We were on a July canoe trip not so many years ago, paddling through rocky cliffs and sandy beaches and grassy fields, when we rounded a bend in the river and spied the big eyes and bright white spots of a frightened fawn. She was tucked into a little burrow in the bank, all alone, watching a world of darting kingfishers and sleek otters and loud and curious humans.
She’d been left there by design. That’s what mama deer do, find a safe space to hide their young when they are too frail to roam. The does forage during the day while their little ones rest. They know hovering only attracts attention — and predators. They return often to check on and care for their babies.
My children no longer need feeding and protecting. They are more like the sinewy bucks with their just-emerging antlers or graceful does gamboling across the forest floors.
They are finding their paths, tasting new freedoms, facing new dangers.
Like many mothers before me, I am terrified of this stage.
I remember the almost suffocating responsibility I felt bringing my infant boy home from the hospital. How could I possibly know enough to keep him safe and happy? To keep him alive?
It was worse when I pulled away from his college apartment nearly a year ago. Then, the responsibility to survive was all his.
In a few weeks, my oldest girl will be the next to go. She has found her herd in the company of incredibly dedicated dancers who are ever-striving to be stronger, faster, better. It will be up to her to feed herself, pace herself, to choose the relationships and opportunities that serve her best.
Like the mama deer leaving her baby in the bank, I have to walk away for my girl’s own good.
I know from my son’s leaving last year that I will more than miss my daughter. I will mourn her. I will grieve for the colicky, cranky baby that she was and the sweet, helpful toddler she became. I will yearn for my bright, funny elementary schooler. And catch my breath when I remember my always-pushing-harder high schooler.
But standing in her way, willing time to stop, these are not options. I can no more keep her with me than a doe would choose to endanger her fawn by staying too close.
So I am mapping my 10-hour drive to Connecticut and booking us a hotel room. I am shopping for the supplies she’ll need. I am trying to impart all the advice I’ve forgotten to share in our 17 years together.
No matter what happens, this I know to be true: My daughter will not be the same girl she is today when she returns. She will be more herself then. She will belong less to my fold.
After spending decades dedicated to stitching a supportive family fabric, it’s now time for me to watch it unravel as each child takes what they need to make their own way.
As they should. So goes the cycle of life.
And yet, while I encourage my teens to pack and plan, I can see a not-so-distant future in which I am the fawn left in the burrow watching the world unfurl before me.
Photo by Erika Fletcher on Unsplash.