Family, Life, Motherhood

When She Leaves

Teenager sitting on cement step

Since she was about the same height as my knees, my oldest daughter has spent a week or so with her dad every summer.
At first, she could only go on vacation for a few days at a time, and she cried the whole time.
I hated those “vacations.” They were neither for her nor for me. I would even say it’s not a vacation for her dad, since I doubt he enjoys seeing his only child cry for a woman he doesn’t like.

She was probably five years old when she first had the freedom to travel away for a whole week.  But not without choking sobs, tears, and into her phone calls to me right before she went to bed each night. She did this quietly so as not to wake her father up or make him feel bad. Even at such a tender age, she had a sense of wrongdoing.

Believe me when I say I’ve carried my fair share of guilt.
Because of me and the choice I made, she had to go through what she did. I take full responsibility. It’s not that being with her dad was intended to be a kind of corporal punishment, but when you’re young, a girl, and struggling with attachment difficulties, it might feel like one. I cautioned her father not to take it personally, but she seemed to pick up on the fact that he did.

This week of the year has always been one of my least favorites.
It was challenging for her when she was an only child.
When she wasn’t around, I didn’t have the maternal instincts that I normally did.
Being Anna’s mother encompasses a significant portion of who I am as a person.

After the arrival of her sister, things became much more difficult for Anna.
When she was not here, she was missing out.
We continued on without her presence.
Before she left, she would go over to her younger sister and whisper in her ear, “Don’t grow while I’m gone.”

Every July comes around, and I silently get ready for that week.
I design a menu for the night before she leaves and the night she returns home that includes all of her favorite dishes.
Before she leaves, I’ll make spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread. When she returns, I’ll make shepherd’s pie.
When she was younger, we used to read over the packing list that her dad would provide and pack her suitcase together. At the same time, we would wipe away one other’s tears and make each other false promises that the week would go by quickly.

In the days leading up to it, we make an effort to hold hands a little more, gaze into each other’s eyes a bit more, embrace each other a little tighter, and say, “I am really going to miss you,” whenever we have the chance.
The night before she goes, we spend the night together in my bed for a sleepover.
My husband willingly gives up his place in bed so that the two of us may read novels like Junie B. Jones, which eventually led to Judy Blume, which eventually led to Us Magazine.
The most of the time, we either play with each other’s hair or just sit together in peace while reading our individual books. Occasionally, we paint our toenails or eat Ranch-flavored Pringles.

Without her, our family is incomplete, much like a puzzle that’s missing a piece.
As I sit here at two in the morning and type this, she will depart in four hours and 25 minutes to spend a week in a cabin in the middle of the woods in a different state with her other family.
When she is sound asleep, I will periodically massage her back, play with her long hair, and simply try to savor these final moments.
This stunning, infuriating, fantastic, frustrating, and loving adolescent takes a piece of my heart with her whenever she travels, whether it’s to Minnesota or elsewhere.

I am going to really, really miss her.

27 thoughts on “When She Leaves”

  1. I love you, Kari, and I'm so sorry for you and your amazing girl. You capture the anguish that comes with this annual ritual so well. My daughter is going to be gone wit her dad for 10 days this summer and I'm so dreading it. She and I also love Ranch Pringles.


  2. I knew there was a reason I love you so much.Call me when she leaves, I will come with Ranch Pringles.


  3. I remember these feelings also, but I'm the mom on the other side. My two stepsons would arrive to spend the entire summer with us, flying halfway across the country to see the father they loved, the new stepmom they weren't so sure about, and the baby sister who got her own bedroom meaning the brothers now shared a room. The first week was always a bit rough but by the end of the summer we were a family. I hated to see those 2 little boys leave, and it broke my heart to see their little sister pining away for them.The boys are now in colllege, the little sister is 13. Blending families is so hard, but can also be so wonderful.I hope that this week is a good one for your daughter. I hope that she is welcomed with love and acceptance and joy. And if she isn't, I hope she remembers how much her family back at home loves her!


  4. Thank you so much Tracy for the other perspective.She is met with love there so I know she is doing fine and having fun.But I still miss her so much. 🙂


  5. Beautifully written, but a little heartbreaking. I love that you two have such a close relationship.


  6. Thinking of you! Sounds like you have a great relationship. You know the love runs deep when Pringles are involved. Hope the time is flying…


  7. Oh, my heart is aching for you. Now that I've met Anna and seen you gals together, and heard how you LOVE being with your kids, this just seems so hard. For everyone involved. I know you'll miss each other, but things will go right back to the way it was seven long days later. I hope it goes faster than it seems for you!


  8. Oh, Kari, this made me tear up! I hate that this is so hard for everyone involved, but I love the relationship between you and your daughter. She knows that you are thinking about and waiting for her, and that means so much. And there I go again. xoxo


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