to your beautiful daughter,one that I’m sure she will cherish. Congratulations and “well done” on your Huffpo entries.

  • It is my hearts deepest longing to have this type of relationship with my daughter. Not having a very healthy relationship with my own mother I know how incredibly important I am to her. Even at only 2 1/2 I know she is going to be an incredibly kind and sensitive person. As long as I don’t screw things up. :) Which is my biggest fear. There’s a lot of pressure to do things “right” as a mother and I hope that I am able to somehow learn to be a little easier on myself when I don’t measure up. Especially because that is what I hope to model to my little one. Motherhood is the most important thing I will have ever done with my life. I plan on savoring all the moments I can.

    Jane, I am so grieved that you will not be able to attend her wedding. I wish there were some way I could help.

  • You described for me so perfectly that feeling of emptiness when the last one leaves the nest. And you sit in your chair and you howl for those perfect moments which will never come again. So I tell every Mom, treasure the moments because they will never come quite that way again.

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