The Long Goodbye

It was 72 hours of labor, 24 of them especially difficult. Waves of long, powerful transition contractions fought my exhausted 19 year old body until it wouldn’t quite function anymore. Then, finally, the sweetness of an epidural and IV fluids, allowing me to fall into the deepest, restorative sleep. Six hours later I woke, revived, and pushed her out, warm and wet into the bright cold world.

Her gaze so fierce; fearfully locked on my face. She looked at me as if she knew me and her bright eyes told me two things. First, you are my person. Second, why did you let this awful, terrible, scary thing happen to me?

Then, with the cutting of the cord and her first breaths, the long goodbye began.

That tiny human, at first just a few cells inside of me, steps into her sophomore year at UC Santa Barbara this fall. Kind, intelligent, supremely capable but still often fearful. She holds my heart with both hands. And I’m left wondering how the greatest job I’ve ever known involves letting the very best parts of me walk away into a new life.

Amazingly, at only 19, she knows how to appreciate the sacrifices we’ve made for her. She is thankful for her privilege and aware of it too. She knows that to be a student at a UC is to be a person of means, if not of wealth. She knows that money does not bring happiness and she knows that even though she is kind and good her base impulses, like all of ours, tends towards self.

She tells me she is thankful for our parenting. Thankful for hard conversations and for hard life choices. And she emphatically informs me of the aspects of our parenting that she will NEVER repeat with her children. She loves to remind me that she is my favorite child and she is unafraid to inform me of my mistakes. Essentially she is all I dreamed of, all I wanted.

In the early months, when I breastfed her around the clock, walked for miles to stop her colic cries, and barely slept, I never imagined these days, when I would drive away from her. For it seemed then that me-without-her had ceased to exist.

In the early years, when I supported her creativity by allowing her to choose her own outfits (fifteen times a day), leave her hair unbrushed, and paint herself with acrylic colors, I never imagined these days. Days when she would help me to find something more appropriate to wear and encourage me to accept my body as it changes.

In the elementary years, when she carried our African neighbor babies on her back, grew soybeans in her own little garden, and taught English to neighbor friends on our Ugandan porch (after I killed the cobras), I never imagined these days. Days when she would live steps from the beach at one of the best public universities in America.

In her mid teens, when she was sometimes angry or withdrawn, finding anything and everything to disagree with us on, spending as much time away from us as possible – I never imagined these days. Days when she would make special dates with her littlest brother and sister to say goodbye to them before returning to university.

First we hold them tight inside of us. Then we cut the cord and let them breath. Teach them to walk and cheer when they walk away from us. Help them find their voice and feel proud when they disagree with us. Send them to school where they learn to think differently than us. Celebrate their relationships that mold them, that help make them unique from us.

First attachment, what we all dream of when we imagine ourselves as parents. Then, the big leaps of the long goodbye: separation, expansion, differentiation, opposition. Finally, increased responsibility, as our children learn that they can trust themselves, that they can make their own good choices.

So here we are. I’m driving away from her again. Leaving her hundreds of miles from “home.” And she’s hugging goodbye, ready. Fixing me still with her fierce gaze, but this time her eyes are asking, “will you be okay?”

Yes, darling. For this is my ultimate task; my measure of success as a parent. This is what I signed up for when I chose to carry you, birth you, parent you. I chose the long goodbye.

Annelise Pierce
Annelise Pierce is fascinated by the intersection of people and policy. She has a special interest in criminal justice, poverty, mental health and education. Her long and storied writing career began at age 11 when she won the Louisa May Alcott Foundation's Gothic Romance short story competition. (Spoiler alert - both hero and heroine die.) Annelise welcomes your (civil) interactions at AnnelisePierce@anewscafe.com
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28 Responses

  1. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Beautiful.

  2. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    That was a heart string tugger, Annelise. Thank you.

  3. Avatar Dave says:

    I’m a Dad..this was/is a great “tell it like it is”..thanks

  4. Avatar Sue says:

    Oh, I LOVE this. Thank you so much.

  5. Avatar Karen Calanchini says:

    So true, brought tears to my eyes. I, too, was fortunate to have our daughter tell us , “thank you for the way your brought me up…I love the life your provided for me.” Our sons, have not said that to us in so many words, but have driven their wives batty with compliments on my cooking, and endless stories about our days water skiing, snow skiing, trips in the RV, our cat and dog pets, and so much more. It truly is a blessing to hear those words from your child, it somehow makes the times they tell you how they won’t repeat certain things with their children much easier to bear.

    • Avatar Annelise says:

      Karen: It can be hard to hear “when I grow up I’ll NEVER . . . ” But I LOVE that my daughter can tell me that. And that she knows I’ll love her just as much and I don’t need her approval or her reassurance to live with myself, flaws and all. That is a huge gift we can give them; the gift of letting them disapprove and not being broken by it.

  6. Avatar Ann Webber says:

    Beautiful! I am lucky to have my daughter and granddaughter visiting this weekend and saying hello and goodbye again. We do the best we know and the result is our gift to our. I treasure every moment that my children choose to spend with me and am pleased to see them making their lives fulfilling. Thank you for your reflection!

  7. Avatar Candace says:

    Completely and utterly gorgeous. You nailed it.

  8. Avatar Kirsten Plate says:

    You brought tears to my eyes.

  9. Avatar Judith Salter says:

    Such a loving article. Thank you p

  10. Avatar Cathy Allen says:

    Thank you-

  11. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    This is an awesome piece of writing.

  12. Oh, Annelise, you’ve tapped into something deep, about which we can all relate; whether we have children or not. Isn’t life a series of saying hello and saying goodbye?

    It sounds like your daughter is well on her way, and it seems she has her wings firmly intact and is taking flight and ready to soar. Well done, mom.

    Thank you, Annelise (and your daughter, too, for giving her blessing) for sharing such a personal essay with us.

    • Avatar Annelise says:

      Judith, Cathy, Hal, Doni: I’m running out of ways to say thank you. But thank you. For reading and appreciating. These heart stories are always the most vulnerable to share. You’ve all made it worth it.

  13. Avatar Laura Manuel says:

    Beautiful piece about your wonderful daughter. She is indeed remarkable!

  14. Avatar James Montgomery says:

    Congratulations, Annelise. Bittersweet, but that is life. You’ll be fine.
    It has been almost 20 years since my own daughter graduated from UCSB. She will be bringing her husband and two grandchildren up for Thanksgiving.
    All sweet, no bitter.

  15. Avatar Pat Flentye says:

    So happy to hear Naomi is doing well.

  16. Mistress of the Mix Mistress of the Mix says:

    OH Annelise, this means so much to me, especially today, as I celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the day my own daughter came into the world and changed my life. Thank you so much for this.

  17. Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

    Annelise, as everyone has said, you nailed it in your marvelous writing. I remember a phrase I learned as a new mom: Roots to grow, and wings to fly. It’s obvious you did a great job on both of these. Thank you for expressing this magical process for us.

  18. Avatar Kakungulu says:

    A thought about your heart helps me learn to be good.
    Thank you for being wonderful parents, whose parenting Naomi is proud of and thankful for. She’s a wonder, right from her childhood. She has a lot to teach, her intelligence is enough experience.
    The longer the goodbye the closer we stick together.

  19. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    and then . . . and then . . . a little further down the road,you learn all over again about the mercurial fluidity of the parent/child relationship as they reach deep inside the well you dug there to return that caring and love that has been invested over the years. When I thank her for her tender caring and she whispers back, ” . . . because that’s how you taught me, Mom.”

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